Steffanie Rivers

*I’ve never met anyone who attended the New Orleans Jazz Festival and didn’t have great things to say about their experience. On the gulf coast the city is known as the mecca of good music and great food, thus the name the Big Easy. And that’s a combination I rarely pass up.

As an airline employee I get free airfare to anywhere my airline flies. Hotel rooms I get at a discount. But never one to spend money if I don’t have to, I decided to make my trip to the Big Easy Jazzfest a daytrip.

My alarm went off at 6am. I hit the snooze button. At 6:09 I headed for the shower. As usual I spend too much time in the shower and in the mirror. It’s now 6:30. I should be headed out the door so I can get to the airport in time to catch the first flight to New Orleans. Wallet, check; cell phone and earphones, check; umbrella, floppy hat and sunglasses, check.

I hold my breath, set off three bug foggers and leave before I am overcome by the fumes.  

I park the car, make it through security and board the plane. It’s packed. It’s seems everybody is headed to Jazzfest. Even people I don’t know ask me to get in their photo. So I lean in and make new friends. A few hours later I step off the plane at the Louis Armstrong International Airport.  The man at the information desk points me to the bus stop. The airport bus will take me downtown. Then I’ll walk two blocks to Canal Street and take the Jackson-Epanada bus to Jazzfest. I always take public transportation when I’m in a new city. It’s a great way to sightsee and it’s always cheaper than the alternative.

I get a text while I’m on the bus. A guy that I’ve talked with a total of ten minutes over the course of a month just asked me to borrow $300. I’m not sure if it’s a joke, but I called my mother so we could laugh about it. I text him back to tell him I don’t have the money to give him. If I never hear from him again it will be too soon.

I pay the entry fee into Jazzfest and walk into a sea of people and music.I stop at the gospel tent to get my praise on. Then I get in line for a Nawlins rum punch. Immediately I feel the effects of the alcohol so I take my vitamins, get a bowl of seafood bisque and figure out the rest of my day. Six hours from now I need to be at the bus stop on my way back to the airport.

There are at least five sound stages featuring different genres of music. Everyone is sitting in lawn chairs and on blankets at every stage. Eric Lindell, John Boutte’ and Allen Toussaint are a few of the performers. I didn’t bring a chair so I walk, shop and eat all day.

I get a fried pork chop sandwhich on white bread. I can’t remember when I had one last. Certainly not since I lost fifteen pounds on the Special K diet. I finish the sandwhich as I comtemplate how much all this eating is going to set me back. I stop at the prailine booth for some sweets.There’s probably enough sugar in one prailine to give me a cavity. But what the hell, this is New Orleans.

A jewelry vendor tells me his brother is Billy Paul, of ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ fame. He claims to supply jewelry to well known musical artists, including Erykah Badu. He said Badu was wearing his jewlery when she stripped naked in Dealey Plaza

last month. He’s about to recount the time thirty-five years ago that he and his brother were escorted to the county line in my hometown when another customer asks him a question distracting him long enough for me to get away.

I find my way to the Zataran’s food demo booth. I like to cook as much as I like to eat. A local chef demonstrates how to make lobster filled ravioli with butter sauce. I sit down long enough to eat the samples passed out and to soak up some air conditioning. Then I head back out for more music and food.

Take 6 is on the stage harmonizing like nobody’s business. I get a fried alligater po’boy with hotsauce and continue to walk. I get another rum punch to wash it down and stand inside the gospel tent to listen. Rum punch and gospel music; is that sacriigious?

I accidently pass by the booth of the guy who claimed to be Billy Paul’s brother. He’s not looking. I turn the corner before he does. I start to see the same vendors twice. And people at the booths are starting to greet me with a nod that says ‘haven’t we spoken once today already?’

Kirk Franklin is about to perform on another stage. I scurry over to get an earful. How short is he?

Aretha Franklin was scheduled to perform at the same time on another stage, but she canceled. Earth, Wind and Fire performed in her place. Even better! Everybody danced, sang, ate and drank.

My bus back to Canal Street is leaving soon. On my last round I stop to take a free picture with a Jazzfest background. In the photo I pretend to play the saxophone with sunglasses and my floppy hat.

I make my way out of the festival and to the bus stop. I see a bus in the distance, but for some reason it never moves towards me. For fifteen minutes I stand there waiting. Finally I hail a cab to Canal Street. It costs me $9, but I made it to my airport connection bus and that’s all that matters.

As we board the plane I notice the guy standing at the seat in front of me. We make eye contact and speak. It’s Kirk Franklin and his son. He was on the stage when I left to catch the bus. Apparently he had faster transportation than I did.

I thought about engaging him in conversation, but I decided against it. After six hours of walking around in the heat my hair looked a mess, I was sweaty and tired and he was tending to his son. So I leaned against the window and fell asleep.

The Jazzfest in the Big Easy, check.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at www.youtube.com/steffanierivers.