New Orleans Jazz Fest: The Second Week Is Best

imageJazz Fest. Just those two words alone make my brain sweat. It’s been a few years, but I recall there being an ongoing debate over which of the two weekends is better at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I’ve disappeared into the depths of New Orleans for both jazz fest weeks before; I came out alive, worse for wear, and my life forever changed (it’s true, there are really are some things you can never unsee). Tearing through both weeks is a physical and mental challenge where you need to pace yourself like a marathon runner, or maintain unhealthy daily rituals like a junkie. And the fact remains, these days, who can really afford to drop out for two weeks in New Orleans? So, you have to make a choice and pick one good long weekend to blow out the pipes.

Of course, fest organizers say that you really can’t go wrong with either. “Great care is taken to distribute the music evenly over both weekends,” reps say. But it is never that clean-cut. It depends on your tastes, the weather, your access, and how far you want to push your intake and keep on your feet.

The first weekend of the Jazz Fest, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, brought excellent acts to the fairgrounds; among some of the bigger crowd marquee draws were Wilco, Dave Matthews Band, and James Taylor. But longtime fave Wynton Marsalis, as well as Joe Cocker, Drive By Truckers, Henry Butler, Erykah Badu, Johnny Winter, and Pete Seeger all put their stamp on the fest as well as the usual local suspects that fill the many tents on the sprawling grounds. Rolling Stone did a decent wrap-up of the first weekend.

The first Friday is widely considered locals day. You wouldn’t have been turned away from the gates, but there a more mellow, old-school NOLA vibe to the crowd, and a whole lot less people. My friend Eugenie Hero Jaffe, a New Orleans native who now hosts Funky Trunk on Utah Free Media, prefers the first Friday because, well, she’s still a local, and the second Thursday because it tends to be less crowded. “But the final Sunday is a blast. People are partying hard, have beautiful sunburns and blown out ear drums. The posters are sold out by the last day, the track is a mess, but the beer is still cold.”

The second weekend — the final sprint for two-week warriors — has more festival days, generally has bigger crowds, and a bigger party. “If you can get the time off of work, its nice to get the four days,” she says. “The final Sunday generally closes out with traditional acts: Neville Brothers and Radiators. So, some people go like to catch the big NOLA names. But you can never count on mother nature. Some rain out days.”

But that’s just the festival grounds. After the first weekend, a host of parties start around town from the Krewe parties and benefits at Tipitina’s, where you never know who will show up to play, to smaller hole-in-the-wall venues in the Garden District like Igor’s Lounge, which offers drink specials from 5 to 7 a.m. and where even the most innocent game of pool can turn into a decadent and potentially violent adventure. As for music specifics, there’s a Tipitina’s Foundation Benefit with beloved native son George Porter Jr. on Wednesday night, and guitar virtuoso Steve Kimmock’s band Crazy Engine plays Tip’s late-night Thursday show, starting at 2 a.m. Be sure to check out Off Beat, New Orleans’s culture, entertainment, and music bible for full listings.

By Thursday morning, whether or not you’re starting out, you’re in the fest’s final run. Be sure to hit Liuzza’s outside the fairgrounds (popular meet-up spot). Hurricane Katrina wasn’t enough keep down the weird, low-down funky dive Snake & Jake’s, a must visit.

You can lose days at a place like Snake & Jake’s, or you can hit the headliners at the fairgrounds and reacquaint yourself with the sun (or rain). My picks are Ben Harper & Relentless7, Emmylou Harris, Solomon Burke, and the Subdudes for Thursday. Friday is sleepy, but Bonnie Raitt plays as well as Tony Bennett. Weird, right? But not as weird as Bon Jovi headlining Friday (I know!). Pass on Bon Jovi and catch Dr. John and Kings of Leon (be sure to find a place near bassist Jared Followill’s stacks — trust me). And just when Sunday slinks around, with your nerves shattered and eyes glassed, bring it in with Neil Young, let the Neville Brothers put a smile on your face, and muck through the swamp rock of The Radiators.

Or just stay at Snake & Jakes and ask that your mail be forwarded. And if that question remains, which weekend is better? Some people have all the answers. “That’s never a concern,” says one fest vet. “I’ll be there for both. Yeah, you right!”

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Mountaineering Supergroup Designs New Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer, that boring bland suburban burp of threads, is getting back to its roots by hiring a “dream team” of mountaineers to design a new line. So now you can zip up and channel Sir Edmund Hillary. Sort of. In any event, come April EB will launch the creations from a vetted gathering of technical climbers and guides, including 25-year mountaineer vet Peter Whittaker; Ed Viesturs, who has stomped 8,000-meter peaks sans oxygen; Dave Hahn, who’s summitted Everest ten times; guide Melissa Arnot; Alaskan pro Chad Peele; and cool-weathered science geek Seth Waterfall. Would I buy underwear from these guys? Probably not. A good FU foul weather jacket? Absolutely.

“It doesn’t get any better than Whittaker, Viesturs, Hahn and team,” said Neil Fiske, President and CEO of Eddie Bauer. Whittaker, the team leader for the First Ascent line, said this collective brain trust is a first. “The role of the guides in the development of this line is unprecedented,” Whittaker said. “Combined we spend more than 1200 days a year in the high mountains. We know what gear works best out there, and what it takes to be prepared. We designed it. We built it. We live in it. And nothing goes to market until we literally sign off on every detail. We put our names on it, right down to the hang tags.” One very attractive aspect of the FA line, at least to me, is that it keeps things stripped down and simple. “Our approach to First Ascent is to keep the product pure, focusing only on what you need,” says Viesturs. “The guiding mantra has been about simplification, functionally and performance. That’s why we say it’s everything you need, nothing you don’t. It’s that simple. And simple is better.”

Buckle Up

The Kempt crew predicted that the Western belt buckle would make a return to the waists of honky-tonkish hipsters, and they was right. And here’s the proof — “Buckle: the Art and Craft of the Western Belt Buckle” exhibition at Lyons Wier Ortt has moseyed into town and will kick around until March 13.

“The art of the buckle is one of the few bridges between the world of the cowboy, the art of the graphic designer, and the heritage of the European tradition of engraving, mastered by a select few silversmiths who are making award-winning, museum quality pieces,” reads the press release, pointing out browsers can expect a dizzying array of Western icons such as longhorns, broncos and chieftains and, of course, rodeo trophy buckles known as the “billboard of the American West.” Who might be checking out the exhibit? Since the featured buckle artists have crafted pieces for plenty of celebs, you might catch anyone, including past clients like Ralph Lauren, Prince Charles (strange), Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Tommy Lee Jones, Renee Zellweger, Val Kilmer, Andrew Agassi, Britney Spears, Brooke Shields, and legendary fashion designer Manuel.

Free Store Gives It Away

imageYears ago when I lived in Durango, Colorado, I used to pack up my dog Gunner and Jeep over Ouray Pass to visit Telluride almost weekly. Great town. Or used to be. Anyway, if you’ve spent a little time there, you probably have seen the famed Free Box, where locals donated sweaters, pants, fleece, jackets, boots, and other random clothing for anyone to take. It’s literally a few stacked bins on a side street under an overhang to protect from the weather. It was a total 1960s concept, first created by the Diggers in Haight-Ashbury, and people loved it. Friends would always show me all sorts of cool stuff like vintage down vests or ski pants from the 1970s. It wasn’t a low-rent Goodwill teeming with bedbugs. Sometimes the stuff was really nice, nearly brand new. It made sense for a town like Telluride back then, when the mayor was a laid-back pot-head activist named Dreadlock Stevie. But a “Free Box” in New York’s Financial District is another story.

Located at 99 Nassau Street, the Free Store certainly offers more than ski boots and sweaters. The finds have included jewelry, vintage clothing, books, DVDs, video cameras, and cutlery. But nothing, ultimately, is for free; the store needs to pay rent and managed to secure a $9,000 Grants for Arts in Public Spaces grant and additional funds from the 9/11 Fund. Athena Robles, who opened the store with fellow artist Anna Stein, told the New York Post, “It’s amazing when we tell customers, ‘Yes, you can take anything and it’s free. … It’s a good time to do a project like this, especially near Wall Street. No one has any money now.”

“Alternative and generous systems such as bartering have long been used in times of financial hardship,” said the store owners in a statement. “Artists, in particular, are familiar with having to be creative to make ends meet and have functioned on generous systems, especially artist-to-artist. Free Store aims to broaden this circle of trust and exchange by including the general public.” Why choose the Financial District? My guess: unemployed bankers.

Bankrupt Iceland Hocks Ambassadors’ Mansions

imageIn Iceland, the gene pool is about as deep as my fingernail bed. And that’s pretty sweet because that gorgeous couple who contributed the original DNA seedlings have spawned a country of beautiful friendly blonde people. But looks and kindness only go so far. When it comes to national finances, kind of like us here in the US, they are screwed. So screwed in fact that, according to the Wall Street Journal, they have to sell their ambassadorial residences in Washington, New York (each for $5.6 million), London ($14.4 million) and Olso, which has not yet been appraised. Why? They need to raise $25 million just to keep the nation’s flag flying. The greatest looming loss is the Washington residence, where I think I once got sick at a party after too much brennivin and gravlax.

Iceland, or what’s left of it after its implosion last fall, is trying to unload a 10,000-square-foot DC mansion built in 1928 which its owned for nearly 50 years in Kalorama Heights. Pros: 10 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms and a pool. Cons: Next door to the Syria ambassador, a known evil person. According to the report, Iceland is planning modest replacements. “We are looking at nice, smaller residences … not in the most sought-after areas,” says Iceland’s ambassador to the US, Hjálmar Hannesson. They can have my old Manhattan studio on East 55th. No charge for the mice.

Turd Chair Sells for $28 Million

imageThis is either proof that the art collectors are still spending, or that they have lost their minds. Maybe both. The piece in question is a chair — resembling a turd with with tusks — that gaveled yesterday at Christie’s Paris auction for an eye-popping (pooping?) $28.3 million. The leather and wood chair that swaddled the ass of Yves Saint Laurent was among the items fetching $484 million, almost $60 million more than the estimated total sales of the “Auction of the Century,” which critics said would determine the future of all art auctions.

The couple that bought the 90-year-old armchair (entitled Dragons — yes, the chair is art, it has a title) paid far more than the $3.8 million estimate. “It is the price of desire,” sniffed the buyer. A Christie’s rep was astounded at the sale of Dragons, which was designed by Irish artiss Eileen Gray. “It was a remarkably strong piece, but what it went for was beyond our wildest imagination.” Being of Irish descent, and on behalf of the Old Sod, I apologize for our crappy contribution to the art world. Mea maxima culpa.

Jerry Seinfeld’s New Show About Something

imageSome people don’t know when to take a final, graceful bow (hello, Lenny Bruce?). Aren’t you supposed to leave an audience wanting more? Jerry Seinfeld, who admires the Borscht Belt entertainer-style of Shecky Greene and the Catskills circuit, should have better timing. But no, he’s heading back to NBC with a new series called The Marriage Ref. Sigh.

The reality show will spotlight real-life couples in a marital spats, with a team of celebrities giving commentary and a “referee” who will give the final verdict on who is right and wrong. Seinfeld will produce the show, but has not made it clear on whether he’ll make appearances. In a statement, he stressed that the show is about comedy, not therapy (is there a difference?). “After nine years of marriage I have discovered that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich,” Seinfeld said. “It will be revealing, edgy, controversial and very, very funny,” added co-producer and former Oprah-ist Ellen Rakieten. “Picture well-known people weighing in on a couple’s relationship issues — and deciding who is right and who is wrong — right on the spot, like a referee.” Those crazy husbands and wives say the funniest things!. At least Larry David can get blue on HBO.
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Barkley L. Hendricks: The Birth Of Cool

The Birth of Cool: Miles Davis or Barkley L. Hendricks? This month, my money is going with Barkley. While Miles will live on forever, Hendricks is living now — at least in the sense that the five-decade retrospective of his work hanging at Harlem’s Studio Museum through March 15. Take a look: It’s almost as if Andre 3000 was the model for the man.

Sometimes Hendricks got to know his subjects quite well, which clearly shows in his work. “One time I met this guy on the street in Philadelphia dressed completely in white holding a black briefcase — a white suit, hat, shoes,” he says. “I was so attracted to his sense of style I asked if I could photograph him. This was around 1970. I kept the photograph for two or three years, then made a painting using white acrylic, oil and magna paint for a total monochromatic effect. I called it Dr. Cool.”

But the bottom line is that Hendricks is life-size, but really comes across bigger than life: “Mixing realism, abstraction and Pop, Mr. Hendricks’s life-size paintings of beautiful black people in extravagantly fashionable outfits against flat, single-color backgrounds captured a period sensibility with uncanny acuity.” In other words, bad-ass, well-dressed mofos with better style than you. So, Miles will always be, but Hendricks is gone in two weeks. Seriously, check it out.

Checking In on Black Fleece

imageWhen last we heard from the fashion-forward Brooks Brothers spinoff Black Fleece, they were unpacking into a handsome 1,700-square-foot corner spot at Bleecker and West 10th. That was back in October, and there was a lot of fanfare surrounding the first free-standing flagship New York shop that dared to bring Brooks Brothers downtown with a signature style of snug-cut sporty, modern togs, and a line of spectators that would make Jack Nicholson blush. Now, five months later, one reporter takes a peek to see if they’ve pulled it off.

The answer, according to the most excellent Cintra Wilson, is yes and no. For men, lead designer Thom Browne has come close to perfecting his goal for men. But for women, well, “he’s very, very close,” writes Wilson in the New York Times.

For men, Black Fleece seemed to deliver exactly what it promised back in October: snazzy and modern take on old classics. Wilson singled out a line of candy-colored men’s seersuckers and linens. “All sense of discretion was semi-abandoned,” she writes. “These spring-loaded ensembles were so mind-bogglingly dandy — one jacket had pink sleeves, a yellow trunk and blue pockets — that I couldn’t picture them on anyone but disbarred Southern lawyers, jockeys or Dick Van Dyke. But I liked their nerve.” I do, too.

In the women’s line, Wilson said she spotted some excellent pieces like a white brocade dinner jacket, the two-tone oxford wingtip spectator pumps (in black and white patent leather) and a dress in navy pinstripe suiting with grosgrain shoulder straps. But she also adds Browne might not be all the inspired to design for the ladies, saying the cut and shape are too restrictive and tentlike. “One might even come away from Black Fleece with the impression that Mr. Browne has no particular affection for the female physique,” she said

Oh, and the shop seems very cool. Lots of heavy wooden furniture, advertisements, and collectibles from years past. “It’s a slightly Gothic twist on the Old Money Athletic Club look, originally refined into postmodern absurdity when Ralph Lauren stuck crusty leather bridles and yellowing crew-team photos on mahogany paneling and pronounced it a lifestyle.” While I may continue to hit plain old Brooks Brothers, Black Fleece seems worth a visit if nothing but for a look at a new twist on an old look.