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Riffing On the Tradition: New Orleans Joys (Part 2), Jazz Fest 2012

Besides the famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival going on right now, which offers an incredible festival experience organized around musical performances, my column last week listed several other presenters to keep an eye on. I hope you helped me spread the word, because that's really how most visitors to New Orleans find out about things.

Isn't it?

For instance, I know I don't need to remind anyone how useless our tourism websites are for connecting fans to the best music. Offbeat magazine remains the most reliable source for what's happening in any given month, as long as you know whom you want to see or at which venue you want to hear them. Same goes for The Times-Picayune's weekly Lagniappe calendar.

Our own WWOZ practically becomes a talk radio station during festival season, with great players dropping by the studio to talk up their shows and new CDs. Of course, when Jazz Fest is on, they're there broadcasting live. Fortunately, we still have their "Livewire" daily calendar. But again, it's not as helpful if you don't recognize the players or the venues listed.

So, like I was saying, it's common knowledge that we local musicians are the best ones to ask. We have become our own filter. For example, Wednesday night, I went to hear the Pedrito Martinez Group. I could see fans become visibly more confident that they were in the right place when they saw cats like Jon Cleary and Herlin Riley completely mesmerized by the music. Now that I think about it, there were several pianists there with mouths agape watching Cuban-born Ariacne Trujilo tearing it up in Pedrito's quartet.

Visitors are starting to recognize the ambivalence on our faces, when we tell them to go to Frenchmen Street. Fans listen intently when we tell them about new venues like spaces on St. Claude or Oretha Castle Haley avenues, and really take it to heart when we assure them that  it's safe to go there. Aficionados usually engage by getting newsletters directly from artists and presenters they entrust to keep them "in the know."

It's a system not without charm, but I can't help thinking there should be more.

After I read an article by my NolaVie colleague, Adriana Lopez, about "UX for Good" meeting in New Orleans, I spoke with UX for Good team members Jason Kunesh, Jason Ulaszek and Jodi Leo. I found out that they, too, wondered how fans connect to the music as an aspect of their focus on the dilemmas of New Orleans musicians in the digital age. I'm looking forward to hearing what ideas they come up with.

I think after two days of interviews, they will recognize that, in many ways, we musicians in New Orleans have evolved to become our own gatekeepers. I'm hoping that their intensive day-long session will come up with ways for us to leverage this toward more sustainable careers. Imagine an online version of musicians telling the public where to find the music.

In the meantime, don't forget that the Sync-Up conference is still going on at the New Orleans Museum of Art. There are some game-changers on the panel discussions, well worth your attention. If you can't make it in person, it will be streamed live on WWOZ.

Have a great second weekend at Jazz Fest. Drink plenty of water and give it your all. This is the week to show your mettle.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of NOLA Art House Music. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road. Catch him live, Sunday, May 6 with Shannon Powell at the Backbeat Foundation's showcase at the Hi-Ho Lounge.


Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]