New Orleans & Jazz Heritage Festival 08

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May 102008

This past weekend several friends from around the nation gathered in the still broken community known as the Big Easy for the NOLA Jazz Festival. To a certain extend only one of the two iterations of this nickname are still true: The French Quarter is still one big open speak-easy, however, its no longer true that it’s easy to find work here.

I landed late on Wed, however, not late enough and endured a long 2 hours wait for some friends to come through. We checked into my corporate staple – the Marriott, on the boarder of FQ and the Central Business District. Without even claiming space we’re already out on the quarter looking for a hole to get some local grub and a few beers.

We make our way down most of the main strip of Bourbon and right past the tourist wonder of Port of Call to Saint Peters and hit Yo-mamas. $4 – 28 oz draft Abita‘s (the local amber brew), and the best 1/2 lb burgers sided with a fully dressed baked potato as big as your foot. Yo-mama’s doesn’t cater to that handgrenade or hurricane slaying crowd, just bar goers that like their drink strong, and their companions with no bull shit. We went back almost every night and ate here twice. Definitely love the Bull Fighter with extra jalapeños (however back at the hotel, the mates didn’t).

The wed night crowd was light but noticeably less douchebaggy or fratty but we still took down the quarter closing out several bars and getting a good feel for what’s going to be a party, what are the jazz spots and where do we go to meet the people wanting to stay on the strip but away from the tourists. We ended our night at the Old Absinthe House bar on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville; built in 1806 this is where Pirate Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson planned the victory of the battle of New Orleans on the second floor. No green fairy for us but the spot is great to get away from the frey watch those that do partake (we ended several nights here as well).

Starting late in the morning on Thursday set the tone for the rest of the week. We had some more friends come in later this afternoon so we went down to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for some beers on the patio. Lafitte’s is the oldest functioning bar in the US and rumored to be the oldest standing building in the entire Mississippi Valley. Good mix of locals and like minded tourists… until the yuppiest of clans showed up chatting up their latest sailing adventures and next trips to Cape Cod we stayed for a few hours before the tide turned.

We sampled the hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, which when you think of the stumbling tourists around the quarter, it’s hurricane’s their usually clutching to keep their tilt sideways. The drink is synonymous with O’Brien’s, created during World War II and one of the most sought-after tourist souvenir.

We witnessed some film cameras in and around the quarter catching the “reality” of Bourbon St. I found later they were there for a Central City show with Luda and Widespread.

The weather turned out to be perfect during the weekend (far from the T-storms predicted).

One of the primary requirements of any travel is getting good food and lots of it. In no particular order I sampled (around NOLA and at the Festival):

Fried Crab Cake w/ Smoked Tomato & Jalapeño Tartar
Soft shell crab po boy
Dozens of raw oysters
Oyster and Crawfish Po Boy from VertiMarte
Crawfish Etouffe
Pheasant, Quail, and Andouille Gumbo
Half the menu at Emeril’s NOLA
Cajun Jambalaya
Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe Du Monde
Hot Sausage Po-Boy
Grits, biscuts, chicken fried steak, gravy and other brunch at Cafe Fleur de Lis
late night gyro at Ali Ba Ba’s
… Fortunately! no lucky dogs

Saturday, we picked up round trip bus tickets from a local hotel, which seems to be the best option getting there and started drinking on the way. The line to purchase tickets wasn’t that bad, and we saved on the ridiculous Ticketmaster over charge which I always recommend. There’s so many artists playing in over 10 tents or stages, you really need to spend at least 2 days at the festival to get the most of the music there. Saturday’s headliners were: Jimmy Buffett, Steel Pulse, The Roots, Bobby McFerrin and Marcia Ball. Jimmy’s stage area was packed and not accessable if you didn’t get there hours before his show. Steel Pulse and the Roots were off the hook. I also caught a few riffs of Kenny Wayne Shepherd but don’t remember any of the other great festival artists I heard.

The weekend before NOLA was hit by thunderstorms, rain and consequently caused serious mud and “fun” for many of the participants. Since we’d been here for 3 days, and mass consumption of alcohol has worn our stamina thin. The cooling mist of the auto tent and shade offered a few hours of relief as did the glorious food options.

That evening we rallied and caught the Parliament show which has been one of my top bands to check out live before they stopped performing. More than expected they were off the hook.

New Orleans is still feeling the effects of Katrina. The pain is hidden in the eyes but the life and spirit still carries on strong in the music, food, people and community. I’ll definitely be back for the festival and more food. Here’s a few more pics from the weekend.

“New Orleans is one of the last places in America where music is truly a fundamental part of everyday life. People get together on the weekends and parade through the streets just playing songs; 12-year-old-kids learn funk on the tuba; everyone dances. Life elsewhere in the world simply isn’t as celebratory. If we allow the culture of New Orleans to die by leaving its musicians marooned around the country, America will have lost one of its great treasures.”

-Damian Kulush of OK Go