What happens when a Canadian girl visits an American girl’s playground?
It was day one in New Orleans and we landed seconds before the sky opened, wreaking havoc on The Big Easy. OK, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but I’m a Canadian girl who has maybe seen a handful of storms like that in her lifetime, so for me, this was pretty intense.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell was big, and I mean BIG. Sure, we have a jazz festival in Montreal that is generally hosted in the super congested downtown core, but NOLA Jazz Fest is in a league of its own.
The festival is owned by the nonprofit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which uses proceeds to fund an array of cultural and educational programs. The Fairgrounds are a vast space, which easily holds several stages, including the Acura stage, Mainstage, and Congo stage – where we spent most of our time watching the acts.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
April 30th would also be known as the day that I finally saw Tom Petty perform live. As he took the stage with his bandana-wrapped hair, shades, and free range beard, the crowd screamed with excitement. Celebrating 40-years in the business at the New Orleans Jazz festival was right where he belonged.
Seeing Tom Petty perform in New Orleans Louisiana at the end of an intense tropical-like rain storm was everything I could have imagined and more. It brought back every car ride as a child, countless road trips, growing pains and more coming of age moments than I could count. One flashbulb memory after another, all in the name of determination. His determination to play and my determination to be there – a Canadian girl, far from home taking a trip I wasn’t sure that I could afford (I couldn’t), but yet there we were and every single bit of it felt so right.
Tom and his Heartbreakers gave us their all and played for over two hours, bringing to life songs from all eras. Symbolically during “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” I shared a joint with the guy standing next to me. It happened organically as if fate stepped in and said “here Jess, scratch this one off your bucket list”, and I did.
From the Acura stage, they played all the classics”You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “You Got Lucky,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Learning to Fly,” and, finally, after the crowd demanded relentlessly for pretty much the entire set, Tom and the crew performed “American Girl.”
At the end of the epic set, festival producer congratulated the audience for attending despite the earlier downpour. “You wouldn’t back down,” he said.
Together, we all willed the storm to stop just long enough to dance and splash around in the puddles (some more willingly than others). Luckily for us ill-prepared travelers, vendors sold us rainboots at a fair price of $20 USD – a key item for enjoying the festival with dry feet.
Food, Music & Culture in The Big Easy
Food vendors also occupied the space, so I did my duty to sample as much as possible during my two trips to the festival.
Day Two: Dave Matthews Band, Earth Wind Fire, Native Culture
More food, Earth, Wind and Fire and Dave Matthews Band occupied most of my second day at the festival. The Native Village also caught my attention, as did the incredible traditional designs that were worn by some of the performers. There’s no doubt that the city is rich in culture and pays homage to its roots in the very best of ways.
N’awlins, you stole my heart. Your people, your sound, your spirit was truly captivating. Thank you for making me feel so welcome everywhere I went. Already looking forward to returning <3