Ode to New Orleans
By SuperDee

Charmaine Neville
Jazz Fest 2006 by Zack Smith
The voice of Irma Thomas is coming over the WWOZ radio waves from the Acura Stage as we weave our way through New Orleans via cab to the fairgrounds on the last day of Jazz Fest 2006. She is singing a dirge-like version of "The City of New Orleans."

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

As we drive, we see the enormous piles of garbage bags, the broken windows, the rows of abandoned cars underneath the overpass, and the crude spray-painted markings on the houses indicating whether or not people were found in there – dead or alive. As we near the fairgrounds, the foot traffic gets heavier and the revelry feels close. We pull up to the taxi line as the song ends, and with misty eyes, we stroll over to the entryway.

Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Paul Simon & Irma Thomas by Michael Weintrob
It's not hard to understand why people hold New Orleans, and Jazz Fest specifically, so close to their hearts. It's a wonderland for music lovers, a feast for food lovers, and a melting pot of amazing people to meet and dance with. Whether you are black or white, poor or rich, Jazz Fest (and New Orleans in general) is where you can come to feel welcome and happy. Even in these very troubled times, there is reason to celebrate.

Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

Theresa Andersson & George Porter Jr.
Jazz Fest 2006 by Michael Jurick
Musically, this is one of my most memorable Jazz Fests. Many of the bigger, national touring acts did their performances on the first weekend. Without lots of "obligations" to go see favorites, this left the door wide open for possibility. Two separate visits to the legendary Maple Leaf gave me the boogie I was looking for - the first with the Original Uptown Allstars featuring Ivan Neville and Nick Daniels among the others. The second visit on the very tail end of the weekend in the wee hours had a stage full of ridiculous players including Johnny Vidacovich (drums), Brian Coogan (keys), Will Bernard (guitar), Mike Dillon (percussion), Stanton Moore (drums again), Robert Walter (keys again), and possibly more throughout the night. And this was after seeing a Karl Denson, Robert Walter, Adam Deitch combo at DBA, which was after seeing an enthralling Femi Kuti performance at One Eyed Jacks. Yes, the nighttime is the right time!

Robert Randolph & Warren Haynes
Jazz Fest 2006 by Adam McCullough
My favorite show of the weekend was at the fun and rowdy Rock 'n Bowl at Mid-City Lanes. This is one of those shows that popped into my inbox from the Stanton Moore email list and stuck in my brain like a Soft Shelled Crab Po'boy. The band leader du jour was the sizzling Anders Osborne joined by John Gros, Stanton Moore, Kirk Joseph, Tim Green, and oh my, so many more throughout the set. It was dirty and sweaty and funky and full of soul – a sound that you can only get in Bayou Country. The beer was flowin', Jambalaya was cookin', and bowling balls were rollin' down the lanes making for a perfect New Orleans snapshot.

The fairgrounds experience was as perfect as ever. I was able to make several deposits of my favorite foods – the Crawfish Monica, strawberry lemonade, the combo plate of spinach artichoke casserole, gratin Louisiane, and Creole sweet potato pone. I braved the crowds at the main stage to see moments of Deacon John, Paul Simon, and the surprisingly moving Lionel Richie who took over the Jazz Fest closing duties at the main stage from Fats Domino who unfortunately had to cancel his performance. (Hope you are feeling better!) I got to see Astral Project at the Jazz Tent, Dumpstaphunk at the Congo Stage, Warren Haynes at the Blues Stage, the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars at the Fais Do Do stage... each performance soaked in spirit.

And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

New Orleans, LA :: Photo taken during the
2006 Jazz Fest by Michael Weintrob
That spirit helped fuel the decision to take a post-fairgrounds drive through the lower Ninth Ward section of the city. We had made a lovely acquaintance with a cabbie named Bob who has been displaced to Atlanta but came back to work during the two weekends of Jazz Fest. Bob graciously and delicately drove us through what can only be described as a ghost town. The images outside of the cab windows were shocking as we twisted through the neighborhoods – houses with tops ripped off, houses on their sides. He drove us right to the spot where the levee had been breached – "ground zero" – and it looks as though a nuclear bomb had hit there. Have no doubt, this is eight months after the storm, and things are NOT okay.

Second Line Marching Parade
Jazz Fest 2006 by Michael Weintrob
This year's Jazz Fest left me both ecstatically happy and undeniably depressed. It seems near impossible, the task of bringing the city back. A simple rule to follow may be to work first on bringing the people back. With the people will come the food, the music, and the spirit of this unique and beautifully haunted city. Let's clean up and build. It may take a long time, but with lots of loving and caring hands on the job, there is hope. There is always hope.

And to Margie – the kind, sad woman I met on the fairgrounds with the glistening yet horrified eyes – who told me she feels like she has no country, I say, "You are not alone." There are millions of people in the U.S. who feel their tax dollars are not being used for the right priorities, who feel like their votes are not being counted, who feel like our interests abroad can't possibly be as important as those right within our borders. While our government would rather spend billions on the other side of the planet, there are people right here – probably you reading this right now – who care very deeply about the future of New Orleans. YOU are the ones that will be the advocates, the builders, the financiers, the organizers, and the volunteers. If the large crowds at the fairgrounds this year are any indication of the love and hope for New Orleans, well then there is indeed a beautiful future that lies ahead.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Mardi Gras Service Corp
  • Common Grounds
  • NOLA Relief

    JamBase | Do What You Can
    Go Save New Orleans!

    Continue reading for Zack Smith's Jazz Fest 2006 images...

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