Saturday, 12:30 p.m. — The Fairgrounds
Now that the frantic pace of Friday night has been left behind, Saturday afternoon offers the first real chance to walk around at leisure and soak in the atmosphere of the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Gigantic outdoor parties are always fun, of course, but there’s something special about the atmosphere at Monterey. There’s an easy sense of community here that makes the Festival seem more intimate and friendly, almost like a family reunion. There are old pals one meets every year at Monterey (and only at Monterey). For writers, Sunday brunch is an annual tradition. Keep a sharp eye open as you walk the grounds, and you’ll spot many of the performers strolling around too, maybe with a camera or a lemonade in hand.
For those who haven’t seen the Fairgrounds, a quick orientation is in order (yes, I do this same post every year. Return readers, please bear with me). The layout is linear, with the Arena anchoring one end and a smattering of indoor stages strung along to the opposite end. A long row of vendor booths provides the backbone, with arts and crafts alongside the Arena and food mostly ringing the open West Lawn area. In the middle, close to the main gate, is the Garden Stage.
The Arena has an old-fashioned, rodeo look, with tiered seats surrounding a sawdust-coated flat floor and a very large stage at the front. It seats (if memory serves) about 2,000, with separate admission required. And those seats are quite possibly the most uncomfortable in the world, bare metal folding chairs crammed together in several straight phalanxes. If you’re heading for the Arena, seat cushions are essential. Those without Arena tickets have the run of the grounds, which includes the open and pleasant Garden Stage with its grandstand seating, two large rooms (Dizzy’s Den and the Night Club), the intimate Coffee House Gallery, and a theatre room that screens documentary films and live simulcasts of the Arena shows. There is also music in the West Lawn and the landscaped courtyard just inside the main gate.
It seems to be a rule that if an artist plays both in the Arena and out on the grounds, the grounds show will be better. Maybe it’s because they’ve already warmed up in he Arena, or maybe it’s because the crowd is closer, but grounds shows always have more energy. On the other hand, the biggest headliners appear only in the Arena, and there’s definitely something to be said for a reserved seat, no matter how rough on the rear.
One welcome addition this year is San Francisco record store Amoeba Music, which has lugged down great piles of vinyl, including some nice collectibles, along with a tempting selection of CDs and jazz-related DVDs. Amoeba replaces a national electronics chain as the Fairgrounds music store, and trust me, those other guys and their weak selection will not be missed. The challenge for me will be to stay out of Amoeba and focused on the live music.
Which is about to begin right now. More later…