Working on the theory of “better late than never,” here’s how we spent Halloween last week. New Orleans has too many festivities to choose from but I didn’t want to miss the last Jazz in the Park concert from People United for Armstrong Park. Bonerama played early but I got the the park in time to see Da Truth Brass Band preparing the way for Kermit Ruffins to take the stage. Ruffins played beautiful ballads like What a Wonderful World as well as an upbeat medley of songs including Do Whatcha Wanna and The Treme Song. When he busted out the Stevie Wonder, the crowd created a Soul Train dance line and boogied down the center, many in costumes. (video below)
I didn’t catch the name of the young band that performed next but they were terrific and had a velvet-voiced soloist who reminded me of Freddie Jackson. I finally gave in to temptation and tried the goodies at New Orleans Hot Dogs Bacon Fried Hot Dogs. All dogs and sausages are fried in bacon fat and served with bacon ($6-10). I had a taste of their Double Chocolate Whiskey Creme Brownie ($5) then did some comparison shopping by trying out a Gator Corn Dog from Somethin’ Else Cafe ($5). Both dogs were very tasty.
There were face painters in front of the Fleurty Girl booth (one of the events many sponsors) and craft booths including a crochet booth with an amazing pillow crocheted with a portrait of Trombone Shorty blowing his horn. One of my favorite things about these outdoor concerts is running into friends like DancingMan504, WNOE’s Mary Steele (and her dad – the “Free Hugs” guy) and WWL’s Bill Capo who will be featuring a segment with me during this year’s popular 12 for the Road holiday non-alcoholic beverage series.
The weather held out long enough for the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band to play for a while. At some point, we spotted my favorite costume of the year – a tiny toddler dressed as Treme Brass Band’s Uncle Lionel – complete with bass drum. It filled me with that bittersweet feeling that nothing truly beautiful ever dies in this town and I was reminded that Halloween is about remembering our dead.
Then a bitter cold wind blew in bringing chilly rain drops. We enjoyed having our sweat cooled while dancing but it all got to be a bit much and the band finally had to call it quits as rain started to hit the electrical equipment onstage.
But the timing couldn’t have been better as we all headed to Bourbon Street just as the Molly’s Parade (officially the Jim Monaghan Parade) passed. The parade always shrinks by the time it hits Bourbon and the rain had taken a toll but the Muff-A-Lottas and an adorable dance troupe in Black and Gold strutted their stuff in the downpour. Beads were thrown, bands played and I’m pretty sure I found where “Waldo” is, but I decided to call it quits after the parade and missed seeing the many costumes people wore that night.
We ended the evening passing a “herd of unicorns,” followed by the “Happy Thursday” gang on their bikes. Yep – every Thursday, a group of people ride through some part of town yelling, “Happy Thursday” to passersby.
I had hoped to make it to some of the Day of the Dead festivities on Friday. There were second lines and cemetery memorials but I ended up enjoying an extended lunch at Willie Mae’s Scotch House with some of my new Pussyfooter sisters. Willie Mae’s is a “Bucket List” item for anyone seeking the world’s best fried chicken. Tucked in the Fifth Ward with Katrina reconstruction still ongoing, the humble and reasonably priced restaurant has earned the highest of culinary honors – the James Beard Award.
Rebuilt by volunteers after The Storm, a 3-piece meal runs about $10 (a few dollars more for all white meat) and includes a selection of sides including some of the best red beans and rice I’ve ever tasted. I had the spicy green beans like Dad makes and rice with gravy that brought back my childhood. There’s always a line and you’ll have to wait again once you’re finally invited inside, but I have to confess the fried chicken lives up to its ridiculously high reputation of being the best on earth. (A word to tourists – the group at the table next to us found some of the sides to be a bit spicy and though it’s called a “Scotch House,” don’t expect to find booze).
Afterward, I participated in another longstanding NOLA tradition – hanging out in a bar in the middle of a weekday. I may have missed out on cemeteries and mock funerals but I got to indulge in some of life’s earthly pleasures with some very lively women.