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The last time I went to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was during a post-college trip about a decade ago, and it was such a blast, I decided to go every single year. That plan hasn't exactly panned out, but this weekend I'm headed back to catch the first few days of this year's JazzFest. I can't decide what I'm more determined to do: check out as much music as possible (not just jazz but funk, Latin soul, gospel and more) or spend all weekend chasing after the outrageously good food sold all over the fairgrounds.
Here's some of what's cooking at JazzFest this weekend:
Braised rabbit and dumplings from Bayona chef-owner Susan Spicer; crawfish bisque from New Orleans celeb chef and F&W Best New Chef 1988 Frank Brigtsen; and dozens of other crazy-rich things like sausage-and-jalapeño bread, crawfish-sausage po-boys, oyster-and-artichoke soup, boudin balls, fried crawfish tails, fried eggplant with crawfish sauce, iron- skillet cornbread, fry bread, soft-shell crawfish po-boys...Sense any themes here?
As for the tunes: I'm leaving the music itinerary up to my friend, New Orleans D.J. Jonny Semi-Colón (aka Jonathan Goldman, who takes his alias from Puerto Rican-American boogaloo genius Johnny Colon). We're skipping the big shows, like Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones, and hitting the smaller acts that the city's music cognoscenti have been buzzing about, like Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove (a cult-favorite brass and funk band whose rare gigs tend to get mobbed), the Hot 8 Brass Band, and local Latin groups Vivaz! and Fredy Omar Con Su Banda. The Latin-music scene has been thriving in New Orleans post-Katrina (listen to Jonny's Tuesday-morning Boogaloo and Beyond sets on 90.7FM WWOZ, streamed live on wwoz.org, for more on that).
Off the JazzFest grounds, I'm eager for our two-hour road trip to Lafayette on Saturday to hear the Argentine rock band Los Pinguos at the Festival Internationale de Louisiane. But first, on Friday night in New Orleans, I'm headed to the Spotted Cat to catch the show by the Jazz Vipers, an acoustic swing band whose saxophonist and vocalist is Joe Braun, brother of cake-designer extraordinaire Margaret Braun. As always in New Orleans, every conversation somehow loops right back around to food.