With the weekend in full swing, all of the over-20 stages and dozens more food booths opened throughout the Quarter for day 3 of French Quarter Fest. The first day, we parked ourselves in front of the Abita Stage and watched masters of their craft all day. Friday, we enjoyed all that again as well as watching well over 100 children take the stage throughout the day. Saturday, we hit every corner of the Fest – from the Mint to the Aquarium and from Bourbon Street to the river.
We started our day at The Mint with BBQ Shrimp and Grits ($8) from Cafe Reconcile (a great restaurant and even better non-profit training program for at-risk youth). It was a beautiful day again and we enjoyed listening to New Orleans standards from the Red Hot Brass Band while eating.
We stopped by the Rouses World Championship Crawfish Eating Contest in time to catch the results of the local celebrity division. It must be hard to get seconds at the Mackel household as WDSU’s Travers and Fletcher Mackel placed 3rd and 2nd. The winner, with a tot on his shoulders, was NOLA.com and Times-Picayune editor James Karst. Though we missed it this year, the final competition was a surprise victory for New Orleans native Adrian Morgan over the world famous competitive eating champion, Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas.
We grabbed a Dreamy Weenies Satchmo Dog ($5) smothered in red beans and rice then passed dozens of people dancing to Steve Pistorius and the Southern Syncopators in front of the French Market. The Canal Creepers from Sweden were on the International Stage in Dutch Alley when we arrived. One of the Swedes wore a Saints cap. Awesome.
We’ve learned to return every year for the Japanese brass bands. This year, they brought 2 bands and we stayed to hear a few standards from the New Orleans Red Beans. It amazes me how fully the Japanese bands we’ve seen understand standard jazz. They may not be reinventing the wheel, but if more and more bands form, it’s only a matter of time before they add something to the gumbo of jazz. There are many connections between our 2 cultures including resilience in disasters, respect for elders and lots of rituals around food and performance. For me, the connection is more personal as I lived in Japan as a small child and will die in New Orleans. We’ll definitely hit that stage again next year.
We stopped for another Rouses Crawfish Boiled Boudin atop Remoulade Slaw on a bun w/ Creole Aioli ($5) then a super-flavorful Beef Debris Po-Boy with Truffle Slaw ($8) from Restaurant R’evolution and finished with another Nectar Creme Sno-Ball ($4) from Plum Street.
City Councilmember Jackie Clarkson introduced The Dixie Cups on the Abita Stage next to the river. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their hit Chapel of Love. The single knocked The Beatles off the charts in 1964 and the group has been singing it ever since. I thought it was fun that they chose to cover New Orleans Ladies in addition to the many standards like Iko Iko and Pockey Way. We were led in rounds of Who Dats and even sang along to God Bless America. DancingMan504 got in on the act and my favorite dancing waitress made it to center stage for a song.
We headed past the Aquarium to the Big River Stage in time to catch a little of Russell Batiste and Friends with The Wild Tchoupitoulas featuring Jason Neville. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the stunning beauty, artistry and creativity of Mardi Gras Indians. Tambourine Green joined the group to add her rhythm and hips – our 3rd time seeing her onstage in 2 days.
Then we decided to explore more of the super-crowded Quarter and headed past the Dancing Grounds Kid’s Workshop with dozens of kids learning steps in front of a crowd of happy onlookers. We grabbed some yummy praline samples from the New Orleans School of Cooking on our way to Royal Street. Much to the crowd’s delight, my favorite street musicians, Tanya and Dorise, inspired a Soul Train-like dance-line to their rendition of Pharrell’s Happy.
We took a break from the action in M.S. Rau Antiques. The store specializes in museum quality items from jewelry to paintings, chandeliers to pool tables. I’d heard about some exquisite opal necklaces they’d recently acquired and wanted to see them before they were all sold. The most spectacular of them, at 383 carats, can be seen HERE but the photos fail to capture the Hubble-telescope-like fire inside the stones as your eye moves across them. We also saw the pectoral cross and a ring (more than 75 carats in diamonds) that belonged to Pope Paul VI valued at $1.9 million.
Then it was back to the Fest. Rusty Metoyer and the Zydeco Krush were on the Bienville Statue Stage in the middle of Decatur Street when we passed. I love that the entire city is filled with stages so long walks include introductions to dozens of bands. Back at the Big River Stage, the Egg Yolk Jubilee was deep into a honkey-tonk bluesy-rock set. I was a fan before I even heard them since they were presented by the Lost Love Lounge where I met my fiancé.
After their raucous set, Glen David Andrews took the stage with his incredible band. His new CD, Redemption, debuted last week on the top 40 jazz chart and we were treated to a few of the new songs. Many of the locals already knew the words as the band has been playing the songs live for months before they entered the studio.
The band was joined by Spy Boy Dow in his Buffalo Soldier-themed Indian suit. Andrews’ 15 year old nephew also joined in. Then Derrick Tabb took over the snare drum. Tabb is Glen David Andrews’ brother and the snare drummer for the Grammy winning Rebirth Brass Band. Andrews had joined Tabb’s amazing The Roots of Music kids band the day before on trombone and vocals so I suppose Tabb was repaying the favor. Lucky us all the way around!
The show was AMAZING. As if the super-talented band and the Mardi Gras Indian and the guest players weren’t enough, Andrews and the band got everyone in the audience to hold hands and sing for serenity. But Andrews’ “redemption” hasn’t turned him all-kumbaya, his soul and spirit are on fire. He got everyone on their feet with sexy hits like I Will Melt Your Heart Like Butter and even took over a giant planter to sing to the crowd. If you were there, you know. Great show.
Afterward, we ran into some of the people featured in the terrific and devastating documentary, The Whole Gritty City. It was an honor to shake the hand of Landry Walker High School Band Director, Wilbert Rawlins, Jr. Sandwiched between Rawlins and Derrick Tabb (whose Roots of Music are also featured in the documentary), I couldn’t help but notice that, in addition to being pillars of the community, they are toweringly tall.
Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. and The Wild Magnolias filled the stage with their magnificent feathers. Bands this talented don’t need to put on so spectacular a show so I’m thrilled to live in this culture where it wasn’t even the first time we’d seen Indians onstage that day. My favorite moment was when Dollis stood on that same giant planter and reached into the crowd to grab the Who Dat Nation flag and hoist it high (pictured below).
We left early, passing Roddy Romero and the Hub City Allstars on Decatur playing fun Zydeco on our way for an evening-ending meal at the city’s 2nd oldest restaurant, Tujague’s. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony for awhile, watching neon-lit bikes and drunken music lovers pass below. Then we ate a delicious meal with friends. The Shrimp Remoulade was wonderful and there was a giant platter of garlic roasted chicken piled with fried potatoes drenched in garlic and spices that was so very flavorful. A great ending to a great French Quarter Fest day in the same place people have been enjoying meals in the French Quarter since 1856.