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The Best Fest Yet

One person's experience during of the 1998 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
by Steve Apple
also known as "The Perfect Season"

If you were one of the privileged several who were given a copy of my personal Jazz Fest message written to Alan last year, then you already know it was my worst Fest yet. There were anti-fun Roadblocks everywhere and I was driving with no car.

You may also have heard the cliche, "The Best Fest Yet" to describe 1998. Well it ain't no cliche, it is the truth. So on first Fest Friday I walked onto the Fair Grounds having nine Fests under my ever expanding belt with a real non-chalant attitude, "Oh it's Jazz Fest, I've lived some awesome Fests and it just can't get any better". It didn't take long before I was meeting friends who I've made over the years and spouting off "It's The Best Fest Yet".

In 1998 The BEST Weather in Jazz Fest History was recorded!

In 1998 I made more BEST friends!

In 1998 I ate in some of the BEST restaurants!

And in 1998 I was part of history when three of us threw the first "Pet De Kat Uptown Boil". Noted by some seasoned crawfish experts as some of the BEST crawfish ever!

So the "Best Fest Yet" title seems to work, at least for me and a few hundred of my friends.

I arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday, two days before the Jazz & Heritage Festival opens the gates at the Fair Grounds Race Track to me and over one hundred thousand of the nicest people on earth! This gives me time to hang with friends, sleep late, grab a lunch and stock up before the First Weekend marathon session begins.

Ya know it's gonna be good when... my flight on Southwest Airlines arrives 20 minutes early! and ya know it's gonna be a good Fest when... The nice lady at the car rental desk offers to upgrade me two car classes because she likes my smile. And ya know it's gonna be good when you meet two wonderful ladies while waiting for your rental car.

My friend Bill from Tobacco Road is already in town, already set up his Mid-City command post and is probably halfway through a case of rum by now. I swing by the place he was staying, see him wandering the streets... drag him into the car and head uptown to Ric Batt's house. This is my third time staying at Ric's place (Fest'97, Mardi Gras'98 and back again for Fest'98). Rick is a great host: From knowing everyone and everywhere to giving his friends run of the house to his laid back Yat ways, Ric is a great guy! Just don't screw over a Yat and you'll be fine.

I dump the bags and Ric, Bill and I head down the block to check out a band at Tipitina's. We stuck around for a song or two. The crowd was pretty sparse, the band didn't have too much energy. Ric mentioned Beau Jocque was at the Rock-n-Bowl. It didn't take too much convincing to head over there. The place was bursting with energy! Ran into two beautiful girls who were chatting me up back at the car rental place. Ric immediately charmed'em off their feet with his New Orleanian charm. It seemed these girls had great taste, in music at least, I saw them at every club I was at! Didn't get their numbers back in Colorado but somehow I think I'll run into them when I'm in the Rockies this summer.

Now it's Thursday morning. 9:30 am Al calls. He's in town! Made the drive with Handa Wanda from Kentucky. We're just 24 hours away from Jazz Fest. Anticipation levels are at 97% We need a release. Al & Wanda swing by Ric's place and we head down to Uglesich's for lunch. Ric was working on a stained glass piece (did I mention Ric is an artist?) and couldn't join us today.

Lunch was real good. It was mid-afternoon now and we went by the French Market for a while. No sign of Juli (the sarong lady), but we did run into Reagan. Who knew she was living in New Orleans now too? This world keeps getting smaller all the time. Must be El Nino.

Oh wow, it's been 2 hours. Time to eat again! Going for a nice meal tonight. The Upperline! Al
preached on and on to Joe Perez and me last week all the reasons why we shouldn't ever have dinners with more than 6 people at dinner. Maybe Al used the airlines for reservation tactics but we had 9 people there by the time dinner ended. (from memory, forgive me if I forgot ya), Betsy [FL], Wanda & Al [KY], Ric, Joe Schmidt [San Diego], his friend Linda [from DC], Kendra and Marvin [DC area] and me [FL]. I think that's all of us. We took over a good portion of the front dining room with our crowd, the service was good and the food was even better.

What ya gonna do when the well run dry? Well it's Thursday night. More arrivals! Joe & Marisol fly in with reinforcements! We rendezvous at Ric's place for some sort of plan. Yeah it's still early in Fest time so us fools think a plan is good. It's Thursday night, about 11 pm and we wanna hear ReBirth! We head over to Kemp's which was surprisingly empty. Joe suggested I walk over to a few guys standing on the corner. Well if ya don't know where Kemp's is, you don't get out of the car for a stroll. It's deep in the projects and when ya see the parking lot empty ya just keep driving. Fast. We went over to the Howlin' Wolf where Zigaboo's Funk Revue, Stanton More and the Indians of the [buy our disc] Nation were playing. Yeah it was a phenomenal night there! Stuck around for all 3 groups, they just kept getting better and better. I can say my Heys here to a ton of great people I ran into and met for the first time. I'll piss at least 5 of ya off because I don't mention ya. Man whatever happened to my idea to keep a little pad of paper and pen for notes? That idea went out back in the early 90s. No notes. Just blurs please. So add a few blah, blah blahs here and there.

Hey wait a second! It's Friday! FRIDAY? It's FEST FRIDAY! YEAH U RITE! This is what Xmus morning feels like to us Fest junkies! Get up early. Crank the stereo. Shout at the top of your lungs. WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! It's 9 am. Ya know we ain't gonna all be awake at 9 am any other days, might as well get an early start today.

Well the first carload to Fest was when Al & Wanda came by. Five of us left by about 10:30 am and headed over to Keith and Thea's place for a few pre-Fest hugs and to mend wounds left from some over zealous Kats and their sticker rampage last year. (note that this year a very limited amount of Pet De Kat stickers were printed. The majority were mailed away with t-shirts prior to Jazz Fest as to keep another episode like that from happening again).

It's hard to describe the feeling of walking into Jazz Fest every year, feeling like the first time. It's a little like going on that first date with the most wonderful girl you've ever known. There's so much anticipation, you want everything to be perfect and want to shout to everyone how happy you are. Well any non-Festers that knows me think I'm nuts to be doing this every year, for 10 years now. And if any of these non-Festers finally go to Fest, they see the light and understand why I am back year after year.

Dozens and dozens of people hugging and kissing just like long lost relatives found after years adrift. If you're not careful the greeting of old friends could easily occupy a good part of the day or days! At Fest Friday I did see the Poor Claires. Al's recommendation. Very good. And what about that Lagniappe Stage!? It was beautiful, as if a micro-festival right inside Jazz Fest. Lets do it again! Also on Friday were Y'Shua Manzy, Roland Stone, Paul Cebar & The Milwaukeeans. All I have to say about that is WOW. He's really come a long way over the years. Ruth Brown, Galatic, Dr. John, a bit of John Fogerty and closing the day out with the Iguanas on the House of Blues Stage. Thank you House of Blues for the hospitality extended to the Crescent City Music Show. It was very much appreciated!

Friday night, it's starting to becomeonebigblur. Liuzza's. That's why. A whole LOT of people congregated at Liuzza's for the Pet De Kat Krewe's "After Fest Social". Group pictures were taken. I know I was in at least 3 or 4 pictures. I helped keep an eye on the set up for Juli & David. Now I know there was dinner. I know there was music. Where? When? I don't know. How's that for in-depth reporting. Saturday. Day two of Jazz Fest continues. The weather? Perfect again! At the Fair Grounds I started the day out with my good friend George Payne from Virginia at The Golden Eagles. We chanted and jumped. I spotted TutuMan off to the side and danced up some dust with him too. About Noon I headed over to the Ray Ban stage to catch Michael Ward. Grabbed a bite to eat and rendezvoused with about 20 people from the Pet De Kat Krewe back up front at the Ray Ban stage for the Dirty Dozen! Check out their new album for a wonderful new surprise tune. After the Dozen it was time to get right with the concrete. So I headed over to the Gospel Tent for Charles Jackson & The Jackson Travlers.

Now I was ready for the new & improved John Mooney & Bluesiana. Former New Orleans resident, now hanging down in Florida. I've seen him a few times but his gig at the HOB stage was incredible! The crowd was cheering for him way beyond the music but because he slayed the dragon! Back to the Ray Ban for Etta James who put on a great show. Whoah! I took a 25 minute nap from 5 pm till 5:30 pm when Bonnie Raitt took the stage.

I woke up to the big smiles of Andrea [Fest Virgin from Florida] and Allison [former South Floridian, now New Orleanian]. They had their blanket spread out about 5 feet from Lucky and his catspaw krewe (where I napped). Cool. Hung with these two beautiful ladies for 4 or 5 songs then headed over to the Fais Do-Do Stage to close the day with Boozoo Chavis. Who Knew!

It was a photo op at Fais Do-Do stage. A Celebrity Guest all the way from Coconut Grove. My friend Todd had rumored that he was going to Fest, but everyone rumors they'll be there. Here's photo proof that he was at Jazz Fest'98. Lucky dawg gets to go to the Best Fest Yet on his first Fest.



Sunday and it's Bras From Hell Brunch! Betsy, her brother Dick and I go down to the brunch just in time for the traditional Bras From Hell photo op. We popped the champaign corks and made some mimosas to start the morning off with some Vitamin C. Sunday at the Fair Grounds.

Well we can't possibly get 3 great days of non-stop weather can we? Yup. Day Three another day of sunshine. Got to the Fair Grounds and socialized a bit more before heading to the Ray Ban Stage for ReBirth Brass Band (another favorite of the Pet De Kat Krewe). Gathered with a dozen or so Kats up front for their gig then it was over to House of Blues Stage for R.L. Burnside. Grabbed a snack before heading back to Ray Ban for the funky Meters. Met up with Bill and as we headed to Congo Square for Beau Jocque we ran into Monty & Da Bride. Monty had rigged up a Hang-in-there type cat for a Jazz Fest flag. That poor kitty slapped with stickers all over and some guys wondering how to initiate that kat too.

A bit early, there was some fashion show going on. Fabulous. We headed to Bruce Daigrepont at the Fais Do-Do stage. It's a beautiful thing seeing all my HOA friends dancing up a storm. Back over to Congo Square. Beau knows Zydeco. Git It Beau Jocque. No leaving the stage because this was the highlight of the weekend for me. Baaba Maal of Senegal. Their 90 minute performance was the icing, the cake and the baking pan!

Whoever was complaining that Dave Matthews shouldn't play because it's too much FM Music. Go pick another stage. Try the Congo Square stage! Or maybe Terrance Simien on Poloroid. Or Pete Fountain at Economy Hall. Or see the wonderful ladies from
Panama dancing with Osvaldo Ayala. I thought I missed their gig but late that night when Ric & I ventured over to Cafe Brasil for the Iguanas show, we got more than a handful. Just inches from our prime spots, up front, the Iguanas were playing and they announced Osvaldo was joining them, along with his keyboard player AND the two beautiful dancers! Double Bonus.


Bill & Lil' Beth Couldn't stay out too late because we were making history on Monday. Hosting the first ever Pet De Kat Uptown Boil at Audubon Park. Almost everyone invited showed. It was a huge success! Thanks to George Payne for helping the prep for the boil! And thanks to Doug for making the best damn crawfish I ever tasted. Yeah You Right!
It looks like my hours are dwindling down. After the boil, well actually we had to sneak out a bit early. Wanda, Joe, Marisol and I had sneak out to hose off and change for dinner at Bayona. This was another major highlight for me. I really enjoyed this place. Very tasty food. I'll be trying this again when I'm not so rushed to eat a great dinner immediately after a crawfish boil. Rushing from meal to meal. Is this heaven? Maybe just add a brass band playing between meals. Oh wait, WWOZ, along with Offbeat Magazine, my life-lines to Louisiana when I'm not there, has brass on the radio! I'm glad I'm driving a rental car.

After this fabulous dinner at Bayona, I wanted to make the most of it. I drank a few pots of coffee and headed to the Maple Leaf Bar for Paul Cebar's gig. About an hour through it I was really getting tired and bleary eyed. Awake too early. Shopping for the crawfish boil. Stressing because the organizer of the crawfish boil unavailable for comment until well after Noon. And the mid-day partying must have caught up with me. It was just shy of 2 am when I bailed out of the Maple Leaf, saw my buddy Jimmy [from Jimmy's on Willow] drive by. We shouted back and forth happy Fest and see ya next year. I started to get really bummed. I knew it was now just hours till I left. I went over to Jimmy's to check out that band. Not too much happening so I popped into Carrollton Station where I expected Brunt to be holding up a wall, or maybe mopping up the floor with his face. No Brunt, but Wayne was there.. We hung for a hour or so then I headed back to Ric's for a last night of sleep in New Orleans. Next day Karen [from Germany] left a message than George, Karen, Jerry/Blukat are meeting for lunch at Acme Oyster House. I really tried to make it but I got chatting with Ric and time passed. I didn't want to leave town, especially knowing there was a big party at Blukat's the next day [Daze Between], and week two of Jazz Fest just around the corner filled with more of my Fest friends.

I said my goodbyes to the people at Ric's place and headed to the airport. Feeling like I was leaving early. Something wrong. Next year I'll make better plans and stay longer! I know one thing, I want to have a "Second Annual Pet De Kat Uptown Boil". Look out it's just a few hundred days till Jazz Fest! Start planning NOW!