French Quarter Fest is my favorite festival of the year. In it’s 34th year, the 4-day free festival features local food booths and music on 23 stages throughout the Quarter. Thursday’s weather was beautiful, 72 and sunny with a breeze coming off the river. We arrived in time to see Cha Wa, a Mardi Gras Indian band in the tradition of The Wild Magnolias. They played many favorite “Indian” songs including Let’s Go Get ‘Em, Shoo Fly and Indian Red. During the break, we filled up on a chicken plate from Mona’s and my favorite fest food – a Cochon de Lait Po-Boy from Walker’s Southern Style BBQ (AKA Love at First Bite).
The Porter Trio was next up on the Abita stage by the river. George Porter Jr., a founding member of the Meters, played a mixture of originals and local standards like Pocky Way.
The next local legend to take the stage was Aaron Neville. At 76 years old, Neville still has his signature voice and muscular frame. While his body is a fortress, the strength in his voice comes from its lilting vulnerability. He sings truth. Trombone Shorty, a master in his own right who’s played at the White House twice, stood offstage taking it all in like a humble student and avid fan.
The show really was a maser class that included hits like Drift Away and a reggae version of Ain’t No Sunshine and heart-wrenching ballads like Louisiana 1927 and A Change Is Gonna Come. The crowd sang along to standards like Down By the Riverside and When the Saints Go Marching In – complete with “Who Dat” chants.
We dined on a Sugarcane Glazed Pork Belly Po-Boy from Restaurant R’evolution and a Nectar Cream from Plum Street Snoballs.
John “Papa” Gros closed out the day with the debut of some new songs and a terrific cover of Dr. John’s Right Place Wrong Time. That said, his funky originals remind me more of Randy Newman’s material. Susan Cowslip joined the gang on vocals and tambourine and we stayed as long as we could before hitting a last food booth, Wink’s Bakery, for Fried Green Tomatoes with Remoulade. It was a great ending to a great day.