POSTED Mon. Jun 3, 2013
Jazz in the Park in the birthplace of Jazz
Paul Oswell
Written by PAUL OSWELL
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“Would you please take a picture of me and my husband? Be sure to get that stage in the background!”

James and Leanne posed, all beaming faces, two cocktails in. Behind them, Colin Lake and his band played some crowd-friendly gospel. The couple were down for a few days from Boston, MA.

“We love it here,” said Leanne. “Always something happening in New Orleans.”

This is true even as the city saunters stickily towards the relative sloth of the summer season. In a city of increasing pop-ups (restaurants, galleries, cocktail bars), Jazz in the Park is a pop-up festival of sorts, albeit one that runs every Thursday for nine weeks.

The park in question is Armstrong Park, and there’s little doubt that Satchmo himself would approve of this lively, free celebration of New Orleans music. The series is now in its third successful semester, its first summer incarnation after winning fall and winter programs. It already feels like a city institution, this time ushering us joyously from the frenzy of festival season into slower, sultry days.

It’s 5pm and first act Colin Lake is assuring the crowd. There’s around 100 or so up near the stage and several hundred others doing some concerted basking in their fold-put chairs. “I’m not from here,” he says. “But I came to New Orleans as soon as I could.”

Satisfied, the mixed crowd grace him with their attention and dance. Preppy Uptowners sway next to bohemian Quarter rats, and hip kids in ironic pop art t-shirts step around elegant old ladies who could be on their way to church. It’s the kind of social gumbo that this city does best.

Aside from the music, there is, of course, a healthy smattering of food stalls. The smells of the season, from boiled crawfish to smoky barbecue, fill the air. Locals and visitors sip cold beer from plastic cups. It really does feel like an intimate, spontaneous microcosm of Jazz Fest.

Over the nine weeks, 18 excellent bands keep the series moving forward, culminating in local hero Kermit Ruffins on June 13th. Better get here early for that one.

Meanwhile, the stalls are doing a healthy trade, everything from local art to leather goods to well known city brands such as Fleurty Girl t-shirts. It must be a rewarding sight for the organizers, People United for Armstrong Park (PUFAP), filling the place with life and music when it would normally just be a couple of dog walkers and people sleeping off their day drinking.

“The crowds just keep getting bigger,” says Emanuel Lain, co-founder (with Ben Harwood) of PUFAP. “We just keep expanding. We added a second line this semester, which ends up going up on the stage before our main acts. Next year we’ll create an art village in Congo Square and have a second stage there with lighter jazz music.”

Lain is more laid back than his ambition would suggest. The average crowd is now around 3,000. You could call it a success.

In the end I had to retake the photo of James and Leanne. I didn’t get her booty shorts in the frame the first time, and she insisted she wanted her friends in Boston to see just how she was rolling down here. Satisfied, they shimmied into the fray.

As the sun goes down, headline musicians George Porter Jr. and Bill Summers salute the crowd, now at a few hundred in front of the stage. “We finished three minutes early,” Porter says.

“We’re going to improvise. Could you help us out, New Orleans?”

The crowd happily oblige, and chant the refrain from the band’s last song, the concert ending communally, all smiles, a little more than two cocktails in.

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    Our Local Publisher Partners

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    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

    WWNO

    WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at WWNO.org.

    WWOZ

    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

    PRC

    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

    NOMA

    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

    The Historic New Orleans Collection

    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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