Irma Thomas at the Square (and 2 great men die)

It was another beautiful day for the outdoor free concert, Harvest the Music, at Lafayette Square. Soul Project, a jazz funk band who’s been playing Frenchmen St. venues since 2002, was already playing when I arrived. I would have loved to get some photos of the band and dance to their compelling beats, but Miss Linda’s Soul Food Mac and Cheese ($3) was calling me. As always, the Harvest the Music concert series benefits Second Harvest with monies spent on food and beverage going to feed the 1 in 8 people who go to bed hungry each night. After weeks of curiosity, I finally tried a plate from the Second Harvest Food Bank Community Kitchen. Their Thai Green Veggie Curry with Rice ($6) was a perfect spicy autumn dish. Locally brewed Abita beer ($4) finished the meal. Each dollar feeds a family of four a meal so the very reasonable expense is as palatable as the food.

I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying Irma Thomas, “The Soul Queen of New Orleans,” at several concerts in my time here. An over 50 year veteran of the industry, Ms. Thomas has been nominated for 4 Grammys, winning in 2007 for After The Rain, her post-Katrina album. She’s also won 9 Blues Music Awards and was inducted to both the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.

Her showmanship begins before she even hits the stage as she starts singing, like a voice from the heavens, before making an entrance. I’ve mostly seen Ms. Thomas on super hot days wearing feminine casual clothes that belie her stature as a star. As if she were playing the Kennedy Center, and not a park filled with t-shirted revelers and tie-loosened lawyers, she entered the stage in a full length 3-piece dress ensemble with sparkly sequin details. She looked every bit the national treasure that she is. Check out my post on the Oyster Fest Day 2 if  you’d like to read more about her extraordinary life, from being a teen mom to graduating college at age 60.

Ms. Thomas and her impressive, loyal and festive band, the Professionals, varied the pace with upbeat hits like Breakaway (featured in The Secret Life of Bees) and slow meditative favorites like Ruler of My Heart. A highlight was definitely the revival of her first single, (You Can Have My Husband But) Don’t Mess with My Man followed by crowd favorite, Hip Shakin’ Mama. To call this woman and her music “sexy” is an understatement at best. The Soul Queen played more of her many movie soundtrack hits including In The Middle Of It All from Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? and the classic  It’s Raining, which was covered in last summer’s hit, Bridesmaids.

Miss Irma asked how many visitors were in the crowd and we were all pleasantly surprised to find that, scattered throughout the crowd, dozens of our fellow revelers were actually adventurous tourists who’d made it out of the Bourbon Street vortex. Ms. Thomas quipped, “Bet you don’t get this in your hometown” before explaining that we’d all be participating in a city tradition and urging the visitors to follow the locals’ example. I knew just what to expect and pulled a sweater, a scarf and a glasses-cleaning rag out of my purse (you never know what women have in those cavernous bags and I’m always ready for a cold front) and passed them out to friends for the second line.

Our hostess explained that we normally second line in a procession but I’ve always appreciated that Ms. Thomas keeps this tradition alive and introduces it to crowd after crowd, explaining that they should wave scarves, napkins or whatever while keeping their “backfield in motion.” She and the Professionals played a medley of  Done Got Over, Iko Iko and Pockey Way while the crowd paraded in place. Pure NOLA fun.

Her ballads, including a cover of At Last, gave the lovers in the crowd a chance to slow dance and romance. Andy, a local, mentioned that Irma Thomas had played his parents prom. It’s staggering to think of the music that locals here have grown up listening to – Chuck Berry played my dad’s high school Valentine’s dance in Baton Rouge.

Ms. Thomas closed out the show with Simply the Best before being led from the stage by husband and manager, Emile Jackson. I’d hoped she’d come back for her inspiring version of Time on My Side. One of her many tunes covered by other bands, the Rolling Stones made the song a hit in 1964, but in New Orleans, the song belongs to Miss Irma. I also hoped in vain to hear Galactic’s powerful Heart of Steel but the soul-saturated evening ended too quickly.

There’s always a lot going on in New Orleans but competing for crowds yesterday was the procession for recently passed 98 year old Archbishop Hannan. As Hannan was a longtime friend and confidant of President Kennedy since the 1940’s, the first lady asked Hannan to deliver the eulogy after the President’s assassination in 1963. In 1968, Hannan again eulogized a Kennedy after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, then presided over the service of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994. A close friend of Pope John Paul II, he was able to persuade the Pope to visit NOLA in 1987.

Though he was clearly a valued member of the Catholic church, I knew him best from stories of his love of the Saints. The Archbishop attended as many games as he could including all of the home games in 2010 and the Saints Super Bowl victory in Miami. On Sunday game days, he would wear his Saints jersey over his robes and spend a large portion of the service asking God to help “shore up the defense” or “strengthen our secondary.”

I did not attend, but his procession was reportedly both dignified and full of joie de vie. Thousands of people lined the 4.5 mile route to St. Louis Cathedral, including more than 7,000 Catholic elementary and high school students. A traditional horse drawn glass hearse was preceded the St. Augustine High School Marching 100 playing songs of joy. The Archbishop requested that the priests wear white robes rather than somber black. Governor Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu waited at the church and Victoria Kennedy, widow of Edward, is expected to attend the Mass today.

While still at the Harvest the Music concert, many of us heard the sad news about Steve Jobs passing. His influence over the technology and toys in my life and of my generation is profound. I am, as always, writing this on a Mac. At a time when people are taking to the streets to protest corporate greed, he was a beloved CEO who seemed to be driven by his opportunity to influence culture through his inventions and Pixar films rather than greed-is-good type motives. Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs, and thank you for making computers accessible to non-techies like me. Thank you for pods and pads and phones and Toy Story. Thank you for creating jobs and sparking imaginations. You will be missed.

Nest week’s Harvest the Music features the uber-energetic Stooges Brass Band and Trombone Shorty, who will undoubtedly be playing tunes from his brand new exceptional album, For True.

1 Comment

Filed under Concerts, free events and lagniappe, Local Cuisine, parade, walking

One response to “Irma Thomas at the Square (and 2 great men die)

  1. did you happen to see Irma with Hugh Laurie on PBS’s Great Performances last week?

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