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NOLA

It already felt like vacation when we met up with Dan at Logan for our direct JetBlue flight on Wednesday April 21. We exchanged tales of packing, looked at the weather forecast, and boarded the plane eagerly anticipating our immersion in good food, good music, hospitality and warm humid weather.

After settling in at the Hotel Monteleone we ventured out onto Bourbon Street for food, landing at La Bayou for Boudin Balls (balls of sausage and rice, breaded and fried), Sweet Potato Stout and Muffalettas and Po Boys. We wandered over to Lafayette Square for people watching and the free concert, then decided to go to d.b.a to see the Tin Men, but ended up seeing the Mirlitones (same Washboard Chaz and Alex McMurray, swap out tuba for 2nd guitar). They are always enjoyable and humorous, and d.b.a. as advertised has an extensive drink selection and is a very cozy music club. We stopped by Clover Grill – they love to fry and it shows! – so Brian could grab a late night bite, and Dan and I could hydrate and steal some tots.

The next morning Brian and I ran through the Garden District, noting that we were *not* in Boston any more – much more humid and about 30 degrees warmer, but we were rewarded with smells of star jasmine in many yards. We were in the mood for healthy food, so we had a late breakfast at Le Cafe at the hotel. Brian had muesli while I had a big plate of fruit and yogurt. We figured no matter what happened the rest of the day, we had a good start: sleep, exercise and healthy food. We relaxed by the rooftop pool for a while, catching some sun and reading. When John arrived we met him and Dan at Lucy’s (sat at the table with the red and white umbrella, you can see in the photo) to relax in the sunshine. Later when Craig and Dina arrived we took them out for a walk on Bourbon Street, including hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s (gotta see the flaming fountain) and a stop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, ending up seeing Big Sam’s Funky Nation at Maisson for an Earth Fest show. I didn’t make it past the break – Big Sam was fun and energetic, but by 1am I was nearly sleep walking home. Better to save the late night for Friday.

Friday dawned with the forecast of 30% chance of showers for the first day of Jazz Fest. We started the day again with a run, this time up Esplanade and back, followed again by our healthy breakfast/brunch. We were ready to set out for the Fest just after noon. Seeing the 80% likelihood of showers forecast for Saturday, we opted to leave our ponchos in the room and just plan to duck into a tent during the passing shower for Friday. The day looked promising… until we set up our chairs at the Fais Do Do stage and Anders Osborne came on… and then it started raining… and then it poured. After about 20 mins, I was ready to head to drier ground, particularly since the seat of my chair channeled all the rain into a puddle under my derrière. As we had done in 2007, we sought refuge in the Gospel Tent. Alas, this was no passing shower, and we opted to stick around for about 3 hours, until we were reasonably dry and the major bands of rain subsided and, frankly, nature called quite loudly. By then Nate and Dan also ventured out from their cover, so we grabbed some food and caught the end of George Clinton together. I made a bee line for the Crawfish Monica and some Rosemint Tea, two favorites from last year. Brian and I opted for Lionel Richie, and we were not disappointed. Time has been kind to him, both in his appearance and his voice, and he was clearly loving the audience for sticking it out through the rain and the mud. I think I enjoyed it all the more because it was a multi-generational audience; middle-aged women who had swooned over the Commodores dancing and singing just as energetically as their daughters and nieces who loved Lionel’s 80s music. He covered the spectrum, from Hello to Brick House to Dancing on the Ceiling. It was a fantastic end to an otherwise rough start to the fest. After cleaning up back at the room, we ate dinner at Royal House nearby. We sensed a trend, having had La Bayou twice and thinking this place had the same owners, but they were all good so I don’t feel too bad about lacking variety. Then it was time to head to House of Blues for Trombone Shorty. This was an AMAZING show. Trombone Shorty is not only a talented musician (he played several instruments during the course of the show, and seemed just as impressive on the trumpet as he was on his signature trombone) but also a gifted band leader. The band consisted of two singers, guitar, bass, two saxes, keys, drumset, brass, and conga/auxiliary percussion – plus of course Trombone Shorty. He conducted and cued to keep them all together, building up energy playing all together at times and opening it up for a jam session at others. They played from 11:30 til 2am, non stop, just switching out who was playing for breaks. Did I say it was amazing?! Check out the music sample and videos on his web site.

Then Fest Day 2 began, with a stellar lineup from start to finish. We checked the weather, brought our blanket, chairs and ponchos, and got set up in time to see the Tin Men open at the Acura stage. Brian held down the blanket all day while Dan and I and the rest of us tagged in and out. I mostly alternated between Acura stage and Gentilly stage, at opposite ends of the fairground, but they afforded opportunities to sample many of the foods and bring some back for Brian. I grabbed some collard greens with beans and rice, Brian had sausage bread, and I also had a Cochon de Lait (pulled pork sandwich with mayo that simply melts in your mouth!) later in the day. I followed up Tin Men with Bonerama, Cowboy Mouth (the name of the band is COW-BOY-MOUTH!) with a punk-strawberry-shortcake-looking guitarist, Better than Ezra with Bonerama playing along and finally Simon and Garfunkel. We opted for S&G realizing it was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience at this point, and sadly we were correct. Some thought Garfunkel’s mike had issues – I just think that he voice isn’t there any more. The audience was clearly supportive and memories associated with many of the songs seemed palpable in the air, but it was a bit sad as well, compared to the tight harmonies of days gone by. Simon took over for a while, making good use of the backup band to pick up the tempo and showcase his african drum influenced solo work, before they closed out together. Brian and I saw the long cab line and decided we’d walk home, an enjoyable tour through neighborhoods off Esplanade that we made in under an hour. We had dinner with Craig and Dina at Remoulade, then wandered Bourbon Street. Brian broke his pledge by having both a beverage from Mango Mango and a Lucky Dog, which both seem to be available at every corner, but survived relatively unscathed. He may have even won a bit of Craig’s admiration.

Sunday, the sunny day! We again ventured out for a run, this time a circuitous route through the French Quarter, along the waterfront, back up through the warehouse district, back to the hotel. New Orleans was really connecting together for me, finally. It was warmer but the humidity had passed, making it a very comfortable day. We enjoyed Theresa Andersson, great voice and talented, though I found it a little distracting to have her hop all over the stage as she played her own backups that replayed them back over her singing, making her an exotic one-woman show through fancy footwork. Her Swedish fans were right up front. Then we wandered a bit, saw part of the Free Agents Brass Band en route to Shawn Colvin, a huge favorite of ours. We’d seen her at Tupelo earlier this year, but it was nice to see a more informal show with a bigger crowd. Then we caught part of Darius Rucker (formerly Hootie of Blowfish fame), which we really liked! His voice lends itself well to Country, and it was a fun show. We had to cut it short, though, to make our fancy dinner at Herbsaint. Mmmmmmmm. I had been excited about this dinner all week, and it surely did not disappoint. We learned that when the waiter suggests fries, you should get them. They were amazing! We completely enjoyed the experience, from Brian’s Gumbo and my crawfish special to the duck (I love duck!) and fontina/ham special with the recommended wine, to our banana brown butter tart for dessert. We highly recommend this spot for excellent service and food – it felt world class.

Monday, and it was time to pack up and get ready to leave. How fast 5 days goes, even with a slow pace! For our last NOLA meal we made it a big one – Breakfast at Brennan’s. It was an event. We did the prix fixe menu, consisting of 3 courses. Brian had strawberries and cream while I had a baked apple with cream. It was like having dessert first! Then since I’m not a fan of eggs, I did the Shrimp Sardu while Brian opted for the much lighter Eggs Hussarde. Who knew that creamed spinach, artichokes, fried shrimp and Hollandaise go so well together? He finished with the pecan pie with homemade ice cream – many raves – while I had the cheesecake with strawberries. This meal easily lasted us until we landed in Boston, no lunch required. We said goodbye to Craig, Dina, Raf and Karen, met up with Dan and Nate, and headed to the airport, wishing that we could stay through the second weekend of Jazz Fest.

Comments

Comment from Sarie
Time: May 3, 2010, 9:20 am

Sounds like tons of fun! Thanks, as always, for remembering Max while on your travels. It always makes him feel special to get a postcard, and he learns a little something about new places.

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