Danae and Allan have different views of Jazz Fest at this time in their lives. Danae will be out there every day from sunup to sundown. Allan, who used to love listening to the performers in the Gospel Tent, will stay home and watch the news clips on TV. He can’t handle the crowds anymore and all the walking makes his back hurt.
This year’s festival brings four great stories to mind. Just a few weeks ago Danae stopped into the Subway sandwich shop across from Place St. Charles and met young, gregarious Di, a high school honors student attending Walker-Landry in Algiers. She was at Subway for two reasons – her hard-working mother makes sandwiches there and she had come from a job interview at the new Riverwalk Outlet Mall. Though just about to graduate from high school, Di boasted that working at Riverwalk would be her third job, having spent two summers employed through Mayor Landrieu’s youth job program.
When asked about her college plans, she proudly proclaimed she received a full scholarship to Xavier, had an ACT score of 22, and planned to enter the medical profession. Soon she enthusiastically greeted another adult who had hired her to work in a T-shirt booth at Jazz Fest this year. The Jazz Fest executive said she spent 10 minutes with Di and knew she fit the bill.
Look for Di in a T-shirt booth the next two weekends or at the new Riverwalk Outlet Mall later next month. You might be served by a future doctor, pharmacist or medical researcher who is quickly finding her way in the world. Di’s mother set an example of hard work at Subway that her daughter has embraced. It will certainly pay off for both of them.
Also look for Linda Lewis this weekend in Congo Square. Linda and her clinical social workers run the non-profit Armstrong Family Services that helps keep almost 500 families a year from becoming homeless by providing counseling, life skill training, and by negotiating with landlords and utility companies to give deserving families a second chance. Linda is a one-man-band. She runs the program on a shoestring and never knows when or where her next grant will come from.
Like many women, Linda loves jewelry and began buying it on the Internet. Other women admired her treasures and asked Linda if she could buy for them too. Soon Linda realized she could be an entrepreneur and build a customer base. You can find Linda in her booth at Congo Square this weekend selling the mixed metal jewelry that she loves. Several of her friends — including retiring Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, who has helped fund Armstrong through Harrah’s grants — will be volunteering with her. Linda plans to reinvest her profits back into Armstrong Family Services so that she can serve even more families.
Finally, we are thinking about the late great but equally flamboyant gospel singer Raymond Myles who with his back-up singers, The RAMS, tore up the Gospel Tent every year with an amazingly glitzy show. Like many New Orleanians, Raymond – who also struggled with his sexuality and how the church viewed his lifestyle – died too young. But The RAMS are making a comeback in his memory. They will be performing Raymond’s favorite tunes Friday at noon in the Gospel Tent. Raymond’s producer New Yorker Leo Sacks who also just produced Glen David Andrew’s new CD, Redemption, will be on hand. Sacks has been working on a documentary on Myles’ life for several years that includes interviews with Allen Toussaint and other New Orleans musicians.
This Friday at 1:40 p.m. the late Larry McKinley, the voice of Jazz Fest that everyone still hears when entering or exiting the fairgrounds, will be honored with a Second Line. You won’t want to miss this parade which will surely draw a large crowd. Have a safe and happy Jazz Fest and don’t forget your sunscreen and a hat!
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.