Jazz Fest, Day 2: Dancing In The Ruins

It doesn’t matter if we turn to dust
Turn and turn and turn we must
I guess I’ll see you dancing in the ruins tonight.

Blue Oyster Cult

Our hotel was in Metairie, and we drove down Veterans Boulevard looking for breakfast on Friday morning. That was a poor choice; there wasn’t much there beyond fast food even before Katrina. These days there isn’t much of anything. When we crossed over the canal, we pretty much lost our appetites altogether.

tower.JPG

This was on the edge of the residential parts of Metairie Lakeview just beyond Veterans. It got much, much worse a block later. We didn’t take any more pictures there, but just to give you a sense of what we saw, take a look at this shot from Thursday, taken on the very edge of the Lower 9th Ward, just off Claiborne Avenue:

Blue front.JPG

Okay, some damage there, you’re thinking. Spray paint markings from the survey teams, but hey, there’s scaffolding up, so at least repairs must be going on, right?

Then you drive around the block, and see the back of the same house…

Blue rear.JPG

… and you look around, and it hits you that it’s like this everywhere for miles and miles and miles.


On the way to the Fairgrounds, we could see the LSU Dental School’s building, just off the highway, it’s damaged sign ironically looking like a mouth missing a couple of teeth.

After parking in a friendly front yard (for a nominal fee, natch), we were finally, finally at Jazz Fest itself. First order of business was food, so we headed straight for the first of two massive lines of booths. And brother, just because there were plenty of LSU fans around, you did not have to settle for corn dogs at this place.

Food booths.JPG

The best thing there? I’ll always think it’s the Combo Plate.

Combo.JPG

From the top clockwise, you got your Crawfish Sack, your Oyster Patty, and your Crawfish Beignets. Aaa-eee!

Thus fortified, it was at long last time for some music. We ambled to the Blues Stage and caught the bulk of Joe Krown’s day-opening set.

Southern Comfort stage.JPG

After roughly 30 hours in town, it was a blessed relief to concentrate on riffs instead of roofs, but even in the midst of the Festival, all you had to do was look over, just past stage right, to the surrounding neighborhood.

Ouside the gate.JPG

Some of it had been repaired, some had not, but everything had a scar of one kind or another. We learned later that the Fairgrounds themselves had been under five feet of water last September.

fairgrounds houses.JPG

After Krown wrapped up, we went to the Jazz Tent, sponsored by NOLA’s indispensible WWOZ, for the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, who proved conclusively that white boys can play some Second Line.

nightcrawlers.JPG

The Jazz Tent, as usual had about the best atmosphere at the Festival. The jazz-focused lineup attracts people who are there more for the music than the festival, if you follow me. They come in all ages, shapes and shades, and they have both a concentration and an warmth about them to put your soul at ease and heart in gear. The tent has a special vibe that you don’t often get at the larger outdoor stages, and if you haven’t been in there, you shouldn’t bother saying you’ve been to Jazz Fest.

But of course, there was still more to see and do. We eventually moved on to the Acura Stage, the largest of the venues, where Louisiana wild man Doug Kershaw promptly burned the place down.

Doug Kershaw.JPG

As an aside, is it just me, or were Kershaw and Bubbles from “Trailer Park Boys” separated at birth?

bubbles2.jpg

Anyway, he played a great set. Little Feat was up next, accompanied by tomorrow’s headliner, Jimmy Buffett, on an extended jam of “Dixie Chicken.” Feat opened their set with “Callin’ The Children Home,” a new, as-yet-unreleased anthem to post-Katrina New Orleans. I’m not a huge fan of the band’s post-Lowell George material, but that one sounded very good to me.

Back to the Blues Stage then, for an incendiary set from south Louisiana guitar legend Tab Benoit. A big stage and a large audience aren’t exactly Benoit’s best venue (catch him in a club for the real deal), but he was playing and belting them out with so much emotion that the surroundings didn’t matter–or rather, the surroundings beyond the Fairgrounds gave his performance an even heftier punch.

Benoit was our last act of the day. I’ve got a bit more to tell about Friday, but this is already too long for one post. More tomorrow, then on to Day 3.

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22 Responses to “Jazz Fest, Day 2: Dancing In The Ruins”

  1. Tom M Says:

    I remember Kershaw from my younger days. He was on TV quite a bit, then. I always thought him to be the ideal choice for a movie about Paganini, but transplanted to NOLA.

    I could almost see the devil appear by his side.

  2. Joan Says:

    Thanks, Will. This series is awesome, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

  3. Mike K, Says:

    off topic: Will and Steve, there is an Egyptian blogger in jail. Egyptian Sand monkey has the details and contact info.

    on topic: What a fricken’ mess. I am glad I am not top dog on the re-construction. I wonder if this is going to turn into a big-dig type of thing.

  4. Cybrludite Says:

    Just to pick nits, that first pic of the toppled radio tower is in Lakeview, not Metairie. It’s the old State Police/DMV station, and is not far at all from the 17th Street Canal levee breech. The tower made it through Katrina just fine. It was picked up off its base & dropped by tornadoes a few months back. We never get tornados here. I blame all those FEMA trailers…

  5. Rob Says:

    I appreciate that you came here, and I wish I’d known so I could’ve offered to show you around. But, sad to say, it is so, so much worse than your pictures depict. I have lots of pictures from all over the city (I live here, so I can do that) and it’s unbelievable. Take your worst pictures, multiply their severity by ten and multiply their frequency by block after block. That’s the Lower 9th (Lakeview isn’t as bad, because their homes were brick). Then be kind: Take the gutted (or not), ruined brick houses and multiply them by thousands. That’s the reality. What we’re dealing with here is tens of square miles of uninhabitable homes, with voracious, unethical insurance companies, ruined “flood protection,” a broke city government and an occasionally visible federal government. It’s an endless disaster.

  6. Will Collier Says:

    Rob and Cyberludite are both right, of course. We didn’t get that far into the destroyed areas, and what we did see amounts to pebbles at the foot of a mountain range.

    I plead guilty to ignorance of the NOLA ‘burbs and their geography. I never spent enough time up there to really know my way around.

  7. doctorj Says:

    “It’s an endless disaster.”
    Rob, that describes it better than anything I have read. Endless in its breadth, endless with insurance shenanagans, endless in governmental incompetence. The only thing that has ended is news coverage. An American city left to rot. I don’t even watch national news anymore. It doesn’t talk about the elephant all around us. Thanks Will for putting a spotlight once again where it needs to be.

  8. cliff Says:

    — Thanks Will for putting a spotlight once again where it needs to be. —

    I agree with doctorj 1000%. I gotta see this place most every weekend (cleaning/gutting parnet’s house), but our “endless disaster” seems to be old news in the rest of the country. It is even more depressing to know that Lakeview looks like it does NINE months after Katrina, but it’s Brittany’s new baby that grabs the headlines.

    Thanks, Will. We all owe you.

  9. cliff Says:

    Will:

    For breakfast (or, any other meal) try Lake Marina Grill at the end of Pontcharain Blvd. in Lakeview. It’s been open for some months now, and is the hangout for Lakeview folks. Always packed. A touch of normality in well….. you saw it.

  10. Russell G Says:

    Seeing the storm damage up close is an awesome sight is it not. I live in extreme Southeast Texas where Rita (the forgotten storm) hit and have not gotten used to seeing the destruction every day. I am waiting to hear if you got to see Little Feat play at the Jazz Fest. They are without a doubt the greatest jam band out there today. I almost made the trip east to see them.

  11. MCPO Airdale Says:

    SO where are the billions of dollars going? Are the Blanco/Landreiu coffers filling up that quickly?

  12. HokiePundit Says:

    I was down in St. Bernard’s Parish in March, and I’ll be heading back down to the area again in August. Our crew finished gutting four houses in four days, taking them down to the studs. Honestly, there is so much work to be done down there that it’s unbelievable. It’s going to take decades to get things up and running decently, assuming there’s not another major hurricane coming through.

  13. Steve Teeter Says:

    I’m afraid I can understand why we’ve slipped off the media radar screen. You will never see a headline in a paper anywhere else reading, “Nothing Happened In New Orleans Today.” The media are in the business of telling people what is happening, and the problem here is the things that should be happening, but aren’t.

    There lies the tragedy.

  14. Cybrludite Says:

    No biggie, Will. The toppled tower is maybe half a mile from the parish line, according to my GPS/map program. My ballpark guess-timate had it even closer. Next time you’re looking for breakfast in Metairie, try Weaver’s on Clearview between Vet’s & I-10. (Across the street from Clearview Mall) Classic greasy spoon experience, but not as colorful as the Bluebird.

  15. Cybrludite Says:

    Oh, and Master Chief Airdale, the money has been pretty much been used for what it was earmarked for. You should have seen (and smelled) what it was like before. I should say that of it which has been allocated, the contracts bid, and all EPA hurdles cleared on approving the work has been spent on what it was earmarked for. Seems like for every dollar spent, there’s five more going to prevent fraud…

  16. grad03 Says:

    Stating blatant ignorance here, as someone who’s never been to NOLA and is sad but unsurprised at the lack of national response. What can outsiders do to help at this point? Are there good charitable organizations doing work in the area that deserve contributions? The obvious first responders like Red Cross seem to be long gone from providing aid. Please correct me if I’m wrong, and consider linking to some groups that are still working to help the situation. Thanks.

  17. HokiePundit Says:

    One thing which is badly needed are basic medical supplies like gauze pads, bandages, antibiotic ointment, as many EMT crews have been unable to replenish their supplies of these. I guess pretty much any medical supplies which could be regarded as “single-use.”

    For people gutting houses, here are some things which are needed:
    -respirators (preferably) or N95 masks
    -waterproof boots
    -steel-toed boots (waterproof steel-toed boots would be great, but generally if you’ve got a mix in your crew you can handle whatever comes up)
    -hard hats
    -canvas/leather work gloves
    -eye protection (chemistry goggles are okay, but get hot quickly)
    -cheap long-sleeved t-shirts. You want to have as much of your skin covered as possible, but you shouldn’t bring anything to wear that you’re not okay with throwing away afterwards
    -moist towelettes
    -Febreze
    -air fresheners

    As for tools, more of these would be handy:
    -claw hammers, especially ones with a blade-like shaft (I’m sure there’s a proper name for this)
    -flatbars (recurved flatbars are even better)
    -exchangeable-head screwdrivers
    -monkey wrenches

    Don’t bother sending bottled water; it’s expensive to transport and they’ve got mountains of the stuff. The FEMA food is good, too, so I wouldn’t waste my postage on snacks.

    The group I worked with down there was Samaritan’s Purse, which is associated with Billy Graham and his son Franklin. They’re certainly a worthy group.

  18. Cyndi F. Says:

    I’ve also read (and have no trouble believing) that even of those houses that are structurally sound, many are uninhabitable due to mold infestation.

  19. jwv Says:

    Will-
    My wife and I were in N.O. for jazz fest the same time you were. Her cousin lives there and drove us around on Sunday before we left, I’m glad that you have a forum for showing your pictures of the devastation that still exists. Sadly, my pictures will only be on my hard drive. I’m glad to have gone and spent my money there.

  20. doctorj Says:

    http://scoutprime.blogspot.com/
    Video showing the 9th Ward. Looks this way today – 8 months later. You can drive for hours seeing the same view.

  21. mrsizer Says:

    Doing the same thing over again sounds like a recipe for doing it all over again, again.

    Denver had a massive fire (a long time ago, don’t know when) and changed all the building codes to require brick construction. Downtown – really all of Denver proper – is all brick: No wood frame houses at all. No doubt it was very expensive, but it’s still here.

    Why would anyone tear down moldy drywall, treat the frame, then put up more drywall? Some buildings should be uninsurable.

    I guess I just don’t have sentimental attachments to places. It’s just dirt. Let it go. If one can drive for hours seeing only devastation, tear it all down and make it a green belt. If the global warming folks are right, this is going to get worse, not better.

    Someone (a documentary about earthquakes, maybe?) raised a good point: America is a young country. We’ve built cities pretty much where ever it is convenient for us. Europe and Asia are much older. Most of the sites that are subject to diaster have ruins on them but no active cities. We haven’t been around long enough to have ruins…

    It’s the people who are important. Where they live is not.

  22. slickdpdx Says:

    Beware those last days of May! I hope you and you friends aren’t driving in a rented car…

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