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Joining a party in progress: Saturday at Monterey Jazz Festival

I arrived Saturday to a party in progress.  The strains from the Arena Stage were almost irresistible but first—the atmosphere and a little walk. Delicious people of all races and ages, about 50% over 50 I’d bet, speaking lots of languages, dressed in a smile-inducing panoply of costume, from hipster to resort wear, from ethnic to sportif, from black churchwear to Sierra hiking…and everyone looked fabulous together, like a party that said “come as you are—as you REALLY are.” 

The aromatic food just pulled me to the picnic area—it was all I remembered and more…more expensive, but also more varied and very very good with my favorite New Orleans jambalaya and catfish source as well as Ethiopian, Mexican, Thai, vegan, funnel cake (!) and myriad other cuisines and treats. A stride piano was playing for the crowd. The picnic tables were bulging with people making new friends and/or meeting up—some for the 50th year. The cheerful gathering looked like a town picnic in a movie musical set in an American past for which nostalgia isn’t necessary, it seems, as the spirit of art can join people together in such harmony.  

 With a “story in every direction” and my jambalaya in hand, I paused at the Garden Stage where Mitch Wood and His Rocket 88’s were singing a common song.  “We’re broke” Mitch said, “How about you?”  When the audience answered “Broke, broke, ain’t got no dough…” in an unconvincing murmer, “hey,” Wood exhorted,“even people from Carmel can sing along!” He got ‘em. “It’s no capital crime, when you don’t have a dime!” And the audience was feeling it,  “Broke, broke,” they shouted cheerfully.  A master at working his audience, Woods worked them with his gravelly-voiced swinging storytelling and the Rocket 88’s ripping the ridges with a 40’s style eight-to-the-bar boogie. 

By nowThe Musical Majesty of New Orleans with Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and a slew of special guests were drumming up an irresistible vortex over the Jimmy Lyons Arena Stage— a parade waiting to happen!   The small army of musicians looked right down from the big box stage looming over a football field size crowd looking right back up at them and, as I joined the throng it looked like musicians, instruments and their whole huge infectious sound were all just about to march down the stairs in a high brass drumline right into the welcoming arms of their audience. 

Two trombones, two trumpets…and Terence Blanchard’s trumpet, a force of its own…two drumsets and another drummer sprouting a snare on his waist, hanging on straps from his shoulders,  a percussionist…just in case the ensemble lost the beat…a tuba and two guitars all careened through some janglin’ tunes together, playing hallelujia gospel with a mountain twang and an African rhythm with that flatulent tuba underneath it all, came together in that irrepressible and unmistakable New Orleans sound. After igniting the crowd, guest MC Wendell Pierce from HBO’s Treme invited the arena crowd to come back and play it all again…in his city, in his neighborhood, in New Orleans.  Rollicking and irresistible, the party was over too soon.

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