Whoever invented 6:30am flights, especially those coming out of PartyTowns, has obviously never had to actually make one of those flights – or they don’t party – or both. It was a Tuesday, we were heading home after 7 days in New Orleans, and we had to get up at a time we had been going to bed for the last week. It wasn’t pretty, but we had earned it in fun ten times over!! A trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is an incredible experience, but it’s not for the faint of heart or weak of liver. When we arrived in NOLA one week earlier, we could not have imagined what the next 7 days had in store for us: heat and sweat, music, heat and sweat, alcohol, music, more heat, more sweat, more music, more alcohol . .you get the picture. Oh, did I forget to mention that N’Awlins is one of the most gorgeous, fascinating, enchanting, romantic cities I have ever visited? There is nothing like it anywhere. Go there. Do it. You won’t regret it.
Highlights of our week . . .well there were no lowlights, but if I had to pick they would be: the free concert in Lafayette Park, fried chicken at Coop’s, street drinking on Frenchman’s on a Sunday night, Royal Street, Grace Potter at the House of Blues, the Gospel tent, Rock n’ Bowl, Hurricanes at Pat O’s, Trombone Shorty and the Foo Fighters – and that’s just hitting the top 10.
NOLA is a city devoted to really, really good music and really, really good times. I realized somewhere around day 5 that I hadn’t heard a single piece of Top 40, autotuned rubbish since we arrived. Instead it had been a non-stop feast of fabulous and innovative music. Our first full day in town we spent wandering the Quarter where we came across buskers playing banjo, washboard and saw (yup, the one you get from the hardware store) with a fiddle. It was mesmerizing. We should have been our first clue about what our week had in store for us.
It was a fantastic revelation when we pieced together that Jazzfest runs from 11am to 7pm, that NOLA is a city with endless live music venues and no sense of time . . .and there are extra shows to see all night, any night. So you don’t have to try to see everyone at Jazzfest, you can see them later that night! And there is no way to see everyone you want to see at the festival. There are 12 stages and tents, all with music playing constantly, the racetrack is really big and it’s hot. Did I say it’s hot . . .it’s really hot. And sweaty. All the time. Note to self – don’t go without a hat!!
Mi amore asked for a set list of everyone we saw at JF – memories dim fast he said – so here is my best shot:
Wednesday: Our bartender at Pat O’s on Tuesday night, he of the killer Hurricanes and Pousse Cafes . . . .
told us we had to go see the free concert in Lafayette Square on Wednesday – it’s a regular locals event and gets even more fun during JF. It was a great tip. We saw the Pinettes, an amazing all-girl brass band and local jazz vocalist Marcia Ball, who brought out Maria Muldaur to sing back up, all for free in a beautiful outdoor park with lots of Abita’s , the local beer. Purple Haze – how could I not drink a bucket full of those! And we met some great folks including Boudreau, a true to life Cajun who hailed from 30 miles south of NOLA. I had to check, I didn’t know there was anything south of there, but there is, but it’s the bayou.
Thursday: Seva Venet and the Storyville String Band with etouffee for breakfast, Glen Hansard (of Swell Season, a true Irish balladeer), Little Freddie King Blues Band, Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Cowboys, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and to round out the evening, Florence and the Machine. And this is locals day, it’s a fantastic day to meet locals, including bus loads of school kids and enjoy the fest without the weekend crowds – loved it!.
We left a bit early because we had tickets to see the amazing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at House of Blues that night . . .it’s all about decisions, ya’ll. HOB was packed, but we were second row for my first Gracie show. It was a magical night.
Friday: Crescent City Jazz Band playing ” Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” . I knew right there I would never forget it. Fried green tomatoes and crab stuffed shrimp for breakfast with a Parasol Parade? More NOLA magic. Big Al Carson and the Blues Masters – wow, Big Al is BIG!! We had already seen Marcia Ball and were in agreement that one of the best things about festivals is seeing the acts you don’t know (not the big names you do) so we skipped Bruce Hornsby and had the total pleasure of seeing the legendary Wanda Rouzan, the Sweetheart of New Orleans. Best part – this 70 ish lady called out publicly some of the headliners for leaving the stage early – little known names like Cee Lo Green and Bruce Springsteen. Apparently it was too hot for them, but not a lady in her 70’s. What a pistol. There’s a bit of a gap in the afternoon schedule (and my memory) – we had a Smaltimore moment at the Heritage Stage and there were more than a few frozen daiquiri’s involved. Festival shenanigans!
Got it together enough to wander on over to the Gentilly Stage to see the incredible Rodrigo y Gabriela, stunning guitarists from Mexico, who provided more magic as the sun was going down. At some point during the day the ticket maestro in our duo managed the feat of scoring tickets, by smartphone, to see one of the hottest acts in NOLA – Trombone Shorty. Home, cold shower, dinner (oh wait, we forgot that part . . .thank god for Lucky Dogs!!!) quick stop at Pat O’s for a Hurricane (yup, that was really necessary) and we were at the Mahalia Jackson Centre for the Performing Arts. Wow, wow, wow. Trombone Shorty quite literally, rocked it. If you get a chance to see him, DO IT.
Saturday: REST DAY!!!! I got tired all over again just writing this. After Bloody Mary’s at Cafe Beignet, it was back to the pool for a well-earned day of rest. Fantastic. We needed it.
Saturday night was a show-stopper, beginning with oysters at Oceana, meeting Robert, our taxi driver cum actor from Treme on our way to Rock n’Bowl, through to closing Tipitinas. Imagine a bowling alley with a live music venue, twinkly lights and people of all ages dancing and enjoying the southern way of life. The magic of Rock n’ Bowl. On the musical bill – the Iguanas, Kermit Ruffins and hmmm, there was another zydeco band, but it got a wee bit fuzzy. Must have been that time in the Ping Pong room – that’s right, it had a Ping Pong room as well, a great place to take some quality time away from the crowds!!
Oh my, goosebumps all over. I really love the south.
Our final stop of the night was Tipitina’s uptown. It’s something of a badge of honour (or maybe shame?) to make the 2am Galactic show there during JF. Well we did it. We had one fallen soldier, but 3 of us managed to close Tipitina’s down sometime around 4am and had another Lucky Dog stop on the way home. Some people go to NOLA for the food, we went for the music and occasionally remembered to eat! This is a great Galactic video from Jazzfest because you get Trombone Shorty and the Indian costumes at the same time.
Sunday: I’m not even going to try to pretend that Sunday morning was anything but nasty, but we manned up and were back at the track for our last day of JF just after noon. Well done us. Pails of frozen strawberry lemonade and a local Mac n’ Cheese with crawfish concoction called Crawfish Monica got us back on our feet. We only saw one show that day, but it was a 2 hour marathon of Foo Fighter awesomeness.
I was totally blown away, it was one of the best shows I have ever seen, anywhere. Many years from now I will remember that show and the magic of that afternoon. I get goosebumps every time I listen to this.
Nothing further was really needed, but in a surfeit of incredible memories, listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band closing out the festival as we made our way off the grounds was, simply, perfect. Starving and exhausted, we did the only sensible thing and headed for Coop’s, our favourite dive bar on Frenchman’s Street for fried chicken and Chicken Tchoupitoulas (that’s gravy NOT sauce!). You know it’s a real dive bar when you offer to pay the bartender $5 to throw out those annoying frat boys and he says “no thanks, I’d love to do it for free”. Well played! After dinner we headed to d.b.a for some sippin’ beers, the really good ones that you savour and of course more amazing music. The Tin Men: guitar, Washboard Chaz and a souzaphone playing Englebert Humperdinck. Only in NOLA.
We met up with friends and rounded out the night doing some street drinking outside the Spotted Cat and Blue Nile. By anyone’s reckoning it was a full day. An amazing day, a day of lifelong memories. Colour me happy.
Our last day we spent taking in some tourist highlights. Chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde to start the day; Preservation Hall and a historical tour of the 1st St Louis Cemetery where Marie Laveau the Voodoo Queen is buried – phenomenal.
Rode the St Charles Ave streetcar (I looked for a name, but didn’t see Desire anywhere!) to the Garden District to find Anne Rice’s house, the Lafayette #1 Cemetery and the stunning antebellum mansions nestled in among the magnolias. Stopped at Igor’s dive bar for a Bloody and then ran into friends enjoying happy hour at the Avenue Pub, with the best beer selection in NOLA.
It seemed fitting to bookend our week with Peanut Butter Burgers at Yo Mama’s – we had burgers there about 1am on our first night in town – and with that we closed the circle on one of the best weeks of my life. Thanks babe, you brought the magic.
Satchmo says it better than I ever could.