Our final thoughts on this year's Jazz Fest, including the lineup, the planes, and the social media.
Some Jazz Fest thoughts don’t fit in daily wrap-ups. Here are a few, some mattering more than others:
- This year’s lineup lacked urgency. I’m sure that’s a function of a lot of things including who’s available and who will and won’t sign to play the festival. Artists who put on spectacular, production-heavy shows are unlikely to play Jazz Fest, where even basic light shows are rarely relevant since the sun’s still up when acts finish around 7. Still, it was hard to get excited about a lineup where Nas, Usher, Lorde, Darius Rucker, Tower of Power (maybe?) and Meghan Trainor were the only new artists to headline the Acura, Gentilly and Congo Square stages. Of those, two paid off with impressive shows—Usher and Lorde—and Meghan Trainor appeared to have a negligible on attendance at the Gentilly Stage when she played Saturday. When Tank and the Bangas finished, the crowd largely moved on. Trainor was fine, but she didn’t anchor many people’s day at the festival.
- My one personal disappointment was my lack of the ability to write insightfully about the Cuban music, which I found compelling, even at its most show-bizzy (Los Van Van). One friend better versed in the music felt like the Cuban bands helped him fill in a few gaps in his thinking about the roots of New Orleans music, and I buy that. I just can’t articulate that.
- The best things I saw: Usher with The Roots, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, 79rs Gang, Gente de Zona, Lorde, Mokoomba, Dale Watson, Margo Price, Tank and the Bangas, Nigel Hall Band, Big Freedia, Nicholas Payton and Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, and DJ Shub,
- Local acts I now want to see more of: Trumpet Mafia, 79rs Gang.
- A question: Does Jazz Fest have any control of the airspace over the Fair Grounds? I have to assume not or they would likely have done something about the planes skywriting and flying banners years ago. On Thursday, the plane circling the track while advertising an Arkansas brewery was distractingly low as it struggled with the stiff winds. It looked to be one twitch from losing control and crashing, and it always seemed to be in the danger zone because whenever the wind got behind it, the plane whipped down the home stretch in front of the Grandstand and got back into the spot where it had to start fighting the wind.
It was also sad to see the the monument fight enter the Fair Grounds in the form of banners overhead. One advertised a pro-monument website, while another announced, “Our monuments, our vote,” along with the house bill number in the Louisiana legislature. Ironically, that use of “our” illustrated the point that many have made about the monuments—that they completely disregard the interests of the African-American New Orleanian. Most of those who think the monuments aren’t a problem say that because they aren’t for them. That “our” in the banner, while technically inclusive, similarly discounted the existence of African Americans in New Orleans, or at least their stake in the city.
- One thing I hope Jazz Fest will reconsider after this year’s Jazz Fest is its social media strategy during bad weather. Festival Productions can’t control the weather, but it can better keep fans apprised of what’s happening. On the first Sunday, we wanted to know when the doors would open, but that’s an understandably hard thing for the festival to know at noon or 1 p.m., even after the rain lightened up. All the activities that we never see because they take place before gates open still had to happen in addition to checking the grounds (which held up beautifully!), and since some Music Heritage Stage interviews were cancelled due to a lack of power in the Grandstand, power outages likely contributed to the uncertainty. But if fans were told some of these things on Twitter and Facebook—maybe even show pictures of people working to get the Fair Grounds ready—they would understand and not hover over the doors an hour early because of rumors. It seems basic—take control of the story before others do.
- Finally, we wrote 33 stories focused on music in New Orleans over the course of the last two weeks. I'm very proud of what we've done, and if you haven't checked out what we've done, I hope you'll visit our Jazz Fest 2017 page, which features links to all of our coverage. Thanks to Greg Miles for his great portraits of PJ Morton and Leyla McCalla, to Erika Goldring for her generosity, and the contributors who worked with me on our coverage this year--Raphael Helfand, Ryan Knight, Mia Nguyen, Katie O'Brien, Fiona McMurtry, Michelle Beaulieu, and Ruby Beyman. You'll see more work in the coming months from all of them.
For more of my own coverage, you can read my story on Nicholas Payton, Christian Scott and Jon Batiste's aversions to the word "jazz" and more review of Usher with The Roots at Nola.com, and you can see my reviews of weekend one and weekend two at USAToday.com.