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New Orleans Jazz Festival 2009

May 13, 2009
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JF2009New Orleans Jazz Festival, where do I begin? Well, I suppose I could start with my wonderful friends who joined me in my adventure, for certainly it would not have been nearly as fun had I ventured out there by myself. So I suppose I should start my journey in Houston- where I jumped off the train to see one of my oldest and dearest friends in his new home.

Waking up the morning of our arrival (we were scheduled to arrive at 5:45AM), I heard an old familiar sound: rain tapping against the steel roof of the sleeper car and the rumble of thunder in the distance. Aside from snow, the weather condition I miss the most in LA is thunder. I perked up in my seat and rubbed the sleep from my eyes as I watched the purple electricity bounce from cloud to cloud in the dark sky of the new morning. Upon arriving in Houston I called a cab and gave my friend’s address. It was no problem getting to his area, but getting close to his apartment complex was another story. Turns out the rain turned to flooding, and river like waters caused a stand still in traffic. But after navigating a few side streets we arrived.

I love seeing old friends. The way time picks up right where you two left, that gap of time turning seamless the instant you see each other. After our brief hello’s we went off to get some Tex Mex Brex. Breakfast Rellanos and cinnamon coffee, I felt like a true Texan- fat and content. The highlights of the next few days were: spending time with my friend and catching up, eating the best Barbeque I’ve had in my life (Goode Company, go here before you die), rolling with a local Houston Jiu-Jitsu instructor, visiting some local bars with live music, and getting caught in the flooding streets of Houston at 6 in the morning (see above). My Houston journeys quickly came to an end, and my friend and I road tripped to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival. Upon arriving we received big hugs from my second batch of friends (two good friends from college plus one), and all caught up on the day. They had already visited the Jazz Festival (saw Ben Harper, and others) and Bourbon street, so they were all smiles. After a bit of chatter we all laid our heads down and rested up for the next few days of adventure. 

The Jazz Festival was incredible. I’ve been to a few music festivals in my life, but New Orleans is definitely one of my favorites so far. It’s free from the commercial feel of bigger concerts, and feels much more organic. This is the festivals 40th year anniversary, and it pulses with an air of experience. Local bands make up the majority of music, all of the food booths are local, and the overall pricing is very fair and much more egalitarian than most festivals. It was also very rich in New Orleans culture. Flash parades (a livelier cajun version of a marching band colored in pastel suits) would cut through the sea of people at random, aging hippies would dance like no one was watching, and colorful flags flew overhead from the shaded chairs of veteran festival goers. Aside from the major stages there were two tents which offered shade and misting to those too hot to stay outside. Dubbed the “Blues” and “Gospel” tent, they offered the exact music that was advertised. 

Speaking of music… My personal high-lights included a funky dance set given by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. A heartfelt set by Bonnie Raitt followed by the strong country flavors of Sugarland. The powerful and timeless voice of Tony Bennett, classic in his sharp grey suit (regardless of the heat and humidity). Neil Young gave an awesome performance, and played just about every song I wanted to hear including, “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”, “Rockin’ in the Free World”, and a nice surprise by covering the Beatles “A Day in the Life” for an encore. Kings of Leon, as always, kicked some butt. They played some of my favorites (although I think all of their music is my favorite really), “Fans”, “Arizona”, “Need Somebody”, “Crawl”, and the ubiquitous hit off their new album “Sex on Fire” (although not my favorite on the new album). They were great as always, I could have stayed for their entire set, but since I’d already seen them twice and Bon Jovi zero times, I opted check out the New Jersey boy himself. His set was great. Played all of the air guitar and head bang inducing favorites. Sadly he cut his set short, but it was still a great experience. I wish I could have seen more, especially Solomen Burke who played Thursday night, whom I heard played one of the best sets of the entire festival. 

I can’t wrap up talking about New Orleans or the Jazz Festival without giving a full paragraph to the food. Before departing to new Orleans I was given a wonderful list of must-visit restaurants by a friend of a friend who went to Tulane. Sadly we weren’t able to visit all of the spots, but we gave it our best shot. Culinary highlights included the spicy pheasant/quail/andouille gumbo from the festival, beignets and Cafe Au Lait from Bourbon St., and the scrambled eggs and debris from Mother’s Cafe (I also had a single bite of heavenly Jambalaya there. Will definitely order a full bowl next time). But my favorite singular dining experience may have been from Jacque-Imo’s. On our last day we decided to try something different and eat off-campus. So we took a cab twenty minutes off-site to Oak Street. With the lack of street-lights and construction barricades lining the streets an ominous feeling hung over the night as we entered into a remote section of New Orleans. But that feeling was quickly lifted when we turned the corner to see a live band playing across the street, a couple dining over candle-light in the back of a pick-up truck, a tent serving fresh oysters, and an art gallery filled with colorful portraits of the festival. We placed our name with the hostess, and took in colorful sights of the New Orleans culture as we breathed the humid night air and sipped our Hurricanes. One of the more colorful folks we met outside was an elderly man who sat outside the restaurant and read tarot cards. He told us a few legends of the restaurant, including the origin of the dining outside experience Jacques-Imo’s offers. According to the man with ringed fingers and snake-like walking stick, there was once a kitchen fire at Jacque-Imo’s. Jacque, being the entrepreneur that he is, decided to bring all of the tables out to the street and continue serving dinner as the fire trucks came in and put out the fire. Whether his story was true or not, I was very glad the place didn’t burned down, for the food was exquisite. Friend green tomatoes, alligator cheesecake, and blackened red fish were all mouth watering and delicious. In a way I’m glad I don’t live in New Orleans, for I think I would weigh about 500 pounds. 

Overall it was an incredible trip. Great music, great food, and great friends. Life can’t get much better than that can it?

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