On a rainy day, the story wasn't how well organizers got the grounds ready for people but the lack of communication.
Most of my Sunday coverage including reviews of Lorde and Tom Petty is online at USAToday.com, but here are a few notes that didn’t fit.
The best thing I saw on the day was Gente de Zona, in part because the Cuban reggaeton duo make music meant to move audiences one pasture or arena at a time. There’s something thrilling about seeing music that big with the audience it was made for. Much of Jazz Fest may have had little idea who Gente de Zona is, but the Latinos at Congo Square treated the duo like heroes. They responded by periodically shouting out the Central and South American countries represented in the audience, which was the only thing I understood. Gente de Zona spoke to their audience in Spanish in part, I suspect, because that’s the language they’re most fluent in, but I also wonder if they were talking to the people who mattered most to them. It was odd to be at Jazz Fest and understand little of what was being said, but since foreign language speakers get little slack in The United States, I can’t feel left out that they didn’t come to New Orleans to talk to the white guy.
- Elsewhere Sunday, Tom Petty’s show at the Lakefront Arena in 2003 wrecked him for me. The garage rock energy of that show is something I’ve hoped would return, but his last two Jazz Fest sets including Saturday’s started and finished hard with a whole lot of soft, mid-tempo filling in-between. Saturday, it was nice that some of those songs were ones he played less often, but the effect was similarly enervating.
- We can’t talk about Sunday at Jazz Fest and not talk about its communications breakdown with its fan base. The story on the day should have been how well the Fair Grounds held up after torrential rains that knocked out power in much of the city. Lake Acura had been drained if it ever formed, and the only meaningful puddle near Congo Square was shin-deep for a child. Instead, the conversation was Jazz Fest's lack of updates throughout the delayed opening. Between 9:23 a.m. and almost 3 p.m. Sunday, all we knew from the festival’s Facebook page was that “Jazz Fest opening is delayed until this afternoon. For updates, continue to follow us.” Twitter was equally vague and largely silent, and the lineup of people waiting to get in at 3 p.m. all heard the time through secondhand sources well before Jazz Fest announced it.
Obviously, Jazz Fest can’t control the weather, but it can talk to its fan base far more effectively. If they had periodically given us updates, people could have made informed choices. If we had read, “It may be lightening up where you, but the rain is still pounding us here,” we would have got it. If Jazz Fest had told us, “The rain is stopping and stages are sound checking, but we still don’t have power in the Grandstand,” we’d have understood. We didn’t need a start time as much as we would have liked to have one, but we did want to be informed. Instead, despite the obvious dedication and affection so many people have for Jazz Fest, we were doled out information on a need-to-know basis—if that. In 2017, social media is too prevalent to go on radio silence like that, and Jazz Fest should value its fans more than that.