Zen and the Art of New Orleans Jazz Fest (or, Everything I Needed to Learn About Life, I Learned at Jazz Fest)
Jazz Fest in New Orleans. It’s my favorite place in the world, the highlight of my year. It’s not exactly what people think of when they think of spirituality, though. This year I brought a new friend with me, and I was telling someone, after the fact, that she was such a great Jazz Fest companion because not only was she awesome, but she was able to take care of herself so well. That prompted them to ask me: “what on earth happens there that she needs to take care of herself? Isn’t it supposed to be fun?”.
For you Princess Bride fans out there, Jazz Fest is like the fire swamp. Sure, there are obstacles, but once you figure them out (where to find air conditioning, how to find real toilets instead of porta-potties), you can live there quite happily for some time. Here are the top 9 life lessons I have learned at Jazz Fest:
1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Everyone always says, ‘Oh, it sounds fun, but I’m not a big jazz fan’, or they are intimidated by it, like it’s this hoity toity jazz music festival. Guess what: it’s not! It’s actually called the Jazz and Heritage Festival. There are over 10 stages, all with different types of music. (There is a whole tent dedicated to Jazz, but I haven’t been to it in the past few years.)
2. Don’t cling to the ever-repeating known. So, at Jazz Fest, they have the same food vendors every year. People, including myself, really tend to stick with their favorites year after year. For me, it used to be Crawfish Monica. Then I was introduced to Crawfish Bread. Then one year I decided to try the Cochon de Lait po-boys (when I still ate pork). This year, I tried the Soft Shell Crab po-boy, and I don’t know how I ever lived without it. I actually get teary eyed when I think about how long I have to wait until I eat one again. The thing is, though, my mind is blown almost every single time I try something new. And if it’s not? $6-10 later, I’m trying something else new and delicious.
3. Let go of expectations. There are times when the headliners that I was really excited to see just aren’t that good (sadly, Beck), or maybe they are really really bad (sadly, Van Morrison). Maybe the festival atmosphere doesn’t really suit them, or maybe they are past their prime. Or maybe I was just not in the mood. The REAL juicy bits of Jazz Fest aren’t in the headliners. They are in the acts you aren’t expecting. The 13 year old with the astounding voice and insane talent you hear at the small stage (EmiSunshine), or the married R&B duo backed by a rock band that BLOW YOUR MIND with their power, enthusiasm, and haunting voices (The War and Treaty). Some of my favorite bands of all time are bands I ‘discovered’ over the years while walking by their stage on my way somewhere else (Trombone Shorty, The Revivalists).
4. Life is not always gonna be easy. Jazz Fest can be tough. It can get hot, humid and crowded. There are long lines for the bathroom. There are emotional highs and lows, just like in life. Staying in the present moment, and taking care of yourself when needed with food, A/C, nice bathrooms, and water, is the best way to ensure your Jazz Fest longevity. Self-care, New Orleans-style.
5. Trust your intuition. Know yourself. I used to drink quite a bit in my day, and I still enjoy adult beverages in much more moderation, but I know I can’t drink in the hot sun. I have never been able to. I’ll dehydrate faster than a Georgia Peach on asphalt in the middle of summer, I’ll feel like crap, and I’ll be no fun at all. So, I drink tons and tons of water all day, and when the sun starts to go down (or if it is super cloudy), I’ll cautiously have a drink or two. But my fun times NEVER depend on it.
6. Human nature is innately good. Jazz Fest is a happy place. There are black people, white people, old people, young people, and everyone in between. Go to a stage when Al Green is playing, and you’ll see all types of people dancing together. Never have I once seen any violence, or any fighting. There is no douchebaggery, and even the ‘bros’ behave themselves.
7. Take the road less traveled. Some of the best parts of Jazz Fest are outside the festival grounds, away from the main entrance. People dancing in the streets outside the Fairgrounds, cooking out, less-polished (but no less amazing) brass bands playing in the street, and super cute ladies selling homemade 7-up Cake, sweet potato pies, and maple glazed pound cake.
8. Moments of pure bliss are everywhere. When the sun starts to go down, or in the middle of a huge rain storm when people are dancing in the mud, or when a second line marches by and everyone stops what they are doing to watch and dance, or when a performer really electrifies the crowd… that’s the magic of Jazz Fest. Letting it all go, and seeing what is already there.
9. Everything is better with a brass band. No explanation needed.
Let’s find the spiritual in the midst of chaos. Who’s with me?
If you are looking to get your bliss on, or if you want some guidance on finding the beauty in the struggle, BEFORE next year's Jazz Fest, come learn more about Conscious Health Meditation!