This week, I traveled back to Los Angeles to attend to some things for my upcoming part in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Though I was thrilled beyond compare to be embarking on that journey, it was bittersweet to be leaving NOLA in the middle of Mardi Gras.
At the New Orleans airport, I saw a few actors (who must’ve been working in town) also waiting for my flight and remembered I was going back to the land of frequent celebrity sitings. We all turned out to be sitting in the same row of the airplane but I didn’t really join in their conversations. Then, I looked up and saw a truly familiar face coming onto the plane. Not just familiar from TV or a movie, a familiar face from my community in NOLA. It was Derrick Tabb, snare drummer for Rebirth Brass Band (my favorite brass band) and founder of the wonderful non-profit marching band, The Roots of Music (my favorite kids marching band).
Having just spent the previous weekend following Rebirth around the streets of New Orleans during the Treme Sidewalk Steppers second line for 4 hours, we just pointed at each other and said,” You again!” Then Derrick continued, “I see you everywhere!” It was wonderful starting my trip west with a warm hug from a fellow New Orleanian. I asked why he was heading to L.A. and he reminded me that they were nominated for a Grammy and that the show was later that same day. I was excited to have the opportunity to wish the band well and sent up a little prayer that they’d take home the much deserved prize. A few minutes later, the band’s sousaphonist, Phil Frazier stepped on board and I hoped they had a heck of a night, one for the books.
We arrived in L.A. and it was like walking backstage at a festival. There to greet the Rebirth band members were Trombone Shorty with Orleans Avenue members guitarist Pete Murano and Conga drummer Dwayne “Big D” Williams. Two great New Orleans bands in LAX – now, that’s my kind of celebrity siting!
Though I’ve returned to L.A. a few times (and each time, it’s been freezing and rainy for some reason), for the first time ever, I stayed in a hotel. Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster was sitting in the lobby and I reintroduced myself from our encounters during the Kill Bill days. I didn’t really remember how different L.A. can be until I got directions from the lobby to my hotel room. The gentleman at the front desk offered that I could walk to my room but that he recommended I drive. Drive? Just how far away was this room from the front desk?
“Oh, about 70 steps.”
I opted to walk and found my room just on the other side of the pool. For a person who walks so much that I put less than a thousand miles on my car last year, it was a shock to the system. Later that night, I found that Rebirth Brass Band took home their first Grammy and I knew everyone would be celebrating back home. In a community as intertwined as NOLA, a victory for any of us can feel like a victory for all of us and New Orleanians have known how great Rebirth is since 1982.
It was great to get to work on the movie and it was wonderful spending time with old friends. I love New Orleans so much, but I miss my friends and being around people who’ve known me for years and years. And I miss their growing children. I filled a third of my luggage with beads from last Saturday’s parades for my friend-since-high-school’s 5 year old. She loved them and decorated her princess castle with many of them. It was nice being able to give her a piece of New Orleans and some of the magic of the Carnival season – beads fresh from the floats. Then, her dad, the drummer for (new celebrities) Vintage Trouble, introduced me to some of the band fresh from their award-winning tour of Europe.
I missed the premiere of the new Krewe of Nyx parade on Wednesday but headed back to NOLA hoping to make Thursday’s parades. Our flight ran out of beer within a couple hours and someone explained to the flight attendants that it was Mardi Gras then gave them some beads to wear. Seated behind my on the flight home was Will Ferrell’s dad, Lee Ferrell of the Righteous Brothers Band. I reintroduced myself, having met him years before at the premiere for Elf in New York. It was a wonderful premiere, not just because the movie was an instant classic, but because they held the after-party at Rockefeller Center and we all got to ice skate in our fancy clothes. I enjoyed visiting with him as well as the man seated next to me, who turned out to be a neighbor of mine. When we arrived in the airport, Will Ferrell was standing at the gate holding a sign that said “Ferrell” like he was a limo driver awaiting his fare. Very cute.
I loved leaving the (freezing) dry air and concrete jungle of L.A. and arriving in the balmy 70 degree swamplands of Louisiana. As we drove up over the hill and the Superdome came into view, I knew I was home. One look at the purple, green, and gold lights let me know I was home for Mardi Gras! I dumped my bags and put on my petticoat then we ran to St. Charles to watch the end of Knights of Babylon, then all of the Knights of Chaos and my beloved Krewe of Muses. I’ll try to post the photos and video when I get a minute but I had a few more celebrity sitings of a sort. A parade-goer was dressed as Elf and one of the guys with the Big Easy Roller Girls was wearing a shirt that read, “Quentin Terror-tino.”
Then my favorite gumbo chef, Ruby Slipper’s Raymond Signal, wandered past and we realized we’ve lived within blocks of each other this whole time. And the capper? The Roots of Music opened the Muses parade and Rebirth’s Derrick Tabb and I got to have another “you again!” moment.
I love my friends in L.A. and I love the work I am privileged enough to do there, but it is so very good to be home for Mardi Gras. Laissez les bons temps rouler!