It was a holy experience. One of the holiest experiences of my life. I was mindful. I was present and keenly aware that something important was happening. My sister-friend Dawn Marie and I had flown in on the first Sunday flight to catch the last day of the 2022 New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Our first musical stop is always the Gospel Tent. In 200-degree weather, I proudly donned my favorite pair of denim booty shorts over my new Free People halter-bodysuit sans bra. One hand held my margarita-flavored daiquiri, while the other was unapologetically raised in worship.
Evangelist Jackie Tolbert sang many of my favorite gospel tunes…the ones that play well at a festival with daiquiri-drinking, booty shorts-wearing revelers like yours truly. She sang songs by the Clark Sisters and others where I knew the songs but not the names of the artists. I sang along with her, both hands lifted high, as the truth of the lyrics and liturgy washed over me. Periodically, I would exit my spiritual euphoria to spectate amongst the predominantly white crowd that had an entrance into the Black church experience. There was one song she sang that was reminiscent of the old-school Black church. I recorded a snippet and sent it to mom. She loved the video!
But I loved this whole experience — the ability to worship without restraints and side-eyes. I connected the truth of Psalm 139 to this moment: “‘How precious are my thoughts concerning you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are too many to number.’” Asé.
That’s how the day started.
Then we hit the Blues Tent where Glenn David Andrews laid me straight out! I didn’t think I would ever come back from the blissful trance to which he ushered me. My first impression was how beautiful it was to see so many people loving his music, specifically his tribute to popular blues songs. He knows how to work the crowd, getting us up on our feet. He even led the horns through the audience in an impromptu second line, which I’m sure was the bane of the tech team’s life at that moment. It all worked out.
When he struck up his signature cut “Knock Wit Me,” I was all over the place! I figured that would be his closing song. It wasn’t.
One of the gifts of art is how it preaches and reaches us in ways that didactic, packaged rants miss.
His closing song was a combination of chant and call-n-response, the words taken from the Serenity Prayer: “Give me the courage to accept the things that I can’t change — I surrender, I surrender.” It was an homage to his recovery journey. I love how he was able to give his testimony by simply boiling it down to the need to have the courage to accept what he can’t change and to acknowledge that he surrenders to that reality, inviting the audience to do the same. There were two older white guys seated behind Dawn Marie and me. I felt bad because every time we got up to dance, we blocked their view. We joked about it once Glenn David’s set wrapped, chatting for a bit, and then clicking glasses wishing each other a “Happy jazz fest” — a holy moment.
The central experience was supposed to be Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. I was ill-prepared for how strained Frankie Beverly’s voice was. But I also loved seeing him surrounded by his bandmates. Usually, they worked the crowd. But on this day, they were fiercely attentive to Frankie Beverly, watching for how to accommodate his limitations. They leaned forward, keeping their eyes on him, searching for clues for when they needed to end the song, crowd cravings be damned, especially if it meant further straining Frankie‘s voice. They loved him, too. I loved witnessing their love. I also love that I got a chance to see him at the grand reopening of the jazz fest. I wonder if I will see him again.
Later that evening I processed everything with Dawn Marie. Whatever the future decides, may I have the courage to accept the things that I can’t change — I surrender…I surrender.
(Meet me under the sky canopy for “Jesus, Jazz & Dessert Wine@Sunset Ranch (GA)” 7:30pm, Thursday, May 19. Adult stories & beverages. Beautiful, Black-owned ranch. Golden time of day. https://jesus-jazz-dessert-wine-at-sunset.eventbrite.com)