Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where's my beignet?

Wow, it's hard to get back to work. Just enjoyed a week of music, food, dancing, and, yes, mud, at and around the 39th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest. (Yes, it continues this weekend. You can tune in at WWOZ, the great local public station. (I'm listening now.) Check out this slide show.

Despite a baggage handler ramming (and thus disabling) our plane, we got to the Crescent City in time to enjoy dinner at Herbsaint, one of our two favorite Donald Link restaurants (I think he started this one with Susan Spicer). Duck confit w/ dirty rice and an amazing appetizer of spaghetti with house-cured guanciale and a fried, poached egg, along with a kickass burgundy eased the stress of traveling. (The pre-dinner Haitian daiquiri helped, too.)

Friday, the weather was Fest perfect and Jon and I started out in our traditional way, with Mardi Gras indians at the Heritage stage. Semolian Warriors led to the Real Untouchables Brass Band and then into the marvelous Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians. Creole Wild West is one of the oldest "gangs," and to my mind, Big Chief Walter Cook looks sort of like Jon. I'll see if I can dig up a picture. Didn't see Tom Morgan - the WWOZ disc jockey who has been our source for all things Indian - at first, which was worrisome (he has had his share of Katrina woes). But he showed and told us he was busy gathering material for the WWOZ Jazz Fest Blog.

After that, wandered a bit - caught some Robert Plant and Alison Kraus, which was fun. (I usually avoid the big stages, but I've loved Kraus since she was a fiddle-playing whiz kid. And Robert Plant, come on!) They did "The Battle of Evermore" as down lonesome country blues. Heard some gospel, some trad jazz in the Economy Hall tent. Ate softshells and gumbo...

Saturday started fine. More Indians (the Black Seminoles) and Bourbon Street survivor Carol Fran (old enough to have Ben Sandmel playing drums), and the kickass Mahogany Brass Band working a groove and telling us, "That's just love raining down." The incomparable Eddie Bo was in fine form, singing and dancing and making us boogie to such indescribable loose funk as "Check Your Bucket" even as the rain got heavier.
Ducked into the grandstand to avoid what we thought would be the heaviest part of the downpour, ended up chatting with Chief Darryl Montana, who was explaining some of his Indian suits (that's him on the left), which were on display. (He's Big Chief "Tootie" Montana's son: check this out.) But the rain continued to fall, so we ditched some of our plans (Warren Storm, NewBirth Brass Band) and sheltered at the blues tent for the Ponderosa Stomp Revue. Lasted until we got to hear Archie Bell "Do the Tighten Up," and dashed for the buses, soaked to the bone.
(Eddie Bo photo/Chris Ryan)

Sunday brought more rain, but fewer footware options. I went for the flipflops as the path of least resistance, but you know what? New Orleans mud is STICKY. Nearly lost a flipflop several times. Nearly got stuck myself and had a moment of wondering just how embarrasing it would be to have to ask a stranger to help me and my boudin get back to the paved path. (That's not a double entendre, I really had ventured into a particularly muddy spot to get a link of boudin.) But hey, we were wet already, right? So we got to hear the trad but grooving Paulin Brothers Brass Band, the Golden Star Hunters (yup, more Indians), some local gospel from Jo "Cool" Davis (with Joe Krown on organ, that man was everywhere), Jambalaya Cajun Band, and Shamarr Allen (a rising star trumpeter who had popped up in a dozen sets earlier). One BIG regret – on a whim, we'd gone to check out the Throw Back Jamm and it was, as I'd hoped, a revue of some of the great originators of New Orleans' "Bounce" style hip hop (think hiphop with that Caribbean syncopation). Wow, we were dancing! But then the skies opened up for real and we took shelter. When the downpour lessened, we caught some Pete Fountain (looking a little shakey but slim and happy on his Fest return after open heart surgery), Hot 8 Brass Band, Al Green, Beausoleil...

Well, that was it for the Fest for us. But Monday night brought us uptown to Tip's, to Instruments a Comin', one of the Tipitina's Foundation's benefits. Little Feat, Radiators, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, and a smoking set by the incomparable Rebirth Brass Band. (Have I used "incomparable" yet in this blog? Let me just say that any band that can have me bouncing up and down and screaming "REBIRTH GOT FIYA!" in the wee hours of the morning, long after I'd thought I'd hit the wall, is pretty good.) You can hear clips here.

Tuesday, the wierd, wild, and woolly Ponderosa Stomp, a now annual showcase of R&B, rock, rockabilly, and blues antiques, one-hit wonders, and other oddities. Yeah, the revue sucked us in for more. Hey, did anyone else know Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las was performing again? Granted, her voice isn't what it used to be, but yes, she did sing "Leader of the Pack." Honestly, though, I thought Barbara Lynn and Betty Harris kind of showed her up, with showmanship making up for some of the notes lost over the years.

Oh, what else? Jon Cleary at the Louisiana Music Factory turning "Tipitina's" into a Caribbean jam. Finding a 1924 edition of two John Galsworthy short stories at the wonderful Beckham's Bookstore. Marcia sitting in with Irma Thomas. Dinner at Cochon, Donald Link's more country-style outlet (house-made boucherie sampler!). Did cruise through the Lower 9th again. It's shameful. Except for a few houses built by church groups, there's nothing. Just empty space going back to nature. Living in one of those six or eight houses must be like living on the prairie in the 1800s. Nothing from the government. Nothing. On a happier note, the Habitat for Humanity Musicians' Village that Jon and I volunteered on is now a real neighborhood! Lots of houses, at least one new street. Gardens. Bikes on the porches. Wind chimes. And, yeah, the rest of the Upper Ninth Ward seems to be on its way. Every third house still looks empty, the rescue markings still spray-painted on the front. But others are coming back - construction everywhere. Again, all private charities, churches, and personal initiative. Nothing from the government.

Not to end on a sad note, we did sneak in a brunch at the Court of Two Sisters before we took off. And, yes, took a muffaletta on the plane for a late dinner back home.

PS. The trade paperback of Cries and Whiskers came out. Sweet!


Caroline said...

Oh that sounds so delicious and so much fun! We were at the jazz fest many years ago--I think it was our third date--and the weather was boiling hot (I don't do well in heat), but the beignets were delicious and the music was wonderful!

Clea Simon said...

Yeah, it is usually very hot. But not this past weekend!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a good time and yes, New Orleans mud is VERY sticky. It's called 'gumbo' by some who live in the area (like my relatives).

Glad you had a good time!

Anonymous said...

As an avid reader of your blog, I have to voice my disappointment today. You mention screaming, "REBIRTH GOT FIYA." And then your blog says, "You can hear clips here." But when I click on it, I get music and not what I wanted to hear: you screaming, "REBIRTH GOT FIYA." Can you post?

Clea Simon said...

No, but I can probably reproduce if given enough caffeine!

DebGrabien said...

They did "The Battle of Evermore" as down lonesome country blues.


I hate the lyrics with a passion - Plant in his Middle Earth phase made me want to kick him - but the song, with Sandy Denny sitting in, just floored me. How does AK's voice stack up to the original?

Clea Simon said...

Well, I love her voice - a very haunting bluegrass voice , so for me it worked. And he sounded just like Robert Plant. I know that sounds odd, but he'd been doing harmonies up to that point (we missed the beginning of the set - just too much to hear) and when he took over Jon and I just looked at each other with our mouths hanging open.

NoShowMo said...

I'm glad you survived the weather as well as the intense onslaught of great music. My first Jazz Fest was a blast, and I enjoyed meeting you and John.

--Mo from Virginia

Clea Simon said...

So glad you had fun - despite the mud!