Friday was another amazing day at French Quarter Fest. The weather was, again, amazing. We started with a yummy Cochon de Lait Po-Boy from Love at First Bite ($7) as well as a Combo of Shrimp Cakes and Cajun Shrimp Bowl ($7) from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Then it was off to see the Irene Sage Band Tribute to Coco Robicheaux. The music was great and the recently-passed Coco would’ve certainly been pleased but the highlight was definitely the bees. Yep, the bees.
About 5 songs into the set, a gigantic swarm of tens of thousands of bees formed a tornado-like swirl in the middle of the crowd. No one panicked and, to the best of my knowledge, no one was stung. Though some of the crowd pushed back to give the center of the bee-swirl some room to spin, we all just stayed calm, enjoyed the show and waited for it to pass. When the song ended, Irene Sage remarked from the stage that it must be Coco up to his old Voodoo tricks. I’d love to laugh it off, but it really was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. There seemed to be no source of the bees, they swarmed and spun and no one screamed or ran or even swatted, then they slowly dissipated within about 10 minutes. Coco.
Walter “Wolfman” Washington was taking the stage as we were moving onto our next so we stopped for a moment to hear his sexy, soulful, wailing guitar solo. We had stopped right next to a giant dumpster, but at French Quarter Fest, “Even the trash smells good.”
We grabbed a Nectar Creme Sno-ball from Plum Street ($4 large) then settled in at the Louis Prima Stage facing the Mississippi River for Colin Lake. He first played a seated guitar then a more traditional one. Though he’s only arrived from his hometown of Oregon in 2009, his sound is a uniquely New Orleanian funky rock.
Next, we headed down to the stages at The Mint and had an awesome Beef Brisket Sandwich dressed with Cole Slaw from The Joint ($6). Rouses had a huge set-up for boiled crawfish. They were giving out free samples and we vowed to come back the next day for a box of crawfish, potato, sausage and corn on the cob ($8) or the giant pan of Crawfish Family Platter ($25).
The highlight of my excellent food day was Dunbar’s, who put the soul in soul food. I’m not a huge fan of catfish and I don’t love fried seafood but their fried Catfish and Potato Salad ($7) was so good, I had to go back the next day for more. We even waited 20 minutes for a fresh batch as they were sold out. Their Bread Pudding was also wonderful ($4). Rather than topping it with white chocolate or bourbon sauce, it was layered with applesauce and chunks of fruit cocktail. Yum!
The music was just as flavorful as the food as Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes took the stage. Graduates of Loyola, the band has been playing their brand of funky, dirty rock together for over a decade with cool and swagger. Even the security guards were dancing.
We walked down Decatur, which was closed for foot traffic. The Fest was more crowded than ever, but the local skateboarders couldn’t resist a closed street and were out in full force. We watched them doing tricks and wiping out and reminding us all we were once young enough to bounce back like rubber after a major spill on pavement.
Bonerama finished the night with their stage full of trombone-wielding cute guys and covers of Indian Red and Led Zeppelin’s Ocean as well as Down by the Riverside and a Black Sabbath cover. An out-of-towner asked me, “What kind of music is this?” I told her it was jazz-rock-funk. It’s actually part of a larger question people ask – “What is New Orleans music?”
Since the French Quarter Fest is all local music, it’s a good place to look for the answer. There’s old school jazz and brass bands, rap, R&B, hip hop, bounce, rock, folk, even reggae and Caribbean and every combination of those genres. But there are common threads that run through them. Most concerts include some form of audience participation, whether it’s dancing, clapping, waving a second line kerchief or the various call-backs and sing-a-longs.
In my experience, the tie that binds the music here is the funk. There’s a face director/producer Reggie Hudlin made when he heard Rebirth play live for the first time. It was best described as a “stank” face, where the music is so full of funk, you just gotta go squinch your face up like when you smell something almost too good to eat – “Ooophhh.” New Orleans music encompasses many genres but it’s all pretty darn funky. Bonerama played jazz standards, rock classics, even Mardi Gras Indian music, but they infused it all with the funk of the city. We danced ourselves silly, sang along and filled our bellies. Another great day at the Fest!