On The Road
"N'awlins" is synonymous with cool music, great eats and guaranteed good times. The colorful city is steeped in Franco-Caribbean traditions — the food, the vernacular, the sights and sounds of Creole – but this year's venerable New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival focuses on its deeply rooted Haitian influence, which dates back to the early 1800s. With more than 400,000 festival-goers expected, the 2011 fest is primed to be one of the largest celebrations of Haitian culture in the U.S. since the island nation's devastating earthquake last January.
Multiple venues showcase the best in Haitian art, music, culture and cuisine, giving attendees the chance to join rara band processions and groove to Haitian compás and racine music. Some of Haiti's most popular modern acts are scheduled to perform, including Wyclef Jean, Emeline Michel, Tabou Combo and Ti-Coca & Wanga Négès. In a recent interview, Ti-Coca — who's revered for embracing the troubadour tradition — said he's proud to participate in the fest with other well-known Haitian bands, and described his music as "very Haitian in the rhythm, the words, the feeling. It's dance music you can find in the streets, the beaches, private parties. It's very tasty and easy to dance to ... It shows the pleasure of living of Haitians, their ability to enjoy the simple things in life. Lyrics can be critical of society, they often are. But this music is first made to share a moment of pleasure between people."
A Haitian Pavilion showcases artisans who craft decorative metalwork, papier-mâché Carnival masks and vodou flags (with all proceeds from sales to benefit Haitian artisan communities). The pavilion also examines the overlapping religious traditions of New Orleans and Haitian cultures, like vodou, honoring them with daily vodou ceremonies, traditional drumming performances and a replica of a vodou temple that serves as the centerpiece of the experience. Other notable components include "Haiti & New Orleans: Cultural Crossroads," a series of presentations by local, national and international experts who examine the impact of Haitian immigrants on southern Louisiana architecture, parades, vodou practice, carnival, music, and beading and masking traditions; a "listening booth" that features the Grammy-nominated Library of Congress "Haiti Box" compilation of more than 50 hours of recorded folk music as well as film documenting music, dance and rituals culled by famed ethnomusicologist Dr. Alan Lomax during his visit to Haiti in the mid-1930s; and Zatarain's Food Heritage Stage, which showcases New Orleans' culinary ties to Haiti via cooking demos and tasty offerings sure to entice.
All this and the French Quarter just 10 minutes away ... what more could you ask for, really? —Cynthia Mulligan
Looming warm and bright in my concert-going horizon like a perfect storm of great times waiting to happen is the second annual Hangout Music Fest, a three-day event that ushers in the summer with tasty live music right on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
The lineup alone was enough to get my attention. Favorites I've never seen live, like Paul Simon, whose buoyant music is woven into the fabric of my childhood memories, and Cee Lo Green, his booming soulful howl a powerful and vibrant addition to my musical collection. Favorites I've seen a number of times, but that can always — always — be counted on to entertain, like cheeky rockin' Ween, Gene and Dean delivering a far more intense live show than you might expect from their brown humor albums and satisfying a base human need to scream along to their perverse and absurd songs, and psyche-alt roots outfit My Morning Jacket, generally known for rocking the faces off their masses of fans (this one included) with blistering balls-out performances. Favorites I've seen once, but not in a very long time, like garage blues duo The Black Keys, who ambushed the Skipper's stage in 2005 and have since blown up to mainstream levels, deservedly so, and the Foo Fighters, which raged Livestock 2000 and made me appreciate the force-of-nature otherwise known as Dave Grohl. Random unexpected additions also piqued my interest, like The Verve Pipe, the alt-rock outfit that made their bread in the mid-'90s with a chart-topping single, "The Freshmen," released a children's album in 2009, and makes two appearances on the Kids Stage; and Mariachi El Bronx, aka The Bronx, an LA-based punk band that makes mariachi-fused music.
Other factors drawing me to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for a musical adventure-vacation? The drive: It takes roughly eight hours, most of it straightforward highway — piece of cake. The chance to spend quality time with great friends — because it isn't an experience unless you bring someone along. And finally (and most importantly), the setting: stages directly on the beach at a site surrounded by an abundance of waterside properties, which means you can find a room with a view at a great price and if you're savvy enough, one within walking distance of the fest, so you can stroll (or stumble) back to your place afterwards, no cab or designated driver required. Tourist trap? Yep. Worth it in this context? Totally.
If all this sounds a little like a dream come true to you, too, there's still a month left to make plans. Visit hangoutmusicfest.com for details. —Leilani Polk
Look for Cynthia's NOLA review and Leilani's report from the Hangout at cltampa.com/music.