Start of 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest soaked by rain

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The start of the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was marked with thunderstorms, but the music played on to crowds that were thinned by the bad weather.

By the time the headliners hit the stage on Thursday the rain had long ceased and the day ended on a high note, despite the mud and soggy conditions.

The headliners — rocker Elvis Costello, rapper Flo Rida and the American roots band the Tedeschi Trucks Band — thrilled fans with their punchy shows.

Costello and his band The Imposters paid tribute to New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint, who died last year. Costello and Toussaint were friends and made an album together after Hurricane Katrina. For his show, Costello wore a purple cap with a button of Toussaint on the front. He also reminisced about Toussaint and played a song in homage to New Orleans and its struggles after Katrina.

“He had such a gracious attitude,” Costello said about Toussaint.

Flo Rida performed a forceful and energetic set that got fans jumping and splashing in the mud. He got down from the stage and waded into the throngs of people; he also popped a bottle of champagne and sprayed it on fans during his hit song “My House.”

“I don’t like New Orleans,” he shouted out to the crowd. “I love New Orleans!”

In the wet conditions, some went barefoot in the mud, while others dressed in rubber boots and rain gear as they crammed together in messy fields and under tents to enjoy the variety of musical acts and genres.

“It’s beautiful from the ankles up,” laughed Stephen Schwarz, standing in another muddy spot. He’s a music venue owner from Brooklyn, New York. He held a high flagpole with four flags flapping in the breeze. It’s a Jazzfest tradition to bring a flagpole and fly personal flags so “you can locate your friends in the thousands of people,” Schwarz explained.

He said this year’s lineup of musicians was so strong “it’s making us make some hard decisions.” He brought his 11-year-old son this year for the first time and had tickets for each of the festival’s days.

By midafternoon, the sun poked through the clouds. But the crowds were thinner than usual. Many festival goers left during the earlier deluges that made the site — the infield of a racehorse track — soggy and muddy.

For some, the thin crowds were welcome.

Vicki Ricke, a 54-year-old dental assistant from New Orleans, listening to the blues of Gary Clark Jr., said the extra room to move made the festival more fun.

Her good friend, Joan Derouen, a 60-year-old “professional grandmother” from Texas and “newbie” to Jazzfest, had a blast in the rain. Derouen said dancing in the rain is something she’s always wanted to do.

“I’ve never danced in the rain — nowhere,” she said, thrilled by the experience.

Jazzfest is not only about music. There are also banks of vendors selling straw hats, hand-made jewelry, paintings with New Orleans themes, drums and much more.

Shaka Zulu, a chief with the Yellow Pocahontas tribe of Mardi Gras Indians, was at a booth selling pieces of art made from “deconstructed Mardi Gras Indian suits,” he said. The pieces were splendidly colorful, just like the hand-sewn elaborate Mardi Indian suits they are made from, ranging in price from $200 to $2,200.

Rukiya Brown, a Mardi Gras Indian queen with the Creole Wild West tribe, was selling “topsy-turvy” dolls. The dolls with flowing dresses can be flipped upside down to feature either an “indigenous woman” or a Creole (a “New Orleans native”) woman, she said as she demonstrated how one worked.

“People come here for the culture, the food, the entertainment, for how we smile even though things are falling apart,” she said. “My pleasure is to have people see my work.” For her, it’s not about the money, she said. “Material things don’t mean much to me.”

The weather was forecast to be better on Friday and Saturday. But more rain was possible on Sunday, the final day.

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