While we had just been to New Orleans in October for VoodooFest and Halloween, April found us back in the Big Easy for the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I’m always surprised by the number of my friends who are baffled by our bi-annual trips to JazzFest. It typically stems from a misperception that the music festival is limited to contemporary or Dixieland jazz. You can certainly immerse yourself in those genres but there are more than a dozen stages featuring everything from rock to Cajun to blues to gospel to funk to Latin to folk to Afro-Caribbean to country to pop, to R&B . . . You get the idea. AND all the stages are an easy walk from each other and have acts performing simultaneously so if one doesn’t pan out you just stroll to the next. AND have I mentioned the food – there are vendors offering all the succulent treats that draw you to New Orleans. Next year is the 50th anniversary of JazzFest so if I were you I’d make my plans now.
In my prior post, I offered a few of my favorite restaurants, clubs and experiences in New Orleans so I won’t repeat that advice. On this trip, we rented a house in the Riverbend/Carrollton area of Uptown New Orleans. One of my favorite music streets is in this neighborhood – Oak Street. You can get away from the tourists on Bourbon and head to some great neighborhood bars, clubs and restaurants on Oak and throughout the neighborhood. Here were our favorites from April.
- Maple Lear Bar. The Leaf opened in 1974 and offers live performances seven nights a week serving as an incubator for the city’s many up-and-coming bands as well as proven standards. The night we went we saw Cha Wa, a fascinating New Orleans brass band-meets-Mardi Gras Indian group that got us fired up for the evening ahead.
- Jacques-Imo’s Cafe was our next stop. This is one of my favorite Nawlins style restaurants offering Creole/Soul food in a downhome setting. The chef was a Coast Guard officer who took up residence in the kitchen of Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen and he excelled. What more do you need to know other than that this place is very popular so I’d make a reservation.
- Carrollton Station is a true neighborhood bar that I would never pass up. The night we were stumbling home, Mia Borders was funking the place up with an energetic and hypnotic performance. Only in New Orleans could you see someone with this talent playing in a small bar down the street from your AirBnB.
- Rock and Bowl was the stop on our last night. We always end up here at the end of JazzFest. As with many of the clubs in the city, performers finish up at JazzFest and head out to the clubs (JazzFest is open each day from 11am to 7pm so you have a whole night of adventures after you leave the festival grounds). Rock and Bowl (yes it is a bowling alley with a great bar and stage) always has a great line-up. We had come for Sonny Landreth, a virtuoso slide guitarist, but were bowled over by the first musician, Carolyn Wonderland. She just rocked the stage with an energetic bluesy Texas honky-tonk performance. But I totally lost it when Sonny welcomed Jake Shimabukuro to join him for a set. Jake is a truly exceptional and innovative ukulele player from Hawaii who sends all your limited assumptions regarding the uke to the trash heap. He broke through when a Youtube video of him performing the George Harrison song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral. There is so much more to him than that performance but it isn’t a bad place to start.
I’ll throw in two other recommendations.
- Café du Monde is a cornerstone of the French Quarter. I can’t imagine why I failed to mention it in my last post since we never go to New Orleans without stopping (usually at 3am). The original coffee stand was established in 1862 and has been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week ever since except for Christmas and when a hurricane closes the city down. You only order two things at Café du Monde 1) beignets, square French-style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar, and 2) Café au Lait with a dark roasted coffee with chicory.
- Coulis was our find of the trip. It is a wonderful diner-style restaurant that turned up one of the tastiest and most entertaining brunches ever. We ended up sitting at the bar where we made new friends from Houston and I was berated by the bartender (that is a longer story for another venue.) One tip however – If you get the huevos rancheros, be sure to ask for them “Shaunna style” and don’t denigrate Rod Stewart in front of Shaunna (the bartender).
I could fill out scores and scores of blog posts on New Orleans. Considering the frequency of our visits you’ll likely see them here on WordPress but now it is time to get back on the road. I’ve settled on the basic path for my New England ramble and can’t tell you how excited I am. While I started with an impression that I had already seen much of New England before and just needed to check off the states on my tally, many of you have helped me realize that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. So for the first time I’ll be heading up the Hudson Valley, staying with Burning Man friends in Northern Vermont, camping in Acadia, and relaxing on Cape Cod with many adventures on each stage of these routes and some that I will simply stumble upon. More soon . . .