YLC Wednesday at the Square is back!!! Colin Lake got the season off to a great start with his funk-rock flavored show. It’s still odd to see a guy play a seated guitar but the rest of his band keeps the stage hopping. Lake came from Oregon to New Orleans in 2009 – the same year I arrived.
The event continues to make improvements. My favorite new thing is that, thanks to “The Square” and iPads, they accept credit cards for ticket sales. The event is free but food and beverages are purchased with tickets and the ticket proceeds go to the Young Leadership Council, the group responsible for the lights on the Crescent City Connection bridge among other things. They’ve raised more than $25 million for community projects in the New Orleans area since 1986.
I’ve always felt a special connection to Anders Osborne‘s shows. I first saw him at Tipitina’s while location scouting for a movie before I moved here. His song Louisiana Rain reached into me like a tune from the Pied Piper, calling me home. Osborne moved here from Sweden over a quarter century ago and that song made it obvious that he’d found his heart’s home here long ago and never looked back. A year later, I saw Anders play again at the 2010 French Quarter Fest. I’d lived in NOLA for awhile by then – I’d celebrated the Saint’s Super Bowl win and mourned the BP oil spill in the Gulf. As he played that heartfelt Storm-survival song again, I realized with sudden certainty that I would be happy to die on this soil. I remember being filled with joy and the comfort of knowing I was exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I saw Osborne many times again at Jazz Fest and sitting in with various other bands but the next big moment was at the Katrina 5-year memorial concert in Lafayette Square. It GUSHED rain that day and most people stayed home but we few who showed up were treated to a near-private concert where the band played with the gusto you’d expect at a packed stadium concert. It was amazing.
Now I’ve lived here over 3 years and I’ve come to feel more and more a part of this city and its gumbo of culture. As the guys took the stage, I realized I knew all of their names. I’d seen them all play dozens of times. Bassist Carl Dufrene and drummer Eric Bolivar were joined by keyboardist John “Papa” Gros of Papa Grows Funk and Billy Iuso (my 2012 Favorite Things pick for Musical Auteur). That’s a lot of talent packed onto one stage. Later, they were joined by harmonica player, Johnny Sansone. Sansone is yet another transplant, having come here in 1975 from New Jersey. Later still, Eric Bolivar relinquished his drums to Stanton Moore. They are undoubtedly 2 of the most talented drummers our city has to offer.
The band played most of the songs as if they were the last song of a concert – full of solos and riffs and jams played with the abandon of boys in a garage. The songs would build then break down then build again like they were heading to some 4th of July fireworks crescendo. They played new songs like the obvious crowd favorite Jealous Love from the Three Free Amigos album but ended the night with 2 songs we could all sing along with – On the Road to Charlie Parker and my beloved Louisiana Rain. It was a great show.
The festival also featured some new food vendors. We tried a Turkey and Avocado Half Wrap ($5) from City Greens and Bad Bart’s Black Jambalaya ($6) from Crescent Pie & Sausage Company. We would have loved some of Chopped -winner Miss Linda’s yummy mac and cheese but the line was prohibitively long. The highlight was definitely the Strawberry Parfait ($4) from Cafe Adelaide – of the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants. Fresh super-sweet strawberries and a tasty biscuit layered with fresh whipped cream provided a taste of summer on the coldest Wednesday at the Square I could remember.
As always, the concert series provides more than tasty food great music. It provides a meeting place to run into old friends and make new ones. As we were leaving, a pretty girl on a bicycle passed and exclaimed, “Happy Wednesday!” Indeed and aren’t we the lucky ones to have a whole season of free music ahead of us again.