Sam in Mississippi

Jazz Fest Virgin

Honestly, it was more the allure of a day off from work than the concert itself.

"We're going to see Widespread Panic at Jazz Fest," said the Fiancé's best friend, Josh. He is a devoted fan, with CD covers in an arranged collage. He'll never forgive me for revealing that to the Internet. "Do ya'll want to go?"

I eyed him cautiously. "Will it be better than when we saw Moe?" referring to an incident last spring, where we journeyed to Starkville, Mississippi, for an unlikely double bill of Nickel Creek and Moe. When Moe went into their jam band mode, I found myself bored to tears. The only entertainment factor was watching people on hallucinogens dance themselves into a frenzy. It was one of the few times I didn't have a book in my purse. I still haven't forgiven myself.

"It will be a million times better than Moe," Josh promised.

"Then count me in. Besides, I've never been to Jazz Fest."

The day dawned glorious and sunny, full of the promise of good music and time with friends. Josh, The Fiancé's best friend and band mate, was driving, and treating us to a special mix CD of his favorite Panic songs. His girlfriend, Angie, was in the front seat, being helpful with directions and charming, as usual. The Fiancé was with me in the backseat, thinking his mysterious thoughts, behind a face that's hard to read.

We parked at City Park. "It's a long walk," apologized Angie, who is well-versed in the ways of New Orleans, "but the parking's free." Along the way, we took pictures in a graveyard. The last straw was when I was standing in the street to snap an interesting street lamp, the Fiancé requested that I refrain from picture-taking until we reached the gates. He believes it's hard to marry someone after they've been squashed in the street.

As soon as we entered the fairgrounds, I couldn't believe this ocean of humanity, ebbing around us with great speed and efficiency. I was dying of thirst, so I bought a massive sweet tea, while everyone else partook of icy cold Miller Lite. Angie and I wandered among the craft booths, gazing at local art and sighing over delicate jewelry.

There were miles of colorful huts offering Cajun and Creole treats. I went with the short 'crawfish sausage po-boy' line, thinking it would be a nice mix of crawfish and andouille sausage. Apparently they can put crawfish INTO sausage, and it's a very bad idea. To redeem my awful lunch, I devoured some of the mythical crawfish bread, which consisted of french bread, cheese, and crawfish. Completely magical.

Soon it was time to find where Widespread Panic was playing. When we arrived at the field, I couldn't believe the thousands of people spread out with their lawn chairs, cases of beer, and colorful flags marking their territory. We found a tiny patch between two camps and waited for YEARS for Widespread Panic to take the stage.

As soon as Panic appeared, the crowd erupted. Everyone started dancing. Men stripped to the waist, uninhibited by their beer bellies. Of course, there were some well-built fans, usually sporting the obligatory tribal tattoo. Of course, there were plenty of women who were amazing dancers as well. They moved with no inhibitions, hair wild, free, completely beautiful. Then there were those people who never stop dancing. They drink and dance, move their hands and hips like belly dancers, spin in circles and whisper in their fellow dancers' ears. They could be the modern incarnation of Sufi dancers, whirling dervishes. Shy in the middle of the crush of people, I could only muster the barest of hip shakes. The concert was long, so I spent some of it sitting on our blanket, watching the planes in the sky, feeling the music evaporate into the air. I will say this: it was much better than Moe. For a jam band, they don't seem too indulgent, and I enjoyed their offerings. But most of all, I enjoyed the fans, even the creepy ones dealing drugs out of their deep pockets.

Clouds obscured the sun, and cool breezes bathed us, readying us for night. When the concert ended, we joined the rivers of sticky concertgoers out the gates. We tumbled out into the streets, passing people enjoying cool drinks on their porches and balconies. When we finally collapsed in the car, we washed off with Handi-Wipes, trying to rid ourselves of the grit of mingling with thousands of people. It was a good day, I reflected, as I snuggled against the Fiancé, slowly descending into sleep. Next year I'm ready to do it all over again. Except, of course, for the crawfish sausage po-boy.


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