The presence of the Mardi Gras Indians has remained constant. 35 years ago, earlier generations of the same tribes were wearing the same costumes they wear today. Some tribe members are still the same, and they're carrying on the same traditions. Make sure to check out one of the many colorful second line parades that wind its way through the festival. They happen every day on the Fair Grounds and virtually every Sunday throughout the year on the streets of New Orleans.

And then there's the food. As much as anything else, New Orleans cuisine is a major reason for coming to Jazzfest. You can still eat gumbo and etoufee. You can eat crawfish in 24 different ways. Granted, they probably weren't serving up Crawfish Monica back in 1970, and the quantity of dishes has surely grown, but the reason these dishes remain is because the people of Louisiana have been making them forever. At the first festival, you could enjoy an original red beans and rice recipe and you can still enjoy that today. However, there's only one food vendor you can visit today just as you could in 1970. Vaucresson's Sausage has been there from the beginning, so do yourself a favor and pay homage to these originals. And remember, all of these dishes are not some tourist invention; this is what people traditionally prepare.

Sounds pretty much the same as you remember it, eh? Naysayers call this repetitive. I call it tradition.

Now don't be mistaken, it's not all the same; that's the other beauty. Each year you can discover a new band, a new stage, or a new culinary delicacy (here's a hint that I just learned – check out this diagram before you go and map out all of the places you're going to eat before you get there). In fact, I try to find these new discoveries every year. It's a big part of the fun, and every year, I discover a slew of things that get me that much more excited to return. While sticking with tradition is wonderful, don't forget to try new things along the way and make them part of your own traditions.

Hugh Masekela
This year, Jazzfest celebrates the tenth anniversary of South African freedom and democracy. There will be more than 80 South African artists gracing all the major stages, and a pavilion dedicated to South African art and culture. Make sure to stop by and check it out and help celebrate this momentous time in our world's history. The pavilion is bound to be a colorful exhibit of the culture of South Africa, and the music you can hear ranges from Hugh Masekela and his All-Star Band to gospel queen Rebecca Malope. For a complete list of featured South African artists, please see www.nojazzfest.com/southafrica. For a look at who will in the pavilion, take a look at www.nojazzfest.com/southafrica/pavilion.

What I'm getting at is that Jazzfest can be whatever you want it to be, and that's what makes it unlike any other event in this country. Everyone creates his or her own experience, so it's a different festival for each visitor. Whether you like to do the same thing every year (I do have one tradition of getting Crawfish Monica for my first course of the weekend) or you choose to make each visit a new adventure, Jazzfest is a keeper. The more you go, the more you'll learn that the culture and tradition of New Orleans and Jazzfest has a lot to teach.

Some helpful hints to help you plan your weekend(s):

New Orleans Jazzfest website: www.nojazzfest.com
History of the festival: www.nojazzfest.com/history
Music schedules: www.nojazzfest.com/schedule
Food info: www.nojazzfest.com/food
Crafts at Jazzfest: www.nojazzfest.com/crafts

And for one last great read, check out Myself Among Other: A Life in Music by George Wein. Mr. Wein is the creator of the New Orleans Jazzfest, along with the Newport Jazz Festival and many, many other events. He is a jazz legend and this is his story. You can learn some wonderful history about this event and the history of jazz. George Wein was there for a lot of it and helped set the standard for the festivals we all love to attend.


Sam Elkin
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 4/5/04]

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