Monday, February 09, 2009

Mardi Gras/Jazz Fest-Space

Spring is the season for big parties in New Orleans (we don't require a special season for little parties... or medium parties... or medium-to-large parties...): first Mardi Gras, then Jazz Fest. And every year at this time I ponder the mystery: why do I love Mardi Gras but feel kind of "eh" towards Jazz Fest?* (Sarah has similar reactions.)

Conventional wisdom would, I believe, hold that people generally like/dislike the events in roughly equal proportions: they're both big, crowded spectacles with lots of music and lots of beer. You love them or you hate them, right?

A graph, perhaps? Allow me to define a two-dimensional Mardi Gras/Jazz Fest-space, with the x-axis indicating love of Mardi Gras on a scale of 0 to 10 and the y-axis indicating love of Jazz Fest on a scale of 0 to 10:

Pan-Curmudgeons—those who universally hate loud, crowded, boozy events, who go out of town during Mardi Gras and stay far away from Mid-City during Jazz Fest—reside in the bottom left corner of the graph. Pan-Partiers—those who universally love loud, crowded, boozy events, who put on their crazy hats and bright shirts in February and don't take them off until May—reside in the top right corner of the graph. And more generally, Proportional-Partiers—those who like or dislike the events to a roughly equal degree—plot closely along the central diagonal stretching from the origin (0, 0) to the Party-Peak (10, 10).

So what's to explain the outliers, those of us who reside in the bottom right or (particularly baffling to me) the top left quadrants? And are we so rare? Is Party-Proportionality truly the norm? Or is the human animal far more complex, the actual scatter-plot far more varied and unpredictable (forming, perhaps, the outline of a wacky jester's cap)?

Slimbologists, bring me data!

* I get positively giddy as Mardi Gras approaches—the sound of
practicing marching bands , the clusters of police barricades blossoming on the neutral grounds—I can't get enough. I like Jazz Fest well enough, for a few hours, maybe on a Thursday, but beyond that I start to get the jitters and feel like I need to go hide in a dark closet with a large glass of ice water.


  1. I feel the same way. Maybe it's the heat plus the open space plus the pitch of excitement (lower, more spread across time....I like the temp better during Mardi Gras, the frenzy of the parade crowd and the bands. I love high school marching bands!

    When I go to Jazz fest, it is for a particular show, for people watching and for the food. Mostly for the food. I also feel like I need to stay the whole day due to the price of a ticket and I don't like that feeling -esp when it's muddy.

    There is something about the scantily clothed college kids that urks me, too, but I think it has to do with the uniform being the opposite of a costume-

    which is my all time favorite thing about Mardi Gras: costumes!

    I haven't quite nailed it all down, but there's an attempt.

  2. Maybe it's because you prefer being entirely independent to anything else? Something many New Orleanian's love.

    I prefer Mardi Gras because the events, opportunities, and combination's are not only endless but they are also optional. Oh, the glorious option!

    I work for Prejean's at JazzFest so that I can have an excuse to see certain acts perform. Otherwise 2 weekends of being stuck in circles at the racetrack, having to buy nearly all my food and drink, and not being able to necessarily leave when i want to, feels like a death wish.

    That's my theory, take it or leave it.

  3. Anonymous11:58 AM

    Why does it need to be Mardi Gras v. Jazzfest?

    Mardi Gras is terrific. It is the culmination of a weeks long series of parades and parties involving costumes, beads flying through the air, ladders with wheels attached, etc. Its in a class of its own.

    Jazzfest is a multiday music festival, large parts of which are clearly objectionable. (See, e.g., Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, etc.) But there is greatness there. Wyclef Jean praising the sun as it breaks through the rain and clouds. Frankie "Sea Cruise" Ford telling amazingly bad jokes that you only hear because you are trying to hold down a good spot at the Acura Stage for the subsequent, amazing performance by Steely Dan. Stevie Wonder performing wonderfully (with his daughter, if memory serves). Glen David Andrews barely holding it together. Elvis Costello playing with Allen Toussaint. Then cochon de lait poboys, fried softshell crabs, crawfish monica, etc.

    My sense is that Jazzfest requires blinders that keep you from seeing the bad parts, the Phish fans sliding around in mud, the annoying girls in cowboy hats, the die hard festers bragging about his historic Jazzfest shirts BUT everything in New Orleans requires that you overlook the bad parts.

  4. "Why does it need to be Mardi Gras v. Jazzfest?"

    Well, I find the comparison inevitable: they're our two big events of the year, drawing people from all the world, and falling one after the other on the calendar, they collectively set the tone of the city for the coming months.

    But it's not so much Mardi Gras versus Jazz Fest. They're semi-independent variables, and I'm curious how they mix and match.

    I imagine it like a personality test: I'm High-Mardi-Gras, Low-Jazz-Fest (HMLJ). Some are are High-Mardi-Gras, High-Jazz-Fest (HMHJ). Then there's the LMLJs and the LMHJs...

    So much to ponder.

  5. I love them both. But they each evoke different emotions. Mardi Gras just seems like a meandering journey that can take you in any direction. Jazzfest feels like a PLACE that I visit each year. Kind of like when I leave the Fairgrounds, Jazzfest keeps going and I just come back and visit it again the following year.

    Sadly, now that I live in the frigid north, neither is particularly easy to attend, so the thought of either one of them brings tears to my eyes.

  6. Ummm, what's wrong with Bon Jovi?

  7. Yes, several of you have touched on the loose, free, scattered, organic quality of Mardi Gras versus the centralized, payed-for, intensive quality of Jazz Fest, and I think that's a central difference.

    And beanerclausi, thank you, I'm glad to hear from a proud member of the HMHJ quadrant. Good luck with the frigid north. Fortunately, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so come visit when you can.

    And Nik, are we about to have a spousal Bon Jovi fight in the comment section? Ooh, I hope so. Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

  8. Anonymous8:09 AM

    I can only speak for MG and JF in the 90s (I think at least JF is very different now: cost, crowds) But I was mostly LMHJ. Toward the end of my NO years (2000) I was zero MG mid J.
    Perhaps would be different again now with kids.