ChazFest isn't the only local music event establishing its own slot as an alternative to the intensity of the production at the Fair Grounds. The growth of Jazz Fest and its following was bound to stimulate additions and alternatives, as if they were dandelions pollinated by the drifting spores of the larger event. In recent years, some New Orleans music enthusiasts have targeted the period between the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May to stage their own grassroots parties, from the formidable Ponderosa Stomp to the eccentric backyard party NoizeFest. Some like Bo Dollis' Bo Fest on Second and Dryades streets, the Roots Music Tent on N. Claiborne Avenue, WTUL/Rehage Entertainment's rockfest on Frenchmen Street and Preservation Hall's "Midnight Preserves" series we didn't get to, but seriously, we have to sleep sometime.
In its seventh year, the Stomp is the biggest and baddest, with a knockout-punch bill of rock and soul obscurities, cult heroes and legendary sidemen. This year marked its return to a two-night bill and included the addition of a two-day conference that was mobbed (according to a count by the Louisiana State Museum, which hosted the conference at the Cabildo) by nearly 700 diligent liner-note readers. One group conversation on the New Orleans rhythm quickly turned into a back-and-forth between Smokey Johnson and Bob French ("You hocked my bass drum!" "You can't prove that." "I saw it in the pawnshop window!" "Well, maybe I did.") while the youngster on the panel, Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste, looked amused.
At the show itself, few shone brighter than Ronnie Spector, who ably recreated her ex-husband Phil's Wall of Sound for a set of Ronette's classics, topped off by a heartbreaking rendition of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory."
At ChazFest, organizer Alex McMurray believes the daylong fest went well, except for a cancellation by King James, who was ill although McMurray qualified his statement, adding that as its producer, he didn't get to see a single act.
"Wazozo [the string duo] was great," he said. "I heard a little of their set while I was on the phone with Paypal customer service in Sri Lanka." The Morning 40 Federation rocked through what fans now consider its best annual show besides the only-for-the-hardcore standing Mardi Gras night gig. McMurray estimates attendance was up more than 25 percent from last year, with double the food and craft vending, and the event came through in the black. While not confirming that ChazFest will have a fourth year, he did say that this year's success made him consider hiring staffers to assist himself and his wife, artist Kourtney Keller, who have been the fest's only employees.
NoizeFest has always been an event that existed more as a fantasy than a reality, born of the curious mind of its founder, the late conceptual artist Keith Moore. Since its takeover last year by musician Michael Patrick Welch (aka the White Bitch), though, it's actually started to grow legs as a laid-back showcase for local experimental music. In Welch's Bywater yard, strewn with stuffed toys and broken computer parts, the noise began at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 3. Some acts seemed more official than others: Clint Maedgen played a solo set that was announced and applauded. During a prolonged break following him, the Microshards' Jayme Kalal coaxed feedback out of a cassette deck and speakers in a corner of the yard. It was unclear if that was his official performance or just an interlude, and during it, children banged on the rusted hull of a gas tank and a woman in a mechanic's jumpsuit managed to amplify a Furby toy.
By sunset, the party was just picking up, and according to Welch, it went on until 1 a.m. As the deconstructed electro-rock outfit Star of Kaos hit its stride, an unexpected guest sat in: a train roaring across Lesseps Street to the levee. And it sounded totally appropriate.