While 10,000 eyes face the stage, I'm peeking around at those eyes, on the prowl for my next NOLAbeing. It's day one of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and I'm surrounded by new faces and people to talk to. So this week's installment of NOLAbeings is changing keys a little bit: introducing JAZZFESTbeings.
We pass so many people at festivals that we will never speak to. This week I approached as many people as I could, to get the inside scoop on who's at Jazz Fest and what their stories are. I met musicians, tourists, artists, long-timers, first-timers, and less-than-enthused concession-standers. I even met one couple who had never heard of Jazz Fest, but happened to be in New Orleans and just thought they'd check it out!
Before you embark on weekend two of the fest, have a look at some of the characters I met. And when you're out there, go talk to some strangers! For more Jazz Fest and NOLAbeings, visit the NOLAbeings official website, Facebook, or Instagram.
“People are coming here and they’re buying property, but some of the people look like they’re not coming to be New Orleanians. It’s like they want to change New Orleans. You know? The very thing that attracts them is the thing they want to change. It’s like the noise ordinance for music out in the streets and second lines and stuff. No! You can’t change these things; these things make our city. These things have helped our city to survive. I mean, really, Katrina should have killed New Orleans. We have no industry, we don’t have a lot of jobs. The only thing that has kept this city going is just the attitude of the people. I left and I came back here for Thanksgiving to see how much damage had been done. I went to the Banks Street Bar. There was no lights, no electricity for I’d say 5 miles in any direction. The owner at that time put out some generators, said that the musicians could hook up their instruments. We lit about 500 candles and had a party in the middle of the street. I looked around and I said, ‘This is the New Orleans that I love. And this is the New Orleans that will not die.'”
“When did singing gospel become part of your life?”
“From real small when I was a child. My mom used to play gospel music in the house -- especially on Sundays. She didn’t go to church because she stayed in and cleaned and cooked and all that for us because she worked during the week. But on Sundays she would play the gospel music in the house. Nobody could play anything or watch TV or nothing … we had to all listen and then we were singing and praising God all through the house. She instilled that in me. I think through her, this is why today I’m praising God and singing gospel music. Part of her lives on through that."
“I’ve been in Texas all my life so I decided to come out here. God has been good to me. New Orleans showed me all the love in the world. I’m trying to establish me a foundation here and maybe bring my family out one day. My three daughters are in Texas - 21, 23, and 31. I go visit on Thanksgiving, Christmas -- go on holidays.”
“If you could say anything to a large group of people, what would you say?”
“Seek wisdom first.”
“Why are you giving me the finger?"
“In my family that is a sign of love. We live in Algiers Point and in our house we have a whole wall of people giving each other the finger, including my mother who is dearly departed.”
“His father's laying on his death bed at Oschner and our four grandkids in Baltimore are old enough to sit by Big Daddy’s side and they’ve got tears running down their eyes and big smiles and they’re all giving the bird. And they’re little kids. So it’s been all over.”
"My kids are 5 and 3 and they’re the apple of my eye. They will be at Jazz Fest when they get old enough. I’m going to be one of those cool moms that take them out of school and bring 'em."
“What have you discovered about her personality in her first year?”
“She’s more into music than we are. She likes all different types of music. She likes classical music and we don’t really listen to classical music. And Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, everything. When she hears modern songs on TV commercials, she dances to those, too."
“This is our 32nd year here. We’re selling strawberry smoothies and chocolate-dipped strawberries.”
“What’s Jazz Fest like for you after all these years?”
“It gets worse and worse.”
“I found out I had MS around 2000, and I think Parkinson's a couple years later.”
“It seems like you’re not letting it hold you back.”
“Yeah, I figure everybody’s going to get old and need to be in a wheelchair to come to these festivals; I’m just starting a little sooner!”
To read more about the process behind this series, click here.
Claire Bangser is a New Orleans-based photographer and filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. She is the creator of NOLAbeings and has produced work for local, national, an international organizations and media since 2009. Highlights include a three-month bike tour storytelling project on the west coast, documentation for a four-month National Geographic Young Explorer’s grant in Turkey, and New Orleans-based digital storytelling projects like Cry You One and BOUDIN: The New Orleans Music Project. Find more of her work at www.clairebangser.com.