Sunday, April 28, 2013

MUSIC FESTIVAL SMACK-DOWN: Bluesfest versus Jazz Fest

In the past 12 months I've had the very great fortune of attending two mega music events. And that's odd for me. You could count all the gigs I've ever been to on my fingers and toes, even if you include the school lunchtime concerts by Aussie acts in the 80s like Kids in the Kitchen, The Machinations, the Dynamic Hepnotics and The Cockroaches (who morphed into a little thing called The Wiggles in the 90s).

They must have been the oddest gigs for those bands. An all-boys school in the middle of the day, lunch bags rustling as a few hundred teens tucked into whatever Mum or Dad had packed that morning.

But I digress…

Last May I found myself in New Orleans enjoying the many pleasures of the Jazz and Heritage Festival (let's call it Jazz Fest) with half a dozen mates. And just a few weeks ago I got my daggy-dad groove on at the Byron Bay Bluesfest here in Oz with my wife and kids. So, having had a taste of each, brace yourself for my definitive smack-down of the two events.

This bout will take place over 5 rounds, mano y mano, no holds barred.

Even before a punch has been landed, this looks like a one-sided affair with a featherweight up against a heavyweight behemoth. Let's look at the numbers:

> Jazz Fest: 7 days over two weekends; 12 stages; 350,000 fest-goers
> Bluesfest: 5 days over one weekend; 7 stages; 100,000 fest-goers

No brainer. Jazz Fest wins this one.

ROUND 1: Pound for Pound Impact

OK, we're going to use the infallible Per Capita scale here. This is a uniquely Australian way of measuring success. Every four years our athletes, let's face it, overachieve at the Olympic Games. Apart from the most recent games in London but we no longer recognise them as an official event. A bit of an anomaly, really. In a real Olympic Games we usually come closer to the top than the bottom of the medal table. Then, to get the true result we plug some numbers into a brilliant equation we've invented that measures medals-won-as-a-proportion-of-population. We love it. The Per Capita scale rockets us past bigger nations like the US and China, France and Great Britain, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that, by the same measure, the damn Kiwis blow us out of the water and every other Games venue. Applying the Per Capita scale to the smack-down produces a result like this:

> Bluesfest: 100,000 tickets sold to an event in a shire with a population of just 30,000 people. I'm no rocket surgeon but that looks like a Per Capita factor of about 3:1.
> Jazz Fest sells just 350,000 tickets in a city of more than a million charming folk. Looks like the total inverse.

Clearly, pound for pound Bluesfest punches well above its weight.

Round 1 to Bluesfest. Unanimous decision.

ROUND 2: The Line-Ups

New Orleans really is a massive event and with an unmatched availability of mega-stars. The reality is Jazz Fest can draw on the deepest vein of talent on the planet. Sure, Bluesfest gets its fair share of international megastars and some seriously high quality local acts, but it's always going to be on the back foot, jabbing away determinedly. In recent years we've seen Dylan, Plant, Simon, Harper, Mayer, Fogerty, Wilco, Costello come to Bluesfest. But really those guys provide little more than a rope-a-dope defence against a much bigger opponent. Big names indeed, but they look like a regular year at Jazz Fest. Take 2013's line-up, for example:

Having done that, let's look at where the highest ranking common artist sits on the respective line ups: Ben Harper.

> Bluesfest 2013: Harper listed 3rd.
> Jazz Fest 2013: Harper listed 21st

Round 2: Jazz Fest by 18

ROUND 3: Accessibility

This is a close one. My personal experience of driving to/from both was pretty good.
At Bluesfest we typically sneaked away before the mad rush, jumped in the car and were home within 30 mins or so. Sure, we missed the last song or two but after a long day with weary kids on their last legs it was the perfect getaway.

At Jazz Fest, we engaged the services an extremely obliging gentleman who would collect us at a designated point in his ute/pick-up, help us set up our folding-chairs in the tray, distribute some chilled beers from a well-stocked esky and head off. Magically this seems to be perfectly legal in Louisiana. Wouldn't surprise me if it's enshrined in a constitutional amendment.

Both super convenient. A close one.

Round 3: Jazz Fest's fun-factor wins it.

ROUND 4: Eating

You'd find it hard to go hungry at either event. Unless you, like, hate food. And with both places revered by foodies this is going to be a close round but, for mine, Jazz Fest's official "no carnival food" policy is hard to beat. Not only does it keep the Carnies away, but it keeps things bloody delicious.  Absolute must-haves at Jazz Fest are the softshell crab po'boy, cochon de lait sandwiches, and Crawfish Monica. The oyster patties? Not so much.

Bluesfest's culinary landscape is diverse. Everything from Yemeni food to organic doughnuts and local Bun Coffee…yum. But where's the signature dish? Where's the famed local pork?

Round 4: Jazz Fest by a po'boy

ROUND 5: Seating

Whilst neither event really provides seating for the general punter, there's a clear distinction between the way patrons of each feels about folding chairs.

Jazzfest: Pretty much everyone brings one. There don't seem to be too many furrowed-brows. Chairs are carried in, (even sold at the gate) plonked down amongst others that may even shift about a bit to accommodate them. Introductions are made and everyone gets on with having a good time. There are so many BYO chairs that many patrons also bring a flagpole and hoist a banner to help them find their way back if they dash of for some victuals.

At Bluesfest, things are a little less convivial...

Round 5: Jazz Fest for its all-round, good-time sure-we-can-squeeze-six-of-you-and-your-chairs-here vibe.


When it's all said and done, the final bell rings and the fat lady sings, Jazz Fest is a formidable opponent and will always find a way to win. It's just a bigger beast. And with festivities continuing in the remarkable streets, alleys and bars of one of America's great cities each night until the wee small hours, you've got a recipe for awesomeness. Music bleeds from every nook and cranny of the Big Easy along with all kinds of vices and delectations. She's a relentless temptress and, as described here, she can easily get the better of you.

And I, for one, can't wait for her to get her light-fingered, jazz hands on me again.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a terrific time at the festival! While I’ve seen plenty of music concerts abroad, I’ve yet to visit a festival.