Upon entrance to the fairgrounds, I stopped at the Jazz & Heritage stage to get my bearings. As the Kumbaka African drum and Dance Collective was rippling through the polyrhythms, echoing that which echoes around the grounds before me, a tourist next to me pulled out a ziploc bag full of neatly rolled joints. Tempered by the tinge of the sunblock I was using, my JazzFest smelled like a whiff of pot smoke.
I made my way over to the Congo Square stage, where the most interesting action was taking place, starting with DJ Hektik providing the beats for the Baby Doll Ladies from the New Orleans Society of Dance, a troupe of dancers doing a stage version of parade drill team moves in Mardi Gras mask makeup. It got going when Hektik spun a brass band version of "Money" as each did a quick solo vogue to the audience.
This led into the immediate sissy bounce (to put this is the most delicate of terms, tranny rap) onslaught of Freedia and Nobby, backed by a squad of dancers possessing remarkable control over the butt shake. I loved it for the abrasiveness of the rap, the blatant sexuality of the dancers and the you-ain't-gonna-see-this-back-in-Milwaukee spectacle for the whole thing, but sonically, a little sissy bounce goes a long way.
A friend and I ambled over to the courtyard of the grandstand to take in the polite country stylings of Christian Serpas and Ghost Town. The band is tight, and Serpas looks and sounds great on stage, but I wanted more from his songs. It all felt a little too polite. The courtyard struck my friend and me as a great place to lick your wounds for the rest of the races after losing all your money in the first. I saw an old coot in Tabasco clothes from the hotel store and a cigar, likely enjoying himself for the first time on this nightmare vacation the wife talked him into, but it was a little too tame for me.
I got the requisite mango ice and decided to do my Louisiana duty and see Henry Butler, but when we got to the Congo Square stage, Butler's piano was largely inaudible for a couple songs. Once the power-plink of his piano kicked in though, this started to feel like JazzFest. Traditional New Orleans piano music is something I appreciate in context, it’s not something that finds itself in my usual sonic curation, but when I throw on WWOZ or are at a festival, I love it. I got my fill before it was time to weave on over for the highlight of the day for me, Drive-By Truckers and Booker T. Jones
Rounding the street to the Acura stage, I was struck by the acre of pricey lawn chairs, the kind that fold up into a little bag and get lugged around by harried tourists. There were millions of them arranged in a grid. It’s what I imaging retirement in Florida looks like when first sighted. I shuddered at the realities of my demographic and moved closer to the stage. DBT is hands-down my favorite rock band going. They are as universal as a bar band, yet have hooks into the eternal, be it the mythology of the rock star or the bare bones of life and death. Adding the gravity of Booker T. Jones on organ only made it heavier.
The think I love most about DBT is how they make the tragic into something to rejoice; a thousand frat boys singing along with a tale about a guitarist dying of AIDS or moments of contemplating suicide. In the middle of the set they did a number of instrumentals from Booker T’s Potato Hole album, for which DBT was the backing band, and that is what festival music should sound like. It riffed and cascaded and built and fell and looked like a hell of a lot of fun to play. On the last weekend before the apocalypse, I want to go waterskiing to music like that. The band ended their set with the most unlikely of rock anthems. ‘Let there be Rock” details how Patterson Hood missed out on seeing Lynryd Skynyrd, offering up the ones he saw in their place. How he makes a line like “I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd but I sure saw Molly Hatchet” so moving is a testament to his songwriting and delivery prowess. I never saw either, but I sure saw Drive-By Truckers.
Dinner break involved the coveted cochon de lait poboy: a perfectly soft/hard bun with a line of spicy cole slaw topped with a mound of shredded, succulent, pit-roasted suckling pig. Honestly, I was looking forward to this more than most of the music I saw today, and in kind, it delivered on its promise.
I closed my evening with Spoon. Spoon is one of those bands I love at someone else’s house, or in their car, or at a bar, but I don’t really like at home. This is now the third time I have seen them live in geometrically larger audiences and they kill each time. Their percolating hipster soul act gets all the ladies in eth house, or in this case, field swaying, every foot tapping. Britt Daniels comes off just cocky enough to be a rock star for the Facebook-status crowd. Members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band augmented the sound only pushing this further into festival groove bliss.
I have to say, though, my favorite thing at the Spoon show, and maybe the whole festival, was the sign language interpreter at stage left. Why you would necessarily need one is a little beyond me, but the emphatic, even dramatic way she signed out Spoon’s lyrics took it to the next level. When she signed “I turn my feelings on inside” you could see it in her face and I looked up at the jumbotron of smiling sunburnt girls bouncing around like they were on a jogging trampoline and I saw it, and on the dudes huddled around a pipe behind me bobbing heads as they fumbled with the lighter I saw it, and when they band kicked into hyperdrive, like a Krautrock version of the Knack evoking the sundown at the end of the show, I saw it.
I'm headed back there next Sunday to see Neil Young scold us about our automotive myopia.