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Hang Tin: Chaz Fest Recap (PHOTOS)

Photos by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee

According to a friend of mine, the homes in the Bywater are “so close together you can hear your neighbor reading a magazine.”  This past Wednesday, the two stages of Chaz Fest brought more interesting noises to incidentally overhear if you were in the neighboring blocks.  


The sounds of merriment are available as soon as you start walking down the driveway that separates two of the houses that border the “Truck Farm.”  This spacious, tree-shaded acre was created a decade ago by removing the chain link fences that separated various backyards and combining them into one property. 


Improvements to the grounds include fluorescent orange spray-painted tree roots and string lights of varying sizes and colors.  The off-kilter shack that seems to have been planted by a tornado, the faded paper lanterns tacked up with rusty nails, and the bright, hand painted signs give the sub-tropical spot a Neverland type of feel.  As soon as you’ve spent an hour there dodging palm fronds at eye level and drinking the oft-advertised Hard Liquor, you may find yourself forgetting about the outside world.


If the Truck Farm is Neverland, then its residents and custodians are the Lost Boys and Chaz Fest is the festival that refuses to grow up.  The festival, with its thumb-your-nose origin story and perceived remoteness maintains an imperviousness to capitalization or cultural commodification.  Alex McMurray, musical polygamist and Chaz Fest’s chief organizer, has no aspirations of becoming Quint Davis, and over the years has learned that DIY comes with its fair share of PITA. He darts around the grounds either double-checking the PA, side-hugging a friend, or swaying from his ankles onstage: producer, patron, and participant. 


Which isn’t to say that the day is disorganized or unprofessional.  The food--some homemade, some provided by local restos like Yuki and the Joint BBQ--was first rate, and the schedule never suffered from overlong sets or technical difficulties.  Often a band on one stage would start immediately after another had just finished, pulling the crowd through the thickets with intentional chords.  The artists themselves seemed to enjoy the laid back nature of the festival.  With no backstage, private tents, or golf cart chauffeurs the artists were free to stash their gear and rejoin the crowd as audience members. 


The lineup provided an uncropped snapshot of the local scene.  There are, of course, the bands that Alex McMurray fronts, the Tin Men and the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus--as comfortable at Le Bon Temps and Carrollton Station as they are at home in a Ninth Ward venue, but doubly confident letting loose outdoors.  Helen Gillet played as part of an ensemble.  The Geraniums don’t gig that much anymore, but their set of post-punk favorites lit a candle for the long-departed, less self-referential New Orleans of the nineties. 


The Tintypes are hard to write about without using the cliche “fresh faces,” because that’s exactly what the earnest, young country roots band has.  The TBC Brass Band played an energetic set, segueing as they usually do from song to song, drawing a dancing mob to the loose straw in front of the main stage.  Walt McClements from Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? went one-man gypsy music peddler as Lonesome Leash, grabbing some hometown love before heading to France.  R. Scully and the Rough Seven closed out the night and either wore you out or pumped you up for another couple hours of partying.


Beyond the edges of the stages, the festival-goers provide their own cross-section of the city.  While Chaz Fest has a reputation as a renegade festival with a penchant for rum and whiskey drinking, the reality is that, just like another festival that takes place this week, there is something for everyone.  At the Truck Farm this correspondent encountered people operating with the most tenuous grasp on consciousness.  Whether they were overindulgent adults or tired toddlers propped against their parents’ legs, they nodded in time with the music while around them everyone else visited, held hands, laughed, and swiped crumbs out of their laps. 


One of McMurray’s most apt sing-along choruses goes, “If you can’t make it here, then you better not leave,” a warning to the loser who thinks he might have it easier in a different city.  It’s a humorous concept, not completely off base.  But next year, whether you’re an out of towner or a citizen whose knowledge of street names gets foggy past Elysian Fields, take this as a challenge: if you can make it here, you won’t want to leave. 




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