Congo Square, Roadfood Fest, Mardi Gras Indians and Rebirth at d.b.a.

What a perfect weekend! March madness has begun and festival season is in full swing. Saturday was marked by perfect weather. It was warm and sunny with a constant balmy breeze. City Park hosted Hogs for the Cause, an all-day music fest benefitting children with brain cancer. We decided, instead, to stay in the French Quarter which was was hopping with activity. It was NOLA Pyrate Week  so, occasionally, you ended up waiting in line behind someone dressed as a pirate or seated next to a table full of them. We also crossed paths with a gathering group of hoop-skirted young ladies preparing for the Spring Fiesta parade.

We stopped into my favorite hat vendor for men,  Goorin Bros, and selected a great one. then it was off to my favorite female milliner, Fleur de Paris to look for a prop for my upcoming part in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Honestly, I love any good excuse to explore that wonderland of feathers and finery, couture and chapeaus. They didn’t have what I was looking for, but it was so much fun looking.

I had better luck at Royal Treasures. Like a store for the dolls that live in a fussy, fantastical dollhouse or a gift shop for faeries, the cabinets and shelves are cluttered with magical Faberge-style eggs, lace-edged fans and eye-grabbing sparkly jewelry. After getting great help and history from shopkeeper, Damon, we joined the second line of a wedding parade through Jackson Square, jumping off to stop in to say hello to Photoworks. One loop around the room is like New Orleans’ life flashing before its own eyes.

Then it was down to the French Market for the 4th annual Roadfood Festival. From the aisles of booths offering their best at bargain prices, we chose Shrimp Remoulade from Antoine’s, a pulled pork with cole slaw sandwich from Central BBQ in Memphis and Texas-style beef brisket from Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. Billy Iuso and the Restless Natives took the stage and we bopped for 2 songs while eating our desserts – a Nectar Creme Sno-ball from Plum Street and Antoine’s Baked Alaska with Chocolate Sauce. What a lunch and without the discomfort of a road-trip.

We passed another wedding second line then the Spring Fiesta paraders lining up. Their horse-drawn carriages were being loaded up with fresh festive flowers to throw. I hated to miss catching a bouquet one flower at a time, but Congo Square was calling.

The Congo Square Rhythms Festival is organized by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the same group that puts on Jazz Fest. Congo Square was the birthplace of Jazz Fest, but long before that, it was the birthplace of Jazz. Before that, it was the place slaves would come on Sundays to dance to a drum circle and barter crafts and produce. Designed to showcase the gumbo of African, Caribbean and Latin American influences on the music of New Orleans, the festival hosts all day concerts, food booths and a tree-lined alley of artisans’ tents. Having only recently reopened after the Storm, it’s like the Square has come home to itself.

There were 2 side by side stages so a band could set up or breakdown equipment while the other stage featured music. It made for a fairly seamless flow of entertainment. The 12-piece Afrofunk orchestra, Chopteeth, was onstage when we arrived. They fuse a West African beat with American Pop. Immediately, we ran into Margie Perez, fresh from her earlier performance with Moyuba. Then Rob Steinberg, who recently played my boyfriend on an upcoming episode of HBO’s Treme. Next was Django Unchained producer, Reggie Hudlin, my co-star Daniéle Watts and her friend, Erica Dasher, the titular character of ABC Family’s Jane by Design.

Then the moment we’d been waiting for arrived as Mardi Gras Indians from the tribes of Wild Magnolias, Fi Yi Yi and the Mohawk Hunters battled in the Square. At first it was hard to see anything more than brightly colored plumes rising up through the crowd. Then, they started winding their way through the people and passed right by me in all their beaded glory. Reggie had wanted to experience the Indians since seeing a documentary on them in the late 70’s. Now, he said, he could cross that off his bucket list.

Next up was a Cuban band,  Interactivo, a salsa/hip-hop orchestra. We stayed for a few songs, then ready for a short break, we all headed out of Armstrong Park through the sculpture garden, pausing in front of Tootie Montana to tell the legend of the “Chief of Chiefs.” We came across a woman carrying a pole that looked like a dream catcher with gold ribbons tied to hand-painted parasols hanging like a cluster of grapes. After Reggie and the girls got through with her, she was left with one lonely second line umbrella for an entire park filled with people.

Then, because it was a perfect day, we came across Big Chief Fi Yi Yi, Victor Harris, standing next his suit surrounded by band members in matching turquoise and white outfits. Not only did I get to study his intricate beadwork up close and personal, he let me hold the suit to feel the weight. As readers of this blog know, I’ve always had the deepest respect for the detail-oriented craftsmanship of these suits, but holding that suit, it was clearly about half my body weight (without the beaded boots, cuffs and huge headdress). Beyond the tenacity and commitment it takes to craft one of these suits, I gained a whole new understanding of the physical stamina and commitment it takes to wear that hot, heavy suit while dancing and chanting for miles. Wow. As Reggie held the suit then put his arm around the Chief for a photo, I thought he could scratch “see the Mardi Gras Indians” off his bucket list with indelible marker.

We finally managed to leave the park and cross the street, then headed to see if the Mardi Gras Indian restaurant, Golden Feather, was open. No such luck, but we could still see the dazzling Indian suits through the window. Instead, we ended up having supper at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. Though the name doesn’t sound like much, we ate a great meal seated between giant open windows, surrounded by local artwork.

We’d already exhausted our bodies but by 11pm, Frenchmen Street was calling us. My favorite brass band, 2012 Grammy-winning artists, Rebirth, has never played d.b.a., one of Frenchmen Street’s most popular clubs. But this was a perfect day. I ran into Django Unchained co-star Dana Gourrier, who was there to celebrate her friend’s birthday. Pete Murano, Dwayne “Big D” Williams, and Trombone Shorty in a hoodie, all arrived fresh from their gig in City Park.

I’ve seen Rebirth play many times and it’s always a privilege and a party, but Saturday night, they were on fire. Snare drummer, Derrick Tabb, played his drum to death, literally needing to repair it with a screwdriver during the break. Though every solo this band plays is beyond amazing, Tabb bent it like Beckham.

The night combined old favorites and new Grammy-winning hits. We all love Rebirth classics Do Watcha Wanna, and Cassanova, but the highlight for me was the Who Dat Nation-inspired Do it Again. After all the Saints have dealt with in the last couple of weeks and all the fans have roller-coastered through watching it unfold, I needed a Who Dat refueling.

Before the Saints won the Super Bowl, the city decorated with flying pigs and icy images of hell. But, in storefronts, windows and doorways throughout the city, people hung signs reading, “I Believe.” We all knew that it was insane to think the longtime losers would actually WIN the Super Bowl, but we believed they could get there. Then they did and we all had to up-the-ante on believing. Could they really take the whole thing? Then they did. From then on, whenever someone says something’s impossible, I remind them, “Anything’s possible, the Saints won the Super Bowl!”

Heading into this year, we had the best dang team any city could hope for looking forward to a promising season that would culminate with us getting to host the Saints in the Super Bowl at our own Dome – where we are unbeatable. It felt so good to have all of that to look forward to. After the NFL’s recent rulings, Coach Sean Payton’s suspension (among others) and the disappointment that accompanies all of the revelations, it felt like our city’s destiny was slipping away. But a small voice still whispered, “Anything’s possible, the Saints won the Super Bowl.” So, when Rebirth got the packed house chanting Who Dats and screaming, “We already done it, gonna do it again!” it was downright cathartic. It was a true rebirth, washing away my fears and reminding be to believe. Anything is possible, the Saints won the Super Bowl. From the bottom of my black-and-gold heart, I thank Rebirth for all of that and more.

It had been a perfect day followed by a beyond perfect night. It may have been Rebirth’s first time playing d.b.a., but I predict it’s not their last. After hours of dancing, we walked home and got ready to do it all again the next day.

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Filed under Charity, Concerts, Culture, decorations and costumes, entertainment industry, festival, free events and lagniappe, history, Local Cuisine, parade, shopping, Super Bowl 2010, the Saints, walking

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