How's the city doing, you may ask? The fest itself was intensely crowded that first weekend (attendance for a single day can top 70,000), when my wife and I attended. Canal Street has far fewer boarded-up storefronts. Crime is still bad, but down. And there are projects afoot to extend the River Walk along the Mississippi and bring in financing for new housing. OffBeat magazine is talking about local musicians who have been "touched by Treme." (The HBO program was leafleting local bars with a call for extras to re-create the 2007 JazzFest in a shoot scheduled for the Fair Grounds the Tuesday after the first weekend.) Heck, even the new cop show Memphis Beat was shooting outside Café du Monde.
There was also a touch of BP disaster in the slight rise in seafood prices (though the oysters and redfish were fine, thank you). But this year the fest turned its attention a different disaster, making Haitian acts like Boukman Eksperyans and Emeline Michel a focus of the Congo Square stage.
For me, the most heartening example of civic vitality and civic pride was the annual Instruments A Comin' fundraiser held at Tipitina's on Monday. Outside the club, a block of Tchoupitoulas Ave was shut down. Food and craft vendors peddled their wares, and two high-school marching bands — the West Jefferson and the St. Augustine Marching 100 — faced off, taking turns blasting each other with thumping, roaring versions of everything from Maze's "Happy Feelin's" to Lady Gaga. These kids were playing instruments provided, in part, by the fundraiser. Afterward, on the sidewalk, the Hot 8 Brass Band played their current anthem: "Down by the river/Under the lake/Below sea level/That's where I stay./Even though I'm always gone, there ain't no place like home."
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