A Jazz Fest Love Story
Written by Tracey Sgambato • Photographed by Samantha McGovern
When Jamie Klingsberg graduated from Tulane University in 1989, the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal was released that same summer. The hit movie follows a couple through an odyssey of various relationship dilemmas over the course of eleven years before they finally decide to tie the knot. Our story is a little different than When Harry Met Sally, but similarly, it spans some years and results in a beautiful marriage that can often only be found after years of friendship.
As a new graduate with endless possibilities, Jamie undoubtedly had no idea that he was setting out on his own odyssey of sorts that would eventually bring him full circle right back to New Orleans for another important step in his life. With his diploma in hand, and without a care in the world, he headed to St. John, Virgin Islands to join a childhood buddy and work at a resort. After a few years, he migrated north to South Beach, the place to be in the 1990s, where he worked in various nightclubs. From there, he eventually relocated to West Palm Beach, opening a night club called the “Monkey Club,” with several other friends from the industry.
Meanwhile, in the late 1990s, Susan Cline was spending the better part of a precious year in New Orleans working at the Bourbon St. Blues Company. After delaying college for as long as she could justify, Susan selected West Palm Beach as the next adventure and the place to get on with her education. Not knowing anyone in town, her New Orleans connections put her in touch with some locals who helped her find a place to stay. Then they kindly showed her around town and took her to the downtown area where she might find some work. Eventually, later that evening, they made it to the Monkey Club. When Jamie met Susan, he introduced her to the club’s general manager and she began working the following week as a cocktail waitress.
Jamie and Susan knew they had something in common right away, a shared love of New Orleans. They quickly became good friends. Over the next three years, not unlike Harry Burns and Sally Albright, they shared each other’s ups and downs as they went through the trials and tribulations of various failed relationships. As they helped each other get through those times, their friendship endured. “It’s all about timing. We never would have lasted if we had come together when I first moved to West Palm,” said Susan.
Finally, in 2001, neither was in a relationship with someone else so they finally decided to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival together. Then they kept coming back together. Next time, for Mardi Gras, then for French Quarter Festival. They came for one festival or another for nearly ten years. The years went by and, in between their cherished jaunts to New Orleans, their lives became intertwined.
Although they were a well-established couple after 13 years together, that special ‘something about marriage’ was beckoning them to take another step forward together, as it sometimes does when long-time couples contemplate the future. “We had been together for so long that we decided we just wanted to get married,” explained Susan.
When they began to think about a wedding, a big “to do” didn’t seem necessary. It wasn’t them. They set about planning a secret elopement. They wouldn’t tell anyone, not a word. Naturally, the only place fitting was New Orleans. “I wanted this experience to be just about us,” Susan said.
Their mutual love of the city was something that had been a central feature of their courtship, so Susan started doing some research. She came across Samantha McGovern, a local wedding photographer and marriage officiant for many New Orleans destination weddings. They contacted her to see if she could help them with getting married during the Jazz & Heritage Festival. She just needed to know whether they wanted to get married inside the Fest, or outside. Jamie had something specific in mind. He wanted to get married inside the Fest on one of the big stages. So when Samantha suggested the Gospel Tent, “it just seemed to be the right choice!”
It was settled. They would elope to New Orleans, without telling a single soul. They would get married at Jazz Fest on the Gospel Tent stage! They set about planning the details. Jamie coordinated the whole thing with the Festival. “It wasn’t much coordinating at all, just a few emails back and forth. They were pleasant and very easy to work with,” said Susan.
Come April, they arrived in New Orleans on a Tuesday as Susan recalled. This gave them a few days to make the necessary preparations for their wedding day. They went here and there around town to purchase items that would be just right for their wedding attire. “I just went to the French Market and picked out a dress.” Susan found the perfect Jazz Fest wedding dress: a blue and white tie-dye sun dress with a handkerchief hemline that she found from a market vendor.
Jamie’s attire took a little more effort. He “was so cute, he was almost ‘groomzilla’ about what he was wearing.” We found him a light blue tuxedo shirt and Jamie took it to have it tailored. He had the tailor remove the sleeves too so it wouldn’t be too hot. Then, “we went all over New Orleans to find the right hat for him. We found a light blue fedora, so it was perfect.”
On Friday, they met Samantha around noon and walked over to the Gospel tent together. Susan didn’t feel nervous at all. At some point between acts, Jamie, Susan and Reverend Samantha all headed onto the stage. Samantha first announced to the unsuspecting crowd that the couple had been together for thirteen years and that they had decided that this was the time and place to make it permanent. The surprised audience broke out in cheering applause.
The vows didn’t take long, and when they were done, as a proper gentleman, and with an aire of showmanship, Jamie removed his hat and eagerly kissed his new bride. There they were, married on the stage in front of a huge cheering crowd. For the rest of the day, people recognized them and congratulated them all over the Fest.
It was a hot day, so instead of champagne, they toasted their vows with an ice-cold Abita.
After enough sun, they made their way to the House of Blues, where they had tickets to hear “their wedding band,” Trombone Shorty. Finally, after their long day, as they relaxed with a drink in the Monteleone Hotel bar, they sent messages to close friends and family to announce their exciting news, and took the last step to make it “official” by posting their wedding announcement on Facebook. Then, as they recounted their adventurous wedding day, they sat back to enjoy being bombarded with excited congratulatory notes and surprised emojis since they had kept it a secret from everyone.
“To me, getting married was just a formality. Jamie and I have always been committed to each other, loved each other. I married my best friend that day in the city that brought us together, in a ceremony that celebrated the two of us for who we are as a couple.” So when Jamie met Susan, it was a lot like When Harry Met Sally after all because,
…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” —Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally
You can contact Reverend Samantha McGovern at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.romanceinneworleans.com for “Your Complete and Accurate Wedding Guide to Getting Married in the Big Easy,” and her complete services and fees.