Dr. John Halifax Jazz Fest Fizzles

The TD Halifax Jazz Festival had a weak opening Friday night with Dr. John belting out New Orleans funk in the 29 degree Celsius heat with a waterfront breeze

Dr. John at the TD Halifax Jazz Fest (photo CBC but not Fredericton)

Who does not want the TD Halifax Jazz Fest to be a fun place to spend summer evenings in July?

It should have been a great night with New Orleans legend Dr. John on the Halifax Waterfront stage with perfect weather and 2,000 plus baby boomers in attendance.

But it wasn’t. The night was a shambles by 10 PM and we wished we’d gone to the fireworks instead. The unruly crowd and cheesy video presentation marred a great night.

In the end we got our $60 back, an outcome that many people would have preferred in my read of the audience.

Dr. John, also known as Mac Rebennack, is a New Orleans born musician who has steeped himself into the rock, rhythm and blues, Cajun and other cultural influences of the deep south.

Dr. John was never a big hit maker: he was a keeper of the flame, the man you could go to for the real soul of New Orleans.

Most people who saw The Band’s Last Waltz will recognize the Dr. from “Such A Night”.
Dr. John “Such a Night” from “The Last Waltz”

Erin Costello at the TD Halifax Jazz Festival (photo S. Pate)

Erin Costello, the opening act, was pleasant enough. Erin is a throaty voiced chanteuse and piano player.

It took her the set to connect with the audience who did not get the tune or the beat.

With the help of her backup singers, we started to feel a connection on “Oh Me Oh My.”

One of the backup singers was Kirsten Olivia who I recognized from the Joe Murphy Blues Revue last summer. She has her own (free) show  on Tuesday at 3:45 in the Salter Street parking lot tent.

Erin Costello backup singers with Kirsten Olivia (photo S. Pate)

Up-and-coming artists would be well served to dish out a few songs that the audience knows. The ear/brain connection responds to tunes we recognize.

The well-behaved audience was disappointed when less than a hundred people rushed the stage before Dr. John started and totally blocked the view for everyone else.

Once Dr. John Dr. John   Halifax Jazz Fest Fizzles photo came on stage, the inevitable happened and more people, some very drunk, crushed forward to block everyone’s view of the action.

All around us in the audience were disappointed people who could not see more than the backs of people drinking beer.

A few hardy 60 plus year olds ventured into the crush and came back disappointed. My vantage point in a wheelchair was hopeless.

The Festival folks don’t prepare for this by either keeping people in their seats, as in the Metro Centre when Leonard Cohen performed, or providing a section for people with disabilities.

Gerry Todd (Rick Moranis) doing cheesy video production on SCTV

There were two large video screens that would have fixed the problem, except the video producer decided showing the main artists wasn’t creative enough.

Watching the two big screens was a combination of 60′s pseudo-psychedelic images and cheesy video tricks like chroma up chroma down, picture in picture, fade in and out with wavy lines.

The camera man was not even shooting Dr. John. He seemed content to display crowd shots, the bass player and the organ player doing a mirror split at centre screen. Wow was he on bad drugs or just a cheesy editor.

It reminded me of the funny Dr. Gerry Todd show with his cheap video editing deck.

By the fifth Dr. John song my wife checked her Blackberry and said, “Let’s find a place to watch the fire works.”

This is a chick who followed me to the States for three years on Bob Dylan concerts and likes a weekly dose of live blues.

The security supervisor said the fireworks just ended. When I mentioned the crowd control, he apologized and said they weren’t ready, suggesting we get a refund.

Dr. John at the TD Halifax Jazz Fest, CBC got close (CBC Photo)

Over at the Box Office we met some nice people including Jazz East board members.

Jazz East believes having an accessible entrance was what it took to be accessible. After some arguments, which gave me a headache, they agreed to process a refund.

19% of Nova Scotians live with disabilities. The Human Rights Act says public venues must be accessible. That 3 or 4 people in wheelchairs at the concert reflects the public’s awareness that the Jazz Festival is not accessible.

It would not take much for the festival organizers to fix this problem, which has been ongoing for years. Why they don’t take action is anyone’s guess.

We got home just in time to actually see a 5 second clip of Dr. John on the news. Ironic.

All in all a disappointing night entertainment-wise but that’s the TD Halifax Jazz Fest. I recommend the free daily concerts and the three free nights of concerts on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday. At least you won’t feel cheated if things go wrong.

Get the program guide for details. The Jazz Fest App is useless in finding out the free stuff.

For sharp-eyed readers, the text over Dr. John’s picture on CBC News is a sync error with the next scene from Fredericton.

For an up-close review of the concert, see Stephen Cooke’s  At 72, Dr. John is the doctor of cool

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