For 30 years, the French Quarter Fest has been bringing together the best of New Orleans music and food. The festival continues to grow in size and scope, this year adding a film festival and an additional stage on Decatur St. bringing the total to 21. With 800 local musicians to see for free and over 65 local restaurants offering local cuisine, the festival is my favorite every year.
During the 4-day weekend, music is everywhere – even more than usual! We missed the first day (“locals lagniappe day”) – a shame since the lines are shortest that day. Jack Brass Band was one of the many bands we passed on the street heading to the Old U.S. Mint for a Satchmo Dog topped with red beans and rice ($8) from Dreamy Weenies. Yum. We listened to Ingrid Lucia while enjoying delicious Fried Catfish and Potato Salad ($7) and Bread Pudding ($3) from Dunbar’s.
We stopped for a minute to watch people swing dancing to the Southern Syncopators and ran into DancingMan504 selling his new Heal 2 Toe coloring books filled with fun images from second lines and New Orleans culture. I saw plenty of kids on field trips so I’m sure he found some takers.
Irene Sage Band was finishing up by the time we got to the Abita Stage on the river. Sage remains one of the very few I feel has the right to cover Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide. Next up was a Cochon De Lait Poboy ($8) from Love at First Bite. There are many versions of this sandwich at the fest and this is one of the best. I finished with a Nectar Creme from Plum Street Snoball ($4 large).
Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs took the stage and took us on a wild ride through rap/funk/jazz originals and covers of songs as divergent as the Jackson 5 and Nirvana (complete with the guitarist shredding behind his head). At some point, my cousin posted a photo of her view at the festival and I realized we were at the same concert. People who know me know how much I ignore phone technology but I was delighted to find my cousin grooving at the other side of the stage.
I’ve gotten to glimpse burlesque performer and club owner Chris Owens a couple of times at her annual Easter parade but I’ve never seen her perform so I jumped at the chance to see her in Jackson Square. At least 78 years old by all accounts, she strutted onto the stage in hot pants and fishnets as the men in the crowd all whipped out their cameras and phones. She had pelvis thrusts and hip grinds and a fair share of jumping. Though the music was a bit Bourbon Street for my taste, she was mighty impressive.
We passed the new stage on Decatur St. where Amanda Shaw was playing her breed of NOLA/Country and arrived back at the river for Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. and the Wild Magnolias. Though I caught the last song with the Mardi Gras Indians in full-feathered regalia, by the time I found a stopping point and took my camera out, they had stripped their headdresses off. The percussion-heavy band was joined by guitarist June Yamagishi for their last moments onstage adding a funk rock edge.
It was fun wandering the stages all day but when Papa Grows Funk took the stage, we stayed put. So did June Yamagishi. He and the gang of Funkers moved the crowd with their funk rock jazz covers and originals and Yamagishi’s amazing guitar solos. I love when keyboardist John Gros takes photos of the crowd. It makes me feel like he’s as excited to see us as we are to see him! The night ended with peace signs thrust into the air from a crowd grateful for a great show and a night of dancing along the Mississippi River.
As with many events, we ran into plenty of friends including Jonny Ray of New Orleans Movie Tours, Willy Pickett, the carriage driver from Django Unchained who gives carriage rides in the French Quarter, and Donna Duplantier, my fellow actor on HBO’s Treme . She and I will be participating in a panel on Women in Film next Saturday at the first Louisiana International Film Festival. Even with the more-than half a million people who crowd the festival, it still feels like a local event when you cross paths with so many in your community.