All That Jazz – No, I don’t mean the 1979 musical directed by Bob Fosse. I’m referring to some great music that takes place in two great cities every summer. So, save your money and get a passport even though you won’t be leaving the continent. During the last weekend in April through the first weekend in May, America’s greatest party city, New Orleans, puts on the Jazz and Heritage Festival. Neither Katrina nor British Petroleum had the power to stop this extraveganza. Fairgrounds Race Course, which has raced thoroughbreds since 1852 (that’s right, you skeptics, not even the Civil War can slow down a party in New Orleans), erects twelve separate stages around its mile oval track. From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day you can walk around the you can walk around the track and hear music that runs the gamut between Dr. John and Buckwheat Zydeco, or Lionel Ritchie and the Black Crowes, Cowboy Mouth and The Louisiana Jazz Repreatory Company, or the Allen Toussaint Jazz Project and Pearl Jam. Over the years I have listened to the Allman Brothers, Fats Domino, Santana, Pete Fountain, Harry Connick Jr., Better Than Ezra, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Simon & Garfunkel, Ziggy Marley (Bob’s son) and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown – sometimes on the same day. The stages change acts every thirty minutes. They do it quickly and efficiently and there is never a time when you are out music. A single day’s ticket will run you around fifty dollars. As for food, don’t get me started…every type of cuisine imaginable from Cajun to Greek to central African to Jamaican is available throughout the infield, along with arts & crafts of varying types and prices. The best bet is to drive your car into Marconi Field, pay a small fee to park all day and ride one of the constant shuttle buses to the track’s front gate. You can even buy a ticket at a tent in Marconi Field. Expect daily crowds of up to 100,000 people.
If you can’t satiate your musical hunger in New Orleans, drive across our northern border two months later. Be sure to bring your passport. You will need to prove that you’re not a musical terrorist. Each year since 1980, Canada has held the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal for ten straight days during the last week of June and the first week of July. Montreal has no race track. This is a city-wide party. Streets are roped off, stages erected, private clubs open doors, concert halls turn over their staid classical venues to the likes of likes of Prince and B.B. King. Over three days, 650 acts will be available for your listening pleasure. Your biggest problem will be choosing who to hear – Tony Bennett or Diana Krall, Norah Jones or Al Jarreau, etc. Many of the bands on the streets can be enjoyed for free. The atmosphere is more cosmopolitan and erudite and less funky than New Orleans. What would you expect from people who say “what are you aboot?” But, fun is fun wherever you go and Montreal is a fun city. Expect to be milling about the downtown area with fifty thousand people more than usual and expect prices on food and hotels to be higher than usual. But, if you get too drunk and need your stomach pumped, remember they have socialized medicine.
Perhaps the best thing about attending both festivals is that, whether you’re speaking to a Cajun or a Canuck, the same words work – “Laissez les bon temps roules.”
Juror #3/Jim McGarrah
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