You don’t hear much about it anymore, but there was a time not so long ago that musicians walked to their gigs. The Grateful Dead walked when they played at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Bob Dylan did it in Greenwich Village. And, I imagine, Louis Armstrong strutted to the smoky music clubs of “Black Storyville,” a four-block area in New Orleans’ former red light district where City Hall now stands.
If there is one city where this tradition still exists, it’s likely New Orleans, where kids grow up dreaming of being jazz musicians rather than rock superstars, and popular performers still have strong ties to the city. It’s one of the many unique things about the Big Easy, where so many great jazz and blues musicians still call home.
This summer, for example, as we stood on a corner outside of the Satchmo SummerFest in the French Quarter, I watched as an older Asian man dressed in a tuxedo walked down the sidewalk to the festival with his instrument in tow. His wife, also dressed to the nines, followed close behind. That in a nutshell is the Satchmo SummerFest. For musicians, it’s a chance to play their hometown. For fans, it’s the opportunity to experience the best of New Orleans jazz in one place for less than a McDonald’s value meal.
This year marked the 15th anniversary of the Satchmo SummerFest. It also coincided with the 100th anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s first professional show in New Orleans. A fitting coincidence if there ever was one, since the Satchmo SummerFest celebrates the life and music of Armstrong, who’s nickname was “Satchmo,” with three days of music from the city’s best jazz performers, as only New Orleans can.
Held on the grounds of the Old U.S. Mint, the Satchmo SummerFest feels like a three-day block party, with festival-goers lounging on the grass areas around the two stages and others lining the streets around the festival with beach chairs and coolers. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a New Orleans festival without a whole lot of delicious food. Some of the cities best eateries are on hand serving up traditional New Orleans staples like red beans and rice—an Armstrong favorite—and Louisiana’s own Abita Brewing Company has a great selection of draft beers to choose from, plus there’s wine and cocktail options too. And if that wasn’t enough, the price of admission at Satchmo SummerFest ($5/day) also covers the seminars and exhibits held in the Old U.S. Mint that are all about Armstrong and his life in the Big Easy.
For a firsthand look at this year’s Satchmo SummerFest, check out our story Why New Orleans is the best American City for Jazz. And for more information about next year’s festival, visit Satchmo SummerFest.