The French Quarter Fest is as much about local cuisine as it is about our amazing music with over 65 local vendors tempting tastebuds with everything from spicy seafood to sweet snowballs. Saturday, the festival was also the proving ground for Rouses Crawfish Eating World Championship. There were several rounds of competition culminating with the 4th annual win for Sonya Thomas AKA “The Black Widow.” She managed to pack 2.2 pounds of crawfish into her 100 pound body in 10 minutes. Louisianan hunk Adrian Morgan came in second with 2 pounds. I finished one Pulled Pork Sandwich topped with Cole Slaw ($6) from The Joint while watching but left the contest inspired to make a dent in a Rouses Family Platter ($25) of crawfish, corn, potatoes and sausage.
As we ate our crawfish on the lawn behind the Old U.S. Mint surrounded by families picnicking and listening to music, Jeff “The Dude” Dowd (the inspiration for the character in The Big Lebowski) joined us. He’s in town raising awareness for the first Louisiana International Film Festival occurring April 18-21. I will be participating in 2 of their workshops and look forward to all the festivities.
Swing dancers brought the rhythms of Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns to life as we wandered into the Quarter to visit with friends for a midday break. The crowds at the Fest have gotten bigger every year and Saturday is always the busiest day so it was nice to get away for a moment.
We grabbed a Beef Debris Po-Boy with Truffle Cole Slaw ($8) from Restaurant R’Evolution before heading to see Glen David Andrews. I’ve had a lot of magical moments at French Quarter Fest – the Coco Robicheaux memorial bee swarm at last year’s Irene Sage performance, feeling certain I would never leave here as Anders Osborne sang Louisiana Rain in 2010 and so much more. But the show that stands out as the most high-octane display of talent and visual spectacle was the 2011 Glen David Andrews/Amanda Shaw show. Both were the first inductees to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame as “Future Hall of Famers.” Their combination of his jazz trombone and her country fiddle flew over the top with the addition of fully-plumed Mardi Gras Indians.
Since then, Andrews has had his share of setbacks leading him to a soul searching stint in rehab. His new CD includes songs exploring his newfound serenity so I wasn’t sure whether we’d be treated to the same crowd-rousing performances we’ve been spoiled by over the years. I needn’t have worried. He and his band were absolutely electrifying and Glen David Andrews is back better than ever!!!
Andrews learned his skills from locals like Tuba Fats, “Frogman” Joseph, Harry Nance and Olympia Brass Band’s Harold DeJean. Like with Amanda Shaw, Andrews seems to shine brightest when playing with classically trained musicians and his band was packed with them. The charismatic James Martin on sax is a graduate of both NOCCA and Loyola New Orleans College of Music. Drummer Jamison Ross, is the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition winner. He has moved to NOLA to pursue his Masters of Music in Jazz Studies.
Bassist Barry Stephenson was a recipient of the Ellis Marsalis Jazz Scholarship and the ASCAP Foundation’s Louis Armstrong Foundation Scholarship for composition. Before finishing his graduate work at UNO, he also won the Svenson Composition Competition for an original piece. I couldn’t find the name of the guitar player (comment if you know!) but I have no doubt he’s got a history of greatness as well. Keyboardist Craig Adams is a reputed musical director and choir master who comes by his talent “honestly” as he is the grand nephew of Fats Domino.
This amazing pool of well-trained talent lifts Andrews to a new level. His set was so much more than the Frenchmen Street party it normally is. He stacked the songs just right to carry us from serenity to sexuality, from prayer to partying over and over. It was like he took us on a ride through all the versions of himself as a man. It was exciting, intimate, uplifting and raucous. As with the Amanda Shaw performance, it was unforgettable and the best of the Fest. Judging from the new songs we heard from “Redemption,” more and better is still ahead for Andrews.
The concert was full of audience callbacks and I can honestly say I enjoyed singing the more spiritual new songs along with a big crowd. We sang about liking ourselves and we sang about stuff we can’t change while dancing to boppy hooks as fun as any from the Jackson 5. We swayed to sexy hip-grinders like old favorite I Will Melt Your Heart Like Butter and new favorite My Body Is Calling Your Body. Though he didn’t let himself be passed around the crowd this time, he did wind his way through us on his cordless mic. And if you know Andrews, you already know we jumped – a lot. He never played his horn, which is a shame, but it was an amazing show and I left richer for having experienced it.
While we were doing a group shot with Andrews (who unfortunately blinked), a woman asked where she could buy my shirt. I actually designed my fleur de lis “Local” shirt which can be purchased here so that made me feel pretty good. The evening ended with a long fireworks display from our friends at Tropical Isle, home of the Hand Grenade.
One more day to go…