I arrived at the Jazz Fest with a stomach-full of anxiety. All day I had dawdled around the house, finished Dos Passos, and worked on my backyard tan, but I still couldn’t rid myself of the mania manifesting from my core down to my finger tips. Go, go, I kept urging myself. If I don’t involve myself in this place I’ll never know it. I left in time to make the big final acts.
At the gate, the woman couldn’t find my name on the list so she buzzed my boss over a two-way walkie.
“SHANE,” she shrieked, “I HAVE A LAURA MURPHY HERE.”
I glanced back at my car, it was parked near enough to make a quick getaway.
“You can go right in,” she grinned, “Have a nice time!”
No act on the main stage, so I strolled the grounds. It was a hot day and people were lolling in arm chairs and washing their faces in the melted ice from their coolers. Some had set up elaborate tents smelling of fried southern barbecue and bug spray.
At the Gazebo stage, a crowd gathered around the Brian Mitchell Band. People swayed along and clapped, “So sweet it’d make a rabbit hug a hound,” his voice rasped as a band member took to his trumpet. A thin woman in a marine green sundress danced through the audience with a can of Coors in her hand.
Afterwards, I found a shady spot on the lawn close enough to the main stage to discern the figure of Diana Krall, uncharacteristically dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and sunglasses. As she didn’t seem to be in the mood to vamp for us, I laid back and watched the clouds drift into a woozy romance.
As Diana Krall diva’d her way off stage, people began to pack up their bags on the lawn. I watched as a little girl in front of me in a black and white checked dress twirled and twirled, lay down to nap, then sprang up to spin again. Her parents debated whether to stay for the final act, but the air was tuning into mosquito frequencies and the dad looked as if he dreaded weathering the post-concert traffic jam before facing yet another Monday morning. I smiled at them as they walked past.
About a minute later, the woman returned, breathless, “We have this ticket, for the amphitheater. It’s not very good.. but” I started thanking her before she could finish. I couldn’t believe my luck: one golden ticket to Trombone Shorty.
The ticket taker directed me to the back section on audience right. It was fairly empty, but I sat in my assigned seat next to a young girl and her mother. Following the entrance of the rest of the band, Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty leapt on stage, and, pulling his instrument on us like a machine gun, he bombarded the audience with brass. Elderly people sprang to their feet and down near the stage men and women began to shout and twist. I sat up straight in my seat, self-conscious, but unable to resist. The music caught me like a hook in the back and I shimmied and twitched.
He transported us to a shiny gauntlet of New Orleans Streets. The audience, indolent in the thrall of Diane Krall and the syrup-sweet July heat, was revitalized, made new by this magnetic, muscle-bound man and that golden arm of the trombone thrusting again and again and again into every very beat of my heart which itself had become like a helpless partner in a pas de deux.
I leaned forward as he exchanged the trombone for a trumpet and burst into a new song. The band jammed on as the man held a solid note on the horn. The audience began to whoop when they realized he planned to hold it for long. The shouts died as the note spread out and over the amphitheater, it was one solid, pure sing in a cacophony of melodies.
We all held our breath then began shouting again.I started giggling uncontrollably: it had gotten in. I could feel it swimming in my chest and barreling down into my hips. On the screen, his face contorted like a blowfish. He’s stealing our air!, the thought occurred to me. I began to feel dizzy and started to giggle, half-fainting into my seat. Without taking a breath he began to finger the instrument and the note gyrated bliss. I was lifted to my feet. The little girl and her mother, too, were borne up in ecstatic praise. He lifted the horn in one last piercing high note then fell to the ground and began to sing:
I’m talkin’ to you even when I sleep and you’re not there
People keep tellin’ me I’ve changed but I don’t care
If bein’ with you
Means I’m a fool
I don’t mind
I don’t mind
If being’ with you
Is the only thing I do
I don’t mind
I don’t mind