Social media reveal schism in Jazz Fest booking priorities

Fans of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival used to have to wait until after Mardi Gras to get a glimpse at the acts that will grace the stages at the New Orleans Fairgrounds this Spring.

This year the list of bands came out earlier than ever. The full schedule is due in March. Here are my initial thoughts.

Almost immediately after the list of acts was released, social media sites lit up with comments. What are they thinking—the Eagles (pictured above) at a jazz fest? I am so psyched they got the Eagles! The Foo Fighters? Who’s next Black Sabbath? Where’s the jazz at Jazz Fest? I am so pumped for Herbie Hancock!

What these comments, and hundreds more if you care to spend your time reading them, prove is a fundamental disconnect between two segments of fans of the annual event. Old timers, who remember the fest before it got all “corporate,” true jazz lovers and fans of niche styles bemoan changes that have actually been the status quo for years.

While fans of specific artists, who generally are attending the event just to see their favorite act, relish the opportunity to hear them in a setting as cool as the Jazz Fest.

What’s fascinating for me as a generally open-minded music aficionado, who is also a long time attendee, true jazz fan, and niche style lover, is the opportunity to see how the other side lives. I rarely get all hot and bothered about a specific artist, but I do get excited about the event itself.

In the past, all I ever heard was the griping from like-minded music fans. Why isn’t so-and-so on the bill? I can’t believe they sold out and got so-and-so. I never felt the buzz of anticipation for the large segment of the audience that heads out to the Fairgrounds on any given day, to wait all day, for a specific act. Social media have changed that.

Perusing the Jazz Fest message board and Facebook page, it appears that the posters are split in half. For every person lamenting the booking of the Eagles, there’s someone who is counting the days to see Joe Walsh and Don Henley, and sing along to “Hotel California” at the top of their lungs.

What the naysayers don’t seem to realize is that the big time acts pay for the hundreds of smaller and niche acts. Jazz fans are excited to see Esperanza Spaulding’s name on the list. Outlaw country fans are psyched about Steve Earle. World music fans are pumped about Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 (pictured above) and the list goes on. Get over the fact that Tom Petty is playing.

Personally, I am psyched about some of the local bands that I have heard about but have yet to see live like Empress Hotel. I am glad that Dave and Tommy Malone are booked as the Malone Brothers. I hope schedule conflicts don’t keep me from checking out some of the buzz bands I have heard about like Florence + the Machine, Bon Iver, and Feist. I couldn’t care less that Zebra, one of the three New Orleans rock bands from the 1980s that had a major label deal, finally got a Jazz Fest gig.

But trust me, there are people out there who are totally thrilled.

Herbie Hancock Photo: Francis Wolff

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12 comments
Jay
Jay

well put Michael!

Michael Dominici
Michael Dominici like.author.displayName 1 Like

What those crap big name acts also do is eliminate the nostalgic and historical elements of JF. Trust me, nobody waxes on about having seen Dave Matthews, Najee, Bon Jovi, and those arena rock bands that they could have seen anywhere and gotten the same show compared to those that remember with astute precision sets by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, The Chambers Brothers, Brian Wilson, B.B. King, and other giants. That's what it's REALLY about. It's about creating a living legacy. That's why there's busts of Professor Longhair, images of Mahalia and Duke, Clifton Chenier and Danny Barker. Don't disgrace their legacy and indeed the legacy of the festival itself by insisting on booking mainstream garbage on a regular basis. It poisons the atmosphere no matter how you attempt to justify its higher purpose.

Michael Dominici
Michael Dominici like.author.displayName 1 Like

The 'naysayers' aren't complaining about the fact that JF has to book big name acts to 'support' the small name acts, although it's hard to imagine the return rate of paying Bon Jovi $1,000,000. That's simply obscene. JF has had plenty of worthy headliners from Dylan to John Fogerty, Springsteen, Al Green, Wynton Marsalis, George Clinton, Steel Pulse, and Aretha (at least they tried) -just to name a few. But, they've also had an avalanche of crap: Hootie & The Blowhards, Dave Matthews, Joan Osborne, Kenny G, Najee, The Doobie Brothers, Jimmy Buffet and more that in no way can be justified to have anything to do with Jazz or Heritage or better still just even good. So, that money is essentially wasted on crap and there's the rub. The disrespect to its own name and mission. There are countless examples of other local, national, and international festivals ranging from non-profit to highly successful commercial enterprises that leave Jazzfest in the dust on a perennial basis and that speaks to the laziness, cronyism, and utter lack of imagination in the booking department at JF. People wouldn't be bitching if they didn't care and there wasn't a value alternative out there to compare and contrast with...everyone knows they could and should do a far better job in this regard.

Plunk 88
Plunk 88

The money is in the merchandise and concessions kid. The ticket price is just a rationalization.... and it might just serve as a velvet rope strategy to keep out the great unwashed that won't drop an extra couple of hundred bucks on beer, posters, t-shirts, food and... more beer.The only reason to go to the fairgrounds as a local is to play it, get a comp, and hang. Other than that, I'll take the FQF over the circus at the fairgrounds anyday.Its just evolution. Quint's been doing this for awhile, so he knows what works for him, and that friends is the bottom line. Whatever you may think of booking policies and pricing tables, especially the ones applied to the hard working "second tier" locals... Only Quint has to really wake up every morning and look at himself in the mirror. He seems to be fine with his own daily visage.

That bifurcation has been happening for years. Want New Orleans Music? FQF, evening club shows on Jazz Fest Weekends and Satchmo Fest. Want Pop Music (Which to a wider demographic is much more valid)? Go to Jazz Fest, and get a sampling of some other cool stuff, including New Orleans Artists.

CalebGuillotte
CalebGuillotte

Great article Jay-I admit, I am one of those crumudgons who complains about (non-roots) rock bands in general, let alone megasaurs like The Eagles (and I was lucky enough to play the fest a few years with my pop rock band in the 1990's...but at least my family has been here for over 280 years, so I have the heritage part down, if not the jazz), so I'm a bit of a hypocrite.

I know businesses often need to expand to survive, but I actually think the real problem is the fest is too big. I think raising prices on out of state visitors while lowering prices on locals and reducing the amount of monster acts (that are not Jazz/Blues/R&B legends) might be better for the music and musicians this noble enterprise originally set out to nurture.

Billy T
Billy T

Thanks for this, Jay. I know it is totally irrational of me, but it really annoys me that they booked the Eagles. The Eagles and my discovery that tickets would be $65 at the gate this year really got me to grousing. How many more years do we think Jazz Fest will continue raising ticket prices every single year? When does the ticket price explosion hit its peak and hopefully trend back downward? I would love to know how large of a guarantee bands like the Eagles and Bon Jovi receive from Jazz Fest. Quint hinted in his Times Pic interview that they had booked so much "top" talent this year that that was the reason for this year's price increase. But that begs the question... do these big dinosaur rock bands with little to no connection to the "roots music spirit" of Jazz Fest really enable for creative bookings down the schedule? If the festival is paying a massive guarantee to get them there, sure, they'll draw a good crowd, but the finances might be a wash when all is said and done because of the massive guarantee. And then there is the whole issue of band payments, where your The Eagles and Bon Jovi get paid "phat" checks while most of the Louisiana and New Orleans bands booked are offered a pittance and told "if you don't like it, then we'll just book somebody else."

SuzyBarros
SuzyBarros

Don't fuck with my crawfish monica and we are cool, mr foo fighter

ArianeTrahan
ArianeTrahan

Totally agree with you, JRjr. The merging of new and old is not such a terrible idea. Jazz Fest always has something for everyone. I'll be going!

Wonderful piece, Jay.

Jay
Jay

@rexg- the argument is one that is presented by the producers. I can't say for sure if it's true or makes sense on economic terms. However, it clearly is a trade off.

RexG
RexG

I don't necessarily buy the argument that the bigger artists subsidize the smaller acts. To my knowledge, Fest attendance has been shrinking and shrinking. This is because the ticket price has doubled in less than a decade and the acts that they get are increasingly undesirable commercial mainstreamers who have absolutely nothing to do with either New Orleans Heritage or Jazz whatsoever. I'm perfectly content with a much smaller, much more affordable Fest with a more local lineup with a few jazz superstars. Make it less about drawing the Metairie crowd for a sing song of Hotel California and make it a bit more about the culture of New Orleans and the deep heritage of Jazz music, please?

JRjr
JRjr

The endless comments and strong opinions are only indicative of how much passion fest fans have for their time in New Orleans at the Fair Grounds. For me Jazz Fest remains a way to discover both new and old music. Thanks Jay for nailing the sentiment!

WJ
WJ

Who is behind the door?

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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