Jazz Fest goers let their flags fly

When Tom Haan attended his first Jazz Fest in 1997, he said he was smitten with the flags and knew that the next year, he had to have one.

It took about three years to perfect the rig, Haan said.

Traveling from California, Haan said he not only had to create a flag that was the right height and weight but also figure out a way to take it on the plane.

The initial experiment of PVC pipe didn’t work as a flag pole because it was too heavy, he said.

Haan ultimately found success with a 12-foot fishing pole, which he can take apart and put into a ski bag to check at the airport.

Haan’s flag says “Bojon.” Read it backwards, he said: “No Job.” Thus, his group’s own coined term and “lifestyle brand” representing a life of leisure.

Each Jazz Fest flag has a meaning, a history, and is attached to a group of people who look for it and gather beneath each year.

They are meeting points for friends, as well as a means of making new friends.

Some are large and more obvious advertisements of colleges, sports teams and states.

Others represent businesses — such as four nautical flags spelling out “MCYC.” The flag belongs to the owners of the Mid-City Yacht Club, a local watering hole.

Co-owner M.J. Sauer said that she’s been attending the festival for 20 years, always wanted a flag, and finally put hers up this year. She said they let their patrons and friends know where they are at the fest using Facebook and Twitter posts.

Jim Stanford flies a flag with a white buffalo — the state flag of Wyoming, his home.

Stanford said he first attended Jazzfest in 1996 as a volunteer. He was jobless and broke. When he returned to Jackson Hole, Wyo., he drove past the office of the newspaper.

An aspiring writer, Stanford said he walked into the office and told them he wanted to write a story about Jazz Fest. The editor told him to put a local angle on it — the large number of people from the town who attend — and a week later Stanford had published the first story of what turned into a long career as a journalist.

That story “led to so many incredible things,” he said. “And it all began down here.” Each year since then, “It’s like a pilgrimage to me,” Stanford said.

Some flags are subtle, like Stan Richard’s small red flag with the number 22 stenciled in black paint.

Richard pointed to one of the large metal light posts in front of the Acura Stage. He said that it used to have a small piece of plywood painted red with the number 22. Richard would tell all his friends “Meet at pole 22.” When that disappeared, he created a flag, now attached to his 3-year-old’s stroller. The flag flying Thursday was the second he created, he said, as the first was destroyed in Katrina.

There are windsocks, inflatable animals swinging in the wind, and flags with random phrases like “I thought I was a cowboy,” and “Nobody eats parsley.”

A.J. Salazar and his crew fly a flag with their college alma maters. “I can’t tell you how many people come up and say ‘Hey, I went there.’” Salazar said. The flag creates camaraderie, he said.

Julie McLeod, part of Salazar’s group from North Carolina, said that she enjoys going up to others and asking about their flags. She pointed to the flag in front of her, and said it belongs to a group of people who all own Chihuahuas. She pointed to another flag with three pink pigs and said its story had something to do with an ex-husband who was described by a former spouse as a pig.

“Look at all the people this flag is bringing together,” Stanford said at his crowded spot. “I was bringing this flag before there were cell phones. That’s how you found people at Jazz Fest. That’s still how you find people at Jazz Fest. You don’t need to have phone numbers, you just see their flag.”