“Sweet Home New Orleans...”
I am back home in Philadelphia after spending an absolutely wonderful week in New Orleans. This was my second time in the city: last year I attended my first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and I fell in love with the fest and what I saw of the city. I just had to come back. This time I came down two days before the festival and stayed three days after the festival, so I had time to see and experience more of the city. I am so glad that I did it that way; I had an absolutely wonderful time, and truly fell in love with the city. I only got to see a small, small sample of what this city has to offer, but it was enough to hook me. I love this city, and “The good Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise,” I will be back next year. I need more of this city!
The Jazz and Heritage Festival was, of course, amazing. I saw some of my favorite performers that I was first introduced to last year, including-incredible pianist/singer Davell Crawford, gospel groups Shades of Praise and Arthur Clayton’s Anointed for Purpose, and Tuba Skinny, a brass and jug band-like group that joyfully plays an entire cross-section of early New Orleans music. I also got to see some folks I had seen before both here and in different places; Meters’ guitarist Leo Nocentelli, Charlie Musselwhite, Irma Thomas, Brother Tyrone and the Mindbenders, Terrance Simeon, Los Lobos, and many others. And of course, walking from one stage or tent to another brought me in sight and sound of Puerto Rican bands, teenage New Orleans’ brass bands, Michael Doucet, Choctaw Native American handcrafts and food, Cajun and Zydeco bands, blacksmithing, and much, much more. The festival was and is a truly wonderful sensual bombardment- the smells of the various foods from the various stands and the amazing beadwork and costuming of the Mardi Gras Indians alone was enough to make me feel overwhelmed. For the first time in my life I really felt the meaning of that phrase, “sensory overload.”
I also had a fortuitous connection with radio Station WWOZ, the true sound and heart of New Orleans. I was first introduced to the station by a friend who had moved down to the city, and I had listened to live broadcasts from the festival on the station for a few years. This year I dropped off a message to one of the workers at the station, got to hang out a bit in their tent at the fest, and then was able to play a short solo set on their all-night roots show last Tuesday night. Kone, the host, is a great guy with a wealth of musical knowledge about the city and its history. It was great meeting him and playing on the show.
I got to New Orleans before the fest and stayed after, so I had some days to visit different parts of the city. I did some walking exploration of a couple of neighborhoods and visited some great museums. Monday, I walked around the French Quarter, looking at all the shops and stopping into clubs and restaurants that featured live music, and loving the architecture of the neighborhood. I also went to Congo Square and to the Voodoo Museum, and I learned a lot about both the history and the present status of VooDoo culture in and around the city. I had been interested in VooDoo since first reading Ishmael Reed and James Lee Burke novels in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I was also always fascinated by Mardi Gras Indian culture, and I loved seeing how that was intertwined with parts of VooDoo tradition. It was a small but very informative museum.
I also visited the WWII Museum and The New Orleans Museum of Art. Both are wonderfully designed and laid out facilities, and they are both designed in ways that get a visitor involved. I could have easily spent another whole day in each place, and I will definitely do that when I return next year. It will well be worth it. And there are several other museums to I want to check out too. Wow!
Let’s see; great music, wonderful neighborhoods and architecture, incredible food, fascinating cultures and history, informative museums ... hmm...This is definitely a city for me! I am so looking forward to returning to the Big Easy next year; I hope to make it an annual routine. Laissez les bons temps rouler.
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