Unique and Special
Come on, y’all! Let’s grab some crawfish pie and head down to the bayou as suggested by Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story, the new documentary that takes us on an up-close and personal run through the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (as it is formally called), the annual celebration of local Louisiana music and culture.
Debuting at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, but hitting American theaters this week, the film is a must watch for those who’ve never attended Jazz Fest as directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern appropriately place ample weight on featuring all the things that make the festival so unique and special.
Hand-held cameras amble through the multi-cultural crowd, while lofty drone shots provide an awe-inspiring birds-eye perspective of the festival held annually at the Fair Grounds Race Course, which temporarily becomes Louisiana’s 6th largest city each spring with annual attendance surpassing 400,000.
Festival veterans will also find plenty to enjoy as the Fest’s rich history and cultural significance get plenty of attention as well. Performances are interspersed with interviews from musicians (including Boyfriend, Pit Bull, Quint Davis, Irma Thomas, Tom Jones, Ellis Marsalis, and others), notable VIPs, and even the event’s founder George Weir, which provide an interesting historical perspective highlighting the event’s unique diversity, cultural attraction, southern hospitality, and local charm.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the food! You won’t find dogs and brats at this festival. Nope. Only regional cuisine is allowed to be sold in the food vendor area, and in many ways, the film is a food lovers delight as the cameras indulge in close-ups of gumbo pots, crawfish étouffée, baskets of fried gator tail, and the fest’s signature dish; Crawfish Monica. You smell and taste Jazz Fest!
But Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is about the music, and as we work our way about the grounds, we’re indulged with many great performances which form the backbone of the film. From Earth, Wind & Fire, to Herbie Hancock, Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffet, and Pitbull, it’s like a who’s who exposition of musical talent.
One particularly special moment features some impressive ivory-tickling vintage footage of New Orleans’ own Sweet Emma Barrett who toured domestically and internationally back in the ‘60s with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Like a well-seasoned pot of steaming jambalaya, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a masterful blend of ingredients which place equal emphasis on history, cuisine, music, diversity, and culture.
The film falters a bit when it bogs down with footage and commentary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact on the area and its people. We’ve been so overly exposed to the footage through the years, it feels a bit unnecessary – indulgent even. But then again, the Festival’s story can’t be told properly without addressing the importance of both events to the history of the city. And that’s really what Jazz Fest is about; New Orleans and her people. Despite the occasional divergences, Marshall and Suffern capture that sentiment perfectly.
As the credits roll, we’re left wanting more. After all, one can never really get enough of something that so powerfully illustrates the ability of music to bring people together.
(Released by Sony Classics and rated “PG-13” for brief language and some suggestive material.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.