Reclamation, restoration, renewal: New Orleans was humming with these energies during the last few days of April, which marked the opening weekend of the 36th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. To stroll across the New Orleans Fairgrounds-overlaid with its perennial topography of stages and tents, booths and trailers-was to partake in a profusion of senses and marvel at a triumph of persistence. Thousands of musicians converged on the festival during its six-day run, more than 90 percent of them originally from the area. One such native, the rapper Juvenile, began his sixth appearance at the event by recasting its name as an active verb. “We JazzFessin’ it,” he said onstage, flanked by bulky hype-men. “We JazzFessin’ it, y’all.”
For a handful of months after Hurricane Katrina, it was unclear whether there would be a JazzFest this year, or even much of a city to host it. Producer Quint Davis spent that time locating his staff, establishing contact with musicians and generally putting people back on the grid. The fate of the festival was uncertain until January, when American Express and the Shell Group committed to funding; the latter corporation, headquartered in New Orleans, agreed to become the presenting sponsor. From that point on JazzFest was a go, though nailing down all the logistics was surely a Herculean feat.