28 April 2012

The Grand Experiment: Jazz Prayers

This morning around 10:30am I left the rental chateaux on my breezer and headed to the fairgrounds.  I rambled up to the entrance by Liuzza's by the Track (I'm sure there is an official name but I don't know it) and found a place along the fence (between the family selling ice cold water and the dude on the other side of the street selling feed bags and hats) and set up shop.

Dress: I wore my blue clergy shirt and dog collar, old wool taxi driver's/fiddler's cap, shorts, new cheap sun glasses that make everything look dark red, and black sandals.  Equipment: my sign (see below), my 1963/4 Royal Aristocrat manual typewriter, a stack of white paper, a NOLA blonde, a bottle of water, and a milk crate. I taped the sign to the typewriter, sat down, and waited.  (Pictures are forthcoming, if folk remember to tag me/post them on facebook).

My goal: to make enough for a ticket, a beer, a bowl of pheasant gumbo, a bowl of white chocolate bread pudding, and the latest volume of Dr. Michael White's.  I made enough for a ticket in a couple of hours but I had to leave early.  Why? I forgot my chair and had to sit on my milk crate, there are more comfortable pieces of furniture.

So what did I do?  I typed prayers/blessings for folk as they entered.  When they approached I asked them what band(s) they were going to see and what food they wanted to eat then made a prayer/blessing based off of that.  I also renewed the wedding vows of a couple.  I had a prayer request for a class action lawsuit.  I had a person who had deep problems and wanted some help.  For both I wrote a prayer that would help them alleviate their anxiety so they could enjoy the fest.  For the latter I created a vague prayer, told the person to fill in the blanks, pray the prayer and then throw it away.  I was given a business card because one person liked my creativity.  In between I posted updates on facebook and sang songs from Levon Helm's Dirt Farmer cd.

Reactions: i would say only about 20 people really got what I was up to; they understood the spiritual nature of Jazz Fest.  There were quite a few people who were taken with the originality of the idea (even though i gave the dude from San Fran via NPR all the credit).  One man told his wife that people really have to work at standing out at Jazz Fest and that I had definitely done that.
Other reactions: many people thought for sure I was a front for black market tickets, they kept coming up to me asking for tickets or flashing some kind of esoteric signal.  But I was just writing prayers.  One jerk rode by on a bicycle and asked if I was selling tickets?  I said I was writing prayers.  He then replied, "I want tickets not (insert a f-bomb with an active participle) prayers - did he know there was a ticket booth not 20 feet from where he made this declaration?
Another person asked if I was for real.
A small bunch of prudes were smuggish in their disapproval.
One person who had serious beef with organized religion (I thought I was pretty disorganized) shouted how no part of religion should ever be for sale (I gave away several, plus it was donations only)
A stoned man thought I was the greatest thing since slice bread, he just stood in front of me, pointed and couldn't stop giggling.
Finally, I was the subject of many photographs.  If you ever run across a copy, please send me a copy.

Friends: I saw many friends, it was great to see them and type prayers/blessings for them.

New Friends: three women who hugged and kissed me after I gave them their prayer/blessing.
Festival people: The two people who were collecting cans, I set up my operation near a trash can.  We even developed a pact, they would watch my back and I would guard the trash can from other people gathering cans.  Sure. They even asked if I would be out all weekend.
Festival Vendor Etiquette - pretty easy to pick up on, just don't get too near each other.

Biggest Lesson Learned: one, people are fascinated with manual typewriters, especially when someone uses them.  When I would start typing people would gather around, jockey to see what I was doing, and then take pictures like crazy.  two, Kant was right - we are religious beings with an a priori towards religious expressions.  Even though I didn't make a ton of money, people desired/needed blessings.  I've always thought this but this experience gave me proof.  three, despite our technological connectivity an electronic box cannot replace real life human interaction: a prayer, a blessing, a laugh, a confession, a responsive/listening set of ears.

Will I do it again?  Heaven yes.  When?  This Sunday, that's when.  Look for my sign.


WBR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WBR said...

Travis, I'm thinking you have invented "ecclesiastical busking!"