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The Hosts Of The Party: Bayou St. John Responds To The Jazz Fest Takeover

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Nina Feldman

The people of Bayou St. John tell of merriment and traffic as the festival descends on their neighborhood. 

In shady Bayou St. John, the neighbors really know each other.  The same crew assembles each morning at the local coffee house to read the paper and debate its assertions; another crowd convenes at the various watering holes each evening.

“It’s one of the great things about this neighborhood,” says Fortin St. resident Jonas Bishop. “The fact that I know everyone on my block… It’s definitely a community-centric area that you don’t find a lot of places.”

Delanie Manuel, server at Liuzza’s by the Track and Jonas’ neighbor, agrees. “I thought I’d be a Quarter Rat forever,” she admits. “But no, I love it here.”

For fifty weeks out of the year, this neighborhood bordering the Fair Grounds goes about life as usual. But at the end of March, as the racing season comes to a close, they get ready.

“Each one of these porches is going to have a band in the yard, they’re going to be selling Bloody Marys or Jell-O shots, or they’re going to be having a ‘garage sale,’ selling all sorts of art they made, ” Manuel says of what happens to the homes around Liuzza’s by the Track.  “There will be spontaneous electric slides.”

Not everyone, however, revels in the fleeting limelight. For some, even the temporary crowds are too much to handle. The perennial plague of securing their street parking sends residents into a frenzy of barricading, scrounging city street barrels, trash bins and broken pieces of furniture into makeshift blockades for the spaces in front of their homes.

August and Joan LeBlanc have lived on Rendon Street for 35 years. They told me they sacrificed a modest front lawn to make way for a paved driveway — just so they wouldn’t have to look for parking during Jazz Fest season.

While parking is the leading concern for some, others take issue with access to the neighborhood. One barber at Durio’s House of Style (directly across from the Gentilly Boulevard entrance to the racetrack) claims that not everyone rakes it in during Jazz Fest. For Corey, the 400,000 festers prevent his customer base — regulars from all over town — from even making it into the neighborhood.

“We’re basically off for two weeks,” Corey explains. When asked if the celebratory vibe in the neighborhood made up for the loss at all, he shook his head. “They should compensate us,” he argued. “I’ve still got to pay the bills at the end of the month.”

While there is certainly no shortage of complaints about Jazz Fest from its neighbors, even those scrooges get a kick out of watching the crowds stream by. August and Joan are happy to put their parking grips aside as they sit on their front porch and watch the delirious, sunburnt festers appreciate these humble streets by the bayou, whose residents delight in them every day.

And the festers love the residents right back, especially when they remind them where they parked their car.

*Click here to read more and view the neighborhood slideshow.