Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shotgun Marriage

In New Orleans, chewing on the Jazz Fest lineup is a ritual as time honored as throwing coconuts from the Zulu parade. Still, if I were festival producer Quint Davis, neither of these reader responses at would make me very happy. A critic writes:

snoooooze...been there done surprises and same old same old...look at who is touring this summer and look at all of the great acts we are missing out on....time for Quint to get out his little black book and make some phone calls and beg...wondering why almost all of the big name brit legacy acts from the 60s have avoided Jazz Fest like the plague since Katrina, but show up as spectators?

A festival defender writes:

Ever heard of the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."?
Might look like the same line-up from the past, but why change it if it satisfies thousands of other people - locals AND non-locals? And when did New Orleans become a city of "Keep Out Tourists"?
I've bought my ticket - proud to support my hometown (recession or not).

My guess is that Davis didn't get what he got because he didn't beg enough; the lineup features so many artists that have played the festival before that they have to be there by choice, not default. But when you trot out a talent roster that includes Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, and a host of other E ticket attractions and people are bored, it means you've leaned on these artists and their generation a little too hard - enough to make the prospect of seeing them unexciting.

The festival's defender's attitude is almost sadder - who cares? For many, Jazz Fest is a party, and the music is just the background. Typically, artists such as Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and to a lesser extent Bob Dylan annoy this brand of festgoer because they don't want Van, Joni or Bob circa 2008; they want the hits to sound like the hits because that makes the party better. And presenting the usual suspects on a regular basis guarantees that the party won't change.

For me, the most interesting feature of this year's lineup is the apparent schism between the producers, Festival Productions and AEG Live. Jazz Fest has had a traditional problem dealing with modern times, and for the most part, it tried to acknowledge and attract people under 40 by presenting the jam bands. That made a certain amount of sense, but now that the jam wave was receded, the void has been filled by such un-Fest-like bands as Kings of Leon and Spoon, bands for whom Davis' fest-defining phrase "the heritage of jazz" seems stretched in the extreme.

It looks from the cheap seats (I have no inside knowledge) as if Davis hopes as he seemingly has always hoped, that the soul/R&B/blues stars of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s will always draw and will always find audiences large enough to sustain the festival, while AEG Live is looking to keep younger fans coming in the door, even if the fit's a rough one.

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