Jazz Fest with youngsters not limited to Kids Tent, mac and cheese

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON --  River Levenson, 2,  and Hero Levenson, 4, run around the Kids Tent to the music of the Bari Koral Family Rock Band at Jazz Fest 2013 in New Orleans, Friday, May 3, 2013.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- River Levenson, 2, and Hero Levenson, 4, run around the Kids Tent to the music of the Bari Koral Family Rock Band at Jazz Fest 2013 in New Orleans, Friday, May 3, 2013.

There are different to approaches attending Jazz Fest with kids in tow.

One toddler bent over to grab two handfuls of sand on the race track as his mother scolded, “No — this isn’t like the beach. Remember, we had that talk about touching dirt and sand?”

Just around the corner, another pair of youngsters happily constructed a sand castle surrounded by a moat at the edge of the track.

Along with decisions on dirt, there are choices to be made such as where to set up a base camp, whether to bring a stroller, how to adjust for nap time, where to serve a time-out sentence and how long to stay.

Occasionally, children do get separated from parents, but the Lost Kids tent has more of a preventative role, encouraging every kid to wear a yellow Safe Kids identification band with all critical information written on the back.

Jennifer Velnor has brought her three children — ages 1, 4 and 6 — every day of every year of the festival since they were born.

On Thursday, her youngest danced with her dad, spinning in circles with her hands in the air on their tarp near the Acura Stage.

As soon as the school day was over, Volner made a quick dash out to go pick up her oldest child. She said he had too many absences, mostly for being sick, to miss the day in class.

One key is to let them bring a backpack in which they choose whatever they want to include to keep them occupied, Velnor said.

After that, “Relax and have a good time. And don’t tell them about the Kids Village.”

Based on past experience, Volner said that a trip to the Kids Village means getting stuck there indefinitely and missing the music mom and dad want to see.

Since her kids don’t know the Kids Village exists, they also don’t know the kid food booth exists, Volner said.

She said the 4-year-old is “insane about the jama jama.” The 1-year-old likes collard greens, beans and rice and picking the meat out of the Cochon de Lait po-boy, and the oldest “will eat anything,” she said.

And, Volner said, “I have been known to sneak out to the Kids Village to get mac and cheese.”

The other offerings at the Kids Village include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crispy rice treats, fruit salad and mini corn on the cob.

“It’s all about having fun,” Volner said. “And lots of sunscreen.”

As a mass of menacing dark clouds moved toward the Fairgrounds and the sky began to spit, Volner and her kids were unfazed.

“Bring the rain,” she said. “The rain just makes it a better experience.” During last Sunday’s deluge, Volner said she told her oldest, “When else do you get to play in the mud and in the rain and listen to music?”

In the Kids Tent, Leron Finger waited out the rain with his two children while watching Angela the Yarnspinner enthusiastically solicit sounds effects from the audience for her story about a pig, a dog, a stick and a butcher.

His kids, ages 1 and 3, also attend every day of the fest every year, Finger said. “They love it.” His advice is to “Not push them past their limits — and take time to do what they need to do.”

Finger said the offerings of activities at the Kids Village are amazing.

“Most festivals do not have a setup like that,” he said.

This year, many of the art projects incorporate the festival’s Native American focus. There are drums made out of toilet paper rolls and balloons, beaded medicine bags and turkey feather fans.

Other activities include building a palmetto hut out of sticks and palms, a show-and-tell tent and a tent devoted to educational lessons about wetland loss and the dangers of marine debris.

Young festgoers can play games Native American children played, like corn cob darts, archer and a ring toss.

There’s also real pirogue to pretend row through a swamp of plastic alligators and a crab trap to crawl through.

On stage in the Kids Tent, families can take respite in the chairs and shade or shelter for a wide variety of performances, including high school bands, traditional dances, theater and art displays.

In terms of favorite food, Finger said the first thing his 3-year-old said when she walked through the gates was “I need my yellow ice cream,” meaning a mango freeze.

While Volner and Finger differ in some of their strategies, they agreed on the most fundamental tenet: “Go with the flow — that’s what it’s all about,” Volner said.

The children get exposed to an unparalleled music experience, but “Jazz Fest isn’t just about the music. It’s about the whole scene,” she said, sweeping her arm across the panorama. “We’re all here for the love of music. They get that this is a bonding experience.”

For Finger, being at the fest with the kids is “unbelievable. All you have to do is adjust your expectations and roll with it.”