• ,

The next generation of Jazz Fest babies

Gettin' a little Keith Urban. (Photo: Renee Peck)

Gettin' a little Keith Urban. (Photo: Renee Peck)

“Don’t do it.”

Twenty five years later, I was revisiting the world of Jazz Fest babies. And this time around, the looks were decidedly more askance.

“You’re taking your infant grandson to Jazz Fest?"

Mentioning a planned outing to the Fairgrounds with 7-month-old Penn brought more skepticism than anything I’d done with my own kids. Including a Rolling Stones concert in the Superdome when I was eight months pregnant with my oldest daughter (all that … smoke). Or the chewing-out I once got from an elderly stranger for getting too close to an Uptown parade with a four-month-old (all those bead missiles).

But I’ve been festing for 40 years – and my three daughters have been doing the same their entire lives. They each hit the Fairgrounds with me practically from birth. Each has a Jazz Fest poster from her natal year (tambourine lady, 1983; saxophonist, 1985; Fats Domino, 1989).

We had progressed from toddler years spent dancing in the Blues Tent to middle-school eye-rolling years meeting at the flagpole to high-school Jazz Fest jaunts with their friends. Now, all three of them return annually to what has become a Peck ritual of cochon de lait poboys, cold beers, blankets on the grass and swaying to an array of indigenous beats.

It was time to start the tradition with a new generation.

Deja vu all over again

Penn’s mother, middle daughter Christina, was roped into agreement, but only with the proviso that she supervise.

"We need those baby headphones to block the noise. Bring the Bob, not the Orbit. And we have to make sure that he’s fully covered under the Bob's sun shield. Don't forget the suntan lotion. And his hat. And one of those sun protection shirts that is SPF 100+. Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Parenting has gotten a lot more sophisticated these days. One stroller for jogging, another for walks. Diapers with yellow stripes that turn blue when they’re wet. High-tech glass bottles and electronic bottle warmers and organic pureed strawberries in squeezable pouches. Every yawn recorded on room-to-room camera monitors.

I packed a bag that would have seen me through a European vacation. Formula, bottles, wipes, extra clothes, diapers, bottled water, blankets, toys … well, you get the idea. The Bob – that’s the jogging one, the one the New Orleans Moms Blog had advised was best for the Fairgrounds – barely fit into the back of my SUV. I couldn’t fold it without Christina's help because, really, you’d need three days with the manual, or at least a four-minute Youtube video, to figure out which levers or red buttons or high-tech appendages you needed to push or poke or whatever to get the tricycle-shaped monstrosity to fold its wings. The tires alone would fit a racing bike.

But I digress. The three of us arrived on Gentilly Boulevard and headed for the Fest. Along the way, three front-porch water peddlers asked Christina if she’d like them to babysit. Entrepreneurship at its most spontaneous.

Everyone loves babies. Security, even with all the paraphernalia, was a breeze. People smile, make way for you, take your photo.

Taking a baby to Jazz Fest is a little like being a celebrity. Or at least Penn was.

And he quite enjoyed it. He took a long nap under the oaks near the Folk Village, then sucked down a bottle of Enfamil while enjoying the chants and bright colors of the Mardi Gras Indians. He got an intro to zydeco and rocked out with the crowd to Keith Urban, though his laughs were probably more for the cute blonde sitting next to us and making faces at him.

He’s the only guy I’ve ever taken to Jazz Fest who patiently enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the craft tents.

Half an hour into the outing, with Penn grinning and people stopping to admire, both a beer and a pacifier clutched in my left hand, Christina turned to me.

“Why was I worried?” she asked.

Grace note

Years ago, my parents swapped their Colorado condo for a beach house in Nerja, Spain, on the Costa del Sol. We all went over, including my youngest, then just 4 years old.

“It’s a shame she won’t remember any of this,” my father commented one sunny afternoon on the sand, as she played in the warm Mediterranean waves lapping the shore.

She doesn’t. But I remain convinced that all of our experiences – the people, the places, the smells, the sounds, the ambiance – get soaked up and stored away in our subconscious, helping to make us the adults we eventually become. Why else sing to your child in the womb, or read bedtime stories to 1-year-olds?

Besides, my dad had things turned around. The memories being created that liquid golden day in the south of Spain weren’t for my daughter. Just as these Jazz Fest moments weren’t really for Penn.

They were for me.

Click here for seven tips for visiting Jazz Fest with your toddler from the New Orleans Moms Blog.

To this timely advice I will append just a few of my own observations for Jazz Fest babies:

  • If you don't have kids' suntan lotion (which I didn't; who knew you aren't supposed to use the adult kind on little bitty kids?), check out the main women's restroom on the first floor of the Grandstand. A shelf crowded with Fest essentials (including baby suntan lotion) is available for your use. A gratuity is requested for the attendants.
  • If the heat gets to you, head to the same place in the Grandstand for a little AC. The third-floor restrooms also are available via elevator, and don't get the big crowds.
  • While the Fest is wonderful for family-friendly offerings -- Kids Tent, kiddie entertainment, kid food and where else would anyone 2 to 12 get in for just five bucks? -- do pay attention to the rules. Bottled water has to be unopened, and you can't take glass, little red wagons or inflatable toys.
  • Go late or leave early. You don't have to put in an eight-hour day here.
  • I've found, in my own experience, that doing Jazz Fest with kids is about ... the kids. Be flexible and don't count on getting in your must-see/must-taste list. Sit back and enjoy it through their eyes. Then let grandparents (that would be me) keep them while you indulge in an adult day for yourself.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]