If Mardi Gras marks the start of the Lent season, you could argue that the Freret Street Festival marks the end of it. But Easter tends to wander about on the calendar so some years that just doesn’t work.
What’s more clear is that the annual Freret Street event heralds the beginning of the New Orleans festival season. Later in the month, New Orleans will kick into festival high gear with the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival–two events that together attract over a 1 million attendees. You won’t see that mass of humanity on Freret Street this Saturday (April 4), but this is not your usual neighborhood party. According to organizers, eight blocks of the street will be blocked to car traffic, from Napoleon to Jefferson. Three music stages will feature Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, New Breed Brass Band and Bonerama (to name a few).
I’m making it a point to be at this year’s event, even though the festival is 2,600 miles from my house. The corner of Napoleon and Freret is where I went to kindergarten and elementary school when the school there was called Our Lady of Lourdes. Yep, I wore the Catholic student khaki uniform. (I’m also in town for the French Quarter festival. More on that soon.)
In those days (we’re talking 60’s) my home was a lot closer. I could buy a soft-serve ice cream cone across the street from the school (now a parking lot and site of a monthly art, food and flea market) and then, having spent my bus fare on that treat, walk past an odd assortment of businesses and store fronts to my house on Nashville Avenue. After Katrina, the district was revitalized. New clubs moved in like the acoustically excellent Gasa Gasa and the Freret Street Publiq House. Restaurants like High Hat Cafe, Freret Street PoBoys and Sarita’s Grill headed up a vanguard of excellent eating.