I have been to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival many, many times, yet every time I don't go, I feel that I'm missing something profoundly important. Especially now, with New Orleans's cultural heritage under siege post-Katrina, I am kicking myself that I haven't made plans to go this year.
What makes the festival great to me, however, is not the parade of big-name musicians appearing every day, though it is a unique experience to see artists like Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Bonnie Raitt play in this unique setting.
What makes it great is the local and nonbig-name musicians and cooks playing and cooking at the smaller stages and tents.I saw Ricky Dillard practically levitate the Gospel Tent a few years ago, and I had just wandered in there fresh from a Wayne Shorter set, not ever having heard of him.
The food itself is so extraordinary that the music can almost seem like a bonus. I am partial to the cochon de lait po'boy from Love at First Bite and the meat pies from Mrs. Wheat's. My friend Dan Ruby has a terrific music festival website, and there was a great post about meat pies there yesterday by Beth Swindle.