The second weekend of Jazz Fest kicked off to a soggy start today with festival goers donning ponchos and rain boots. In the spirit of locals’ day, I spoke to a festival veteran who has weathered his fair share of Jazz Fest storms. Chuck Blamphin began working as a stage manager 40 years ago and currently oversees the Fais Do Do stage. Needless to say, he has seen the festival undergo some significant changes throughout his storied tenure.
“Actually, back then the stages had numbers: stage 1, stage 2, and so on,” Blamphin says. “All the stages were very small and they all had a little something — blues, rock, jazz. A real long time ago, they had small gazebos with one or two performers. So it hasn’t always been Fais Do Do, but I’ve been a manager for 40 years.”
When we come to Jazz Fest we only see what’s in front of us on the stage. It’s Blamphin’s job as a stage manager to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“My role, all day, is to make sure acts go on the stage on time and get off the stage on time, which is the worst part of my job,” he says. “I don’t want them to quit, they don’t want to quit, the audience doesn’t want to quit, but we only have 20-25 minutes to break down one group and set up the next. We also hire a sound crew, which I think is one of the best here, and we all get together once a year to make it happen.”
Blamphin says that, despite all of the work, he has a great time.
“People come to Jazz Fest to see something specific,” he says, regarding the creation of the Fais Do Do stage. “Maybe blues, maybe jazz. Zydeco and Cajun music is part of what New Orleans and southwest Louisiana is about. They come and want to know what zydeco is and jump right in. Surprisingly, a lot of our audience isn’t from New Orleans. They’re from all over the country, all over the world actually.”
He says, no matter where people are from, they’re drawn to zydeco’s beat. “You hear that beat and can’t help but move. The beat is infectious. Then, someone is dancing next to someone who isn’t dancing, and they’ll even show him a few moves. But they’re all interested in the beat,” he says.
Blamphin has been a manager at Jazz Fest for 40 years, but a few years stand out to him as highlights.
“Without a doubt, the first one after Katrina was rough,” he says. “Very emotional. It still affects me to think about it. Quint Davis and his festival production team made it happen, which is just a miracle in itself. But, because of the spirit of the fest and how much people love it, it was going to happen.
“One of the most memorable performances at Fais Do Do was last weekend, by a group from Canada. It was one of the best performances I’ve seen from over a thousand groups. It was the biggest surprise I’ve ever had. The crowd loved them. They had two encores. They didn’t want to stop, we didn’t want to stop, but of course, the show must go on for the other groups. “
In case you missed them last Friday, the band he’s referring to is Le Vent du Nord of Canada.