Jazz Fest fans unfurl flags fluttering with creativity

Flags claim territory, let friends know your location at festival

Joe Senior, 51, trudged through the crowd in front of Congo Square Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Thursday before assuming a spot about a dozen rows back with a sole accomplice — a shimmering, gold bust of New Orleans musician Professor Longhair.

The vibrant sculpture, which was affixed to a pole and hovered 15 feet in the air, was festooned with purple, green and gold garlands, snippets of Spanish moss and ticket stubs from past festivals.

Senior said the creation acts as a beacon for the “Krewe of Fesshead,” a group of friends who congregate each year at the festival.

“You just put it up somewhere and people come,” he said.

Sure enough, just a few minutes into the Wailers’ late-afternoon reggae set, two women from Senior’s pack snaked through the thickening crowd and toward the exotic-looking landmark as though it were a magnet.

Staffs, flags, flying puppets and a horde of other eye-catching objects peppered the powder-blue skies Thursday, as they do every year at Jazz Fest. The aerial artifacts not only help festivalgoers rendezvous but also serve as totems with which attendees promote their hometown, alma mater or favorite watering hole.

“Every one of these people were in my bar last night,” said George Pool, 27, about the dozen or so music fans who lounged on blankets near a flag for the Mid-City Yacht Club.

Pool said the four separate flags were nautical symbols that spelled out MCYC.

The flagpole would be encircled with bar patrons this weekend, he said.

Christina Duval, a 31-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, swayed to the music as she held onto her flagpole, which held pennants for the University of Alabama, Cathead Vodka and the University of Mississippi.

The Ole Miss flag was significantly smaller than the others, Duval said, because it was a recent addition by a woman who just married someone in her group.

Duval said she enjoys the reactions her Alabama pennant gets from both allies and foes.

“It’s awesome to get the ‘Roll Tide’ and to even hear the LSU fans say, ‘Roll Tigers,’ ” she said.

On the other side of the Acura Stage, Tom Peak, dressed in a tie-dyed Grateful Dead Shirt, mixed vodka and lemonades under three high-flying pennants and a rotating head of the actor Mr. T.

Peak, 51, is attending his 15th straight Jazz Fest along with about 50 fellow Chicagoans, who call themselves the Krewe of Onions.

He said his top flag, a giant “M,” stood for a popular Chicago concert venue, the Metro. Below it was the official flag of Chicago, followed by a flag that proclaimed the name of his krewe.

“Not only do we get a lot of Chicago people, but we also get a bunch of ex-employees of the Metro,” he said.

Also flapping in the air Thursday were pennants representing Israel, POWs, pirates, the Grateful Dead, Oregon State University, mustaches and, according to numerous attendees, a giant pork chop on a flagpole.

A number of Louisiana state flags — including the Bourbon flag from when the French ruled the city — were also on view.

Charles Wendell and Brad Steuerwald, who own Brad and Dellwen Flag Party at Magazine Street and Jackson Avenue, said various Louisiana flags are among their biggest sellers.

The store is a kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of flags and kites, with a green parrot named Helga assisting at the cash register. Its diverse flag selection serves many out-of-towners looking to sport their home colors at the festival.

“If you’re from Texas, you want a Texas flag. If you’re from Mississippi, you’ll want a Mississippi flag,” Steuerwald said.

One flag the store can’t sell is the iconic gold Jazz Fest flag. Wendell said festival organizers have prohibited any outside vendors from selling it, something that frustrates him.

“Every day people call me asking for that flag,” he said.

While many of the flags at the festival are purchased either online or at local stores, some attendees make their own banners.

Rick Noble, from San Diego, sported a flag for Kiss the Sky to Conquer Diabetes, an organization he founded 12 years ago because his daughter had the illness.

Noble raises money for the cause by climbing mountains; he said he has generated about $500,000 to date.

During the set break before headline String Cheese Incident took the stage, Noble said flying the flag at the festival helps introduce more people to his cause.

A few minutes later, the band came on. As the wailing guitars and blasting keyboards rocked the Acura Stage, thousands jerked, grooved and swayed.

Their flags, a fluttering mosaic of color and creativity, did the same.