The heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town was transformed into a multicultural celebration of jazz at this years Festival.
Today was the day of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s Mardi Gras, an event synonymous with New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz. Yesterday I had been exposed to some fantastic highlights of Scottish Jazz both old and new but today I would be experiencing something far less familiar.
As soon as I stepped of my bus, I was met with an intense heat & humidity. This uncomfortable heat only intensified as I hit the Grassmarket, where the swarm of bodies arriving for the day’s festivities radiated enough warmth to make it feel as if I was in the swamps of Louisiana.
The heat was far from the only foreign sensation. Many a stall littered the otherwise spacious walkways, each serving their own distinct purpose. The street food vendors were a popular destination for many with the delicious aromas of cheeses, pastries and meats emanating from them. Among the stalls of delicious foods and souvenirs lay a treasure trove of records, sating the appetite of many a vinyl lover willing to brave the crowds. The stretch of restaurants and bars along this already busy street only further exacerbated the lack of space, creating a sense of claustrophobia as I shuffled along at a snail’s pace.
Braving the horde of people proved to be worth it however, purely for the fantastic selection of musical performances on offer with 4 stages to choose from. Whether you were a fan of funk, swing, soul or some simple old school jazz, there was more than enough on offer to satisfy your palette. I was particularly drawn to the always fantastic Glamour & The Baybes whose enthralling performance kept me coming back throughout the day.
However, despite all these fantastic acts, I still could not help but be drawn back to the burgeoning crowd that surrounded me at every turn, and it wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t avoid them. No matter where I looked, all I could see was an undeniable energy and passion. The Scots had taken a shine to the spirit of New Orleans and embraced both its music and party atmosphere. Whether it was couples dancing to some quality tunes, a group of friends out on a hen do or students carrying around packs of corona to skip the queue at the bar, the people of Edinburgh had formed a genuine connection with one of the most famous parties in the world.
That appreciation extended far beyond the Scottish perspective, however. Londoners travelling up north for the weekend, Americans visiting friends across the pond and exchange students enjoying the rare Scottish summer all came together as hundreds of people from all over the world had gathered for a mutual appreciation of Jazz, Blues and everything in between.
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The feeling of togetherness was so strong that the acts could feel it coming from the crowd: “The people really enjoyed this music which is always a nice surprise” said Jonah Hitchens from the Swing’It Dixieband – Norway’s hottest Dixie band. “We had dancers at the front, they looked good, we looked good, it was a good-looking festival!”. Fellow bandmate Martin Jarl Velsin also shared this sentiment: “It was completely amazing. The sun was shining, people were dancing, the vibe was great. Edinburgh has been fantastic, and this Mardi Gras has been perfect for us.”
Overall, I left the Mardi Gras with an immense sense of satisfaction. In a busy city like Edinburgh, it always feels as if there’s a sense of urgency with rarely a moment to appreciate the beauty, something that feels alien coming from the small town Bonnyrigg. However, something about today felt completely different. No stress, no anxiety, no rush. Just a bunch of people from all over the world coming together to spend time with their friends and loved ones while listening to some quality music.
By Sonny Neil