You-phoria welcomes our newest contributor, Mike Ferguson, who braved the downpour in the Big Easy to bring us this report from day one of the NOJHF.
Q: What do you get when you mix two inches of rain in three hours, the third oldest horse race track in America, 2,000 screaming fans and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic?
A: You get the Funk!
This was my first trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I was visiting my daughter who moved this last year to NOLA and was looking forward to hearing some great music and enjoying the sweet sunshine of the delta. Being a Milwaukee Summerfest veteran and looking at the NOJHF info online, I expected a southern twist on my annual music trek. My daughter’s boyfriend Franklin was a huge George Clinton fan, so we targeted the first Friday of the fest and the Congo Square stage to see George and P-Funk in action. (Note: The NOJHF runs Thursday through Sunday the last two weekends of April.)
As we entered the New Orleans Fair Grounds between the Blues and Gospel Tents, the gospel music filtered through the air--dodging raindrops. Refreshing beverages (beer, daiquiris...) and delicious foods (red beans & rice, crawfish, cracklins...) greeted us every step of the way as we made our way around the track to the Congo Square. We arrived early, staked out our place in the mud and enjoyed ourselves as the crowd swelled.
P-Funk came out and got the crowd going, starting with classic favorite “Give Up The Funk” and ending with “Flashlight”, with Clinton playing the P-Funk like an orchestra leader throughout the long set. This was much to the chagrin of his onstage nemesis, Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk. Sir Nose was excited to see the rain and mud and hoped that this would drive the funk out of the fairgrounds! But performances from sultry Kendra Foster (“Bounce to This”) and Rollergirl Kimberly Manning, accented with Robert "P-Nut" Johnson’s bouncy tambourine and a crazy dance by Sir Nose himself toward the end of the show, drove the wet crowd crazy.
The highlight was guest singer Melody, a local NOLA blues singer who belted out the finale and blew the doors off the car with her powerful vocals. She said she enjoyed seeing concert crowds standing in the pouring rain because it was then when “you get the butter from the duck”, as the saying goes down south. As the concert broke up, Franklin ran into his friend, DJ Soul Sister, a local funky jock who also knew that George and the P-Funk would be at Tipitina’s in the French Quarter later that night for a surprise performance.
The day didn’t end there, as after a stop for more food and drink, we went to the Acura Stage and entered what was for me a surprisingly excellent Lionel Richie concert. He put on a great show and sent us toward the NOLA night with “All Night Long”, but that’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was a tremendous experience and not one that I will forget very soon. I do plan to return and will hope for a dryer day—but appreciate the hardcore fans that were with me for my first run.