South entrance to Jackson Square Park
Saturday afternoon, August 6, 2016
"Would you take a minute to take a survey with me?" asks a smiling fellow as I sit on a bench in the shade of the trees in Jackson Square Park. Clipboard in hand, Richard Eglé from Lafayette now lives in New Orleans, is associated with the French Quarter Festival Board of Directors, and makes it easy
"Why don't you volunteer tomorrow, we can always use the help," he says after we compare notes about the lively music scene in Lafayette. He is so good at it that I want to take him up on the offer. Besides, I loved the fabulous blue volunteer T shirt he wore and figured this was a good a way to snag one (an admittedly lame reason for volunteering).
1 PM Sunday, August 7, 2016
I arrive at the volunteer tent, offer to take surveys and am greeted with a cheer from the women at the desk. A fellow named Tucker Mendoza hands me a clipboard, explains the survey sheet, and dispatches me into the park. But not before handing me a bright blue "Volunteer" T shirt, identifying me as a bona fide volunteer.
In the outside world, approaching a perfect stranger and asking for their time to do a survey, or actually anything, has a high rate of refusal (trust me, I've refused to talk to strangers who ask me to do this kind of stuff myself).
But here, in the confines of this lovely park with fabulous music and singing echoing in the background and the gregarious spirit of Louis Armstrong as strong as the sunshine overhead, people are much more receptive.
After a few tries, I develop my own introductory patter. “Good Afternoon. I wonder if you'd mind taking three or four minutes to take a survey that will help the organizers of this event make it even better next year and convince the people who are sponsors that it will be worth their while if they continue sponsoring next year.” I was an official volunteer, who could refuse such an entreaty?
No one declines. The next two hours are a blast. I survey 20 people, young and old, black and white, local and from afar. My first is with a woman that went so well that daughter asks to take a survey too. I’m on a roll. I spot her sponsor tag, she works for Chevron. They ask me to take their photo. I'm out of the gate and rarin' to go.
Hmmm, there's a young woman relaxing on a bench in the shade - thus begins a survey with one of the most important people at the festival, the professional piano tuner who keeps every piano just the way the performers want them to sound.
“I get up early to tune the pianos in the morning. The keys go sharp because of the humidity, 85% today, and I tune pianos several times a day.” Kimberly Gratton came here from the Florida Keys via Atlanta five years ago, doing what she called, “a rebuild of my life… and what a better place to do it!” www.Kimberleykey.com
The six degrees of separation story of the day: a woman with her daughter, relaxing in the shade, agree to take a survey. Marta and her daughter are scouting colleges.
“Ah, you’re Italian!” she says as she spots my name tag. “We are from Rome!”
Marta and her daughter Elena (my mother’s name!) have been on a major road trip, driving “on the shoestring,” she says. Elena, 16, is applying next year to Harvard, a few miles from my hometown. They’ve been on the road from Miami to Cambridge and were heading back but, after 4000 miles of listening to music on radio, they veered off to listen to the real thing in New Orleans.
“This is like a dream!” Marta says.
Marta listens to popular music in Rome. “You can’t listen to radio without hearing Louis Armstrong at least twice a day,” she says. “I grew up with this music and had a piano in house that continually needed 'a doctor' to tune it and was costly!” Harvard could be even more costly.
We trade addresses. I’m on the lookout for a place that covers Satchmo's catalog and know some great places to hear music in Cambridge. If Elena is accepted to Harvard, we'll all be singing, "What A Wonderful World"!
All you need to know about Satchmo Summerfest