This weekend, the French Quarter Festival kicked off festival season. Apparently, all of the parading, eating and drinking we’ve been doing in the streets since I got here are all a prelude to the dozens and dozens of annual festivals this city has to offer.
French Quarter Fest is a favorite among locals, a time when over 150 local bands playing zydeco, jazz, funk, gospel and other local varieties of music, perform on stages throughout the Quarter – for free! Each stage is surrounded by kiosks from local restaurants offering samples of their wonderful menus for as low as $4. Forget mall food courts and record store listening stations, if you really want to taste the flavors of this city, the French Quarter Festival is the place to do it.
Friday, I was busy most of the day but was able to join friends at Woldenberg Riverfront Park before sundown. We moved from stage to stage first enjoying Ensemble Fatien, an African jazz band. People sat on the lawn, danced with abandon, and visited over a wide variety of foods and cocktails. A flower-covered woman roamed on and off stage dancing with her flower-covered parasol. As always, there were children and elderly mixed into the crowd as a warrior of a man with long dreads danced in his own world on the other side of the grounds from a tie-dye clad couple doing the same.
On the next stage was 101 Runners featuring Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. In the 60’s, Monk Boudreaux joined the Wild Magnolias group, led by his childhood friend, Big Chief Bo Dollis (who was featured in my video from the post: Indians and Super Sunday). Big Chief Monk Boudreaux now sings with 101 Runners, another Mardi Gras Indian funk band. We were asked not to use video out of respect for the music rights, so if you’d like to hear some of what we heard, a taste (and some history) can be found at these two sites:
Anders Osborne was among the many people who filled out the already talent-packed group (but more on Anders later).
On the next stage was the Soul Rebels. At some point, they yelled out to the crowd, “Hello, New Orleans!” and I realized – they were talking to me, I am New Orleans. Here’s a link to hear some of their music and another link for their website.
We finished the evening wandering to some favorite bars in the Quarter.
Saturday was all about the food for me. My friend, Lauren, and I split dishes from the many vendors in Jackson Square. We had a tasty turtle and sherry soup from Court of Two Sisters. For history and a menu, visit:
Then we waited in the longest line in the square for the combo platter from Muriel’s (a personal favorite in finer dining). Opened in 2001, the restaurant may not have a long history, but it’s location on the corner next to the St. Louis Cathedral does and the food is outstanding.
We split the shrimp eggplant stuffing and an amazing goat cheese crepe smothered in tenderly cooked crawfish in some fabulous kind of tomato creme sauce. Though we had to wait almost 1/2 hour to split a paper plate, for the low, low combo price of $9, we had what turned out to be the talk of the festival food selections.
For dessert, we finished with a chocolate hazelnut crepe with fresh sliced strawberries from Crepes a la Cart.
With a stuffed belly, Lauren was beginning to run out of steam until we grabbed a music schedule and found that Anders Osborne was about to take the stage. We had seen him at a free concert at Tipitina’s last June when I was here finding a place to live and doing some work. When he sang “Louisiana Rain,” it was like a call to something deep in my soul saying, “Stop feeling like a stranger in strange lands and COME HOME.”
After regaling us with many of his local hits, as the sky was turning golden with sunset, he dove into his post-Katrina version of the song (the only version I know). I’m not sure if it was the glowy golden sky, the mighty Mississippi rolling past or the song in and of itself, but I realized in a shot that I could die here and be happy. I’ve had a big adventure, seen lots of things, met lots of people, visited many places, but this is the first place I’ve been where even a bad day is a bad day full of music, food, and a community like no other. I remember when the first group of people pulled together a parade in the Quarter after Katrina. I called my mother right away and said – they will find a way and rise again, all is not lost. After the things I’ve experienced in the last few months, I can say that not only is all not lost, the city remains a treasure trove, an embarrassment of riches. We all have to live somewhere and THIS is the place I want to spend the rest of my days. Sure, I’ll continue to see the world, but my search for my home is finally over. I always wanted to be like a kite, flying here and there but firmly tethered to a home. I feel tethered now, rooted.
I hesitate to include the link to last year’s Jazz Fest rendition of “Louisiana Rain” as I’m sure the band receives no royalties, but hopefully it will inspire you to download his songs from iTunes or buy a ticket to Jazz Fest or any number of other places Anders Osborne can be found performing.
And here’s his official site where you can find even more music samples.
The next band coming to that stage was Bonerama, a horn ensemble. They played a couple of songs with Anders then set up for their own show. Their site features videos of performances including a song with the Radiators.
We capped the night with Rebirth Brass Band (featured in HBO’s Treme). Enjoy my new favorite, “Feel Like Funkin’ it Up” and my old favorite, “Do Watcha Wanna” at the site as well as video from an energetic performance in Florida at the second site listed.
And if you get the itch to see the festival for yourself, here’s a site that lays it all out for you.
Enjoy the many photos I took to make up for the lack of video.