Friday, March 17, 2017

Jazz Fest Gospel Tent 2017

Under the Gospel Tent
Phil LaMancusa
Probably the oldest and very first attraction at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the Gospel Tent.  At the first Jazz Fest in 1970 at Congo Square, where the tickets were $3.00, there were four stages and the Gospel Tent; many of the acts did not even have microphones. One of the first performers at that festival in the Gospel Tent was a woman named Mahalia Jackson, possibly the greatest gospel singer of all times and she was, as they said, “returning home to perform”. Forty-seven years later, as you know, the Fest has grown; but one rock that has remained steady is our Gospel Tent, the first you hear as you arrive at the Sauvage Street entrance and the last to sing you on your way when you leave.  This year, the sound of Irma Thomas’ gospel voice will be gracing us from her heart to ours; the tickets, as you guessed, are priced higher.
Anyone with the sense of a sea urchin knows that New Orleans is a spiritual city; scratch the surface of any folk here and they will assure you that they are “blessed to be alive” to which the proper response is: “I know that’s right!”  Why few white people here under the age of forty do not carry this message on their sleeve, lips and in their daily life is a mystery to me; I reckon that once you reach a certain age or if you were brought up singing the praises of the Lord (instead of petitioning the Lord with prayer), you naturally feel blessed every day, faithful and grateful. Consider the names of some of the groups: Shades of Praise, Abundant Praise, New Orleans Spiritalettes, Anointed Voices, The New Orleans Gospel Soul Children and/or The Mount Calvary Voices of Redemption.
Be that as it may, I and my peer group count our days on this mortal coil as gifts from a higher authority, and praise be to whichever power that that may be. It’s really really easy for me to worship the thousand faces of God/Goddess that have granted me my life because I believe in them all; I am a Christian, Jew, Agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, Baptist, Bacchus, beer drinking believer in the benevolence and bedlam of being.  Every Jazz Festival at the Gospel Tent my belief in Lord Jesus is super jump started again, with a charge strong enough to carry me through the year, you might say… sanctified and electrified. Every year when I go to the Fest, I know where to find Jesus and how could I not pay a visit, in fact several visits each day that I attend?
The advantage of being an all believer (from Atheism to Zoroastrian) is that I can wander down any path and find my higher power ready to give my soul the strength that it needs to survive the weakness of my reserve, give me reserves to challenge my temptations, courage to fight my demons and put some gut in my strut; and when I walk into the Gospel tent my soul is filled with the power of the people, performances and pure joy in the Lord. The music, the singing the spirit is infectious and I find myself swaying, singing, clapping and snapping with the holy, yes holy, atmospheric pressure.
Fair to say at this point that by in large were talking about an African American spirituality experience, for while I understand that white folks can have gospel soul, they are (by in large) not as rhythmically inclined to belt out their raised voices in the adoration to one who can and truly does save. The music and songs are spiritual, Rock, Rhythm, blues, gospel and the primitive African call and response audience participation occurrence rolled in to one glorious exhausting heart expanding happening. Praise so palatable that you can taste it in the air, the hairs on your arms begin to rise and your eyes turn heavenward and you just want to turn around to those couple of guys discussing business and yell “shut the hell up--- I’m having an epiphany here!!”
I have been floored by four glorious goldenrod gowned fully grown women; I have witnessed Blind Boys and Zion Harmonizers and by far I am carried away when a choir of fifty or sixty voices, in agreement and five part harmony, lift up their right to be heard unto the Lord. The Saint Leo the Great Choir, The Gospel Inspirations of Boutte or The First Emanuel Church Mass Choir ---all rockin’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham. Can I get a witness?
The rejoicing, reveling, rocking revival goes on from eleven in the morning until close of business at seven in the evening
And then there’s a slight pause when the music slowly fades where Brother Love steps out with the microphone and challenges the audience that he has accepted as parishioners: “have you heard the word of God here today? (YES!) and do you feeeeeel the grace of the Lord (YES!) and do you believe that you have come to a HOLY place, a place of worship, THE HOUSE OF THE LORD?”  (YEEEESSSSS!) “then I want you to look around you and pick up all that trash that you brought in with you because this IS the house of the Lord and we do NOT leave trash on the floor; if you brought it in with you, then take it back out and dispose of it properly. “I WILL NOT HAVE TRASH IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD! Can I get an Amen?” “AMEN!”

New Orleans Greek Fest 2017

The New Orleans Greek Festival
Phil LaMancusa
            The New Orleans Greek Festival is held on the Memorial Day weekend May 26th -28th,  2017  and presented by the Holy Trinity Cathedral located at 1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd and that’s the first thing that you need to know. The second thing that you need to know is the word Efharisto (eff-kaar-EEs-toe!) and you need to be able to say it all in one breath; repeat after me Efharisto!!! The word is Greek and the meaning is “Thank You!” and you’ll want to say it often and with vigor as you attend New Orleans’ equivalent of a painting by Georges Seurat (e.g. ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte’). It’s a family thing, an eating, drinking, dancing, neo-impressionistic, milling about, lounging, laughing, smiling, music thing. In case you’re worried about vehicular congestion; there is free offsite parking about a half a mile down the road, with shuttle buses to and from the event or you can trust your parkma (Parkma: transportive verb: that chance that there will magically be a parking place waiting just for you where and when you need it) for a spot on the roadway to get in closer. The hours of operation are: Friday 5:00-11:00. Saturday 11:00-11:00, Sunday 11:00-9:00. Be there or be tetragono (square).
Greek, you say? All you of limited knowledge will be surprised to know of Greeks arriving here in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In 1760s a wealthy Greek merchant married a local woman of mixed Acadian and Native American lineage; when their daughter married a Greek native in 1799 it became the first Big Fat Greek wedding in North America. The Greek Orthodox Church here is the oldest established in the North AND South America (1867). The areas that I work and live in (6th, 7th ward) was, until 1971, a predominantly Greek neighborhood and the original site of Holy Trinity Church was at 1222 N. Dorgenois St.   Also in this area were Syrians, Russians and Lebanese, their culture a distant memory to all but a few of my neighbors; it is fitting that we should have a festival commemorating that part of our background, culture and language.
For the kids there is an area called The Athenian Playground with a climbing wall, face painting, crafts and one of those bouncy tent things where you allow the little darlings to work off all of the extra steam that they seem to wake up with. Kids twelve years old and under have free admission (the rest of us kids pay $8.00). There are three day passes available and anyone arriving dressed in toga on Sunday gets in gratis.
There is live (Greek) music and dancing in the Hellenic tradition; you can come and show off your stuff, learn the steps or just watch and be amazed by what you see. You can rent canoes for bayou cruising, there are contests, raffles and even a ‘Toga Sunday’ pageant with prizes. There are tours given of the Cathedral that allow you view artifacts of the faith.
And food? Food is everywhere; indoors and out, as well as, wine, beer, ouzo, pomegranate iced tea and the ever popular Metaxas to fill your soul with Hellenic gladness. Greek yogurt and frothy iced Greek coffee at the Loukoumades CafĂ© will be served. Food demonstrations and classes, a full meal of Kieftethes (Greek meatballs), tiropita, spanakopita, pastitsio and Greek salad with dolma from inside the hall or from outside food stands:  Gyros served with tzatziki and grilled onions served on warm pita bread, or booths with calamari, lamb, feta fries, goat burgers, souvlaki and beverages. AND, not to worry, we know how kids are, and there will be some of the non ethnic foods available (hot dogs etc.). Besides vegetarian plates being available, this year, in the grocery section, a small walk-around container featuring four appetizers (Meze) are being offered in a limited number of servings; the first three hundred lucky customers will have the opportunity to purchase them and then the rest of us latecomers will be out of luck. Also in the grocery store will be cheeses and herbs, oils, olives, homemade dips, tee shirts, posters, prints and Hellenic imports.  I always make sure that I pick up their lemon-pepper seasoning blend for my kitchen at home. Also indoors a selection of twenty different pastries, cakes and cookies line tables that, as you pass the length of the gamut with your ‘ticket of transit’, picking one of these and two of these and your personalized selection grows with baklava, kourmabiedes, galaktobourikos and heck, I stop trying to find out all the names and just say yes to everything that looks good to me because I know they will be, and my friends and neighbors will reap the benefit of my eyes being bigger than my stomach.

Here’s another word for you: Philihellenism.  It means the lover of all things Greek; if you’ve been to the festival before, you can feel the meaning of that word in your heart, if this will be your first time to go to this celebration, be prepared to experience a kinder, gentler New Orleans experience and consider while you are there that there is actually a Greek island where the citizens literally forget to die and live on  to be centennials and older, healthily and actively. When I go to the Greek Festival, I myself wonder why anyone who could live the Hellenic lifestyle would ever want to take the chance that heaven would be a better place.