Kicking off Mardi Gras season with my sister Kate

As I’ve mentioned before on my radio show, I wouldn’t be doing a program on New Orleans program if my sister hadn’t helped me reconnect with my birthplace over a dozen years ago. So it was fun to finally do a show with her in the radio studio. Get it started before reading on.

Me and my sister Kate in our home in New Orleans as kids. My ears were big for their age.

My big sister Katie was the one who taught me to take the bus from our house on Nashville Avenue in Uptown New Orleans down Freret Street to our school on Napoleon. We referred to the ride as the “Freret Jet.” Our family moved away from New Orleans before we could finish school but our hearts stayed there.

Later as adults, when Kate moved back to New Orleans, I visited her and reconnected with the music of New Orleans. So it was really cool to have her hang out with me in the KAOS studio for this show as we celebrated the start of the 2019 Mardi Gras season with songs like The Hawkettte’s “Mardi Gras Mambo” and the New Orleans Suspects “Carnivale.”

Morgus in his laboratory

In the 1960’s, Kate and I and our older brothers would huddle around our teeny black & white television set and watch the Saturday night late movie on WWL TV — not for the movie but to watch the antics of the nutty guy who introduced the show “Morgus the Magnificent.” Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the debut of this New Orleans cultural icon. You can read my earlier blog post that gets deeper into his story. For today, we listened to Dr. John’s “Morgus the Magnificent” and Galactic’s “Friends of Science” in honor of the occasion.

New Orleans songwriter Andrew Duhon called in for a brief interview to promote his Olympia performance this week. Duhon has three albums under his belt and we played two songs from his latest. It was quite a delight to hear him talk about how the Freret Street Fair had inspired his song “Street Fair.” I also played his nostalgic song “They Don’t Make ’em.” His interview starts about an hour in and lasts about 10 minutes.

Because the New Orleans Saints are headed into the playoffs with a big game with the Philadelphia Eagles, you’ll hear a set of Black and Gold spirit by the Brassaholics and other Saints related songs by Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes and the Pinstripe Brass Band.

You’ll also hear Chuck Carbo and Eddie Bo (off a vinyl record) and other surprises as well. Thanks for tuning in.

New Orleans festival season offers more than JazzFest

The New Orleans festival season is fast approaching. While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the crown jewel of the season, there are reasons for the music tourist to consider visiting the city at any time during the long festival season other than JazzFest. Here’s a few.

The Crowds.  New Orleans is a tourist town year round but it can be overwhelming during Mardi Gras and JazzFest. During those peak times, restaurants and nightclubs are a harder to get into and lodging is more expensive. Go before or after JazzFest and the city feels more relaxed and accessible.

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Glen David Andrews performing at Jazz in the Park (Louis Armstrong Park) in 2013.

Free Outdoor Concerts – New Orleans offers some wonderful outdoor concerts showcasing local musicians in a festival atmosphere. There are two exceptional, easy to get to concert series that run through the spring. This year, “Wednesday at the Square” features Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Tab Benoit, Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band, Kermit Ruffins, Anders Osborne and Soul Rebels. This downtown show held in Lafayette Square usually features an opening act, runs from 5 to 8 p.m. and is surrounded by ways to purchase food and booze. On Thursday evenings, Louis Armstrong Park comes alive with Jazz in the Park. This event attracts more locals with chairs and picnic baskets but you’ll still find sustenance and drink in this park just across historic Rampart Street from the French Quarter.

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Local dance group performing at Freret Street Festival

Neighhorhood Festivals –  Only in a New Orleans neighborhood festival would you find youth dance groups and more established artists like Bonerama, Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, and New Breed Brass Band. That was just a sampling of the three stages last year that defined the boundaries of the Freret Street Festival, one of the early season neighborhood festivals in New Orleans. Neighborhood festivals run throughout the year, except for JazzFest. Check the festival schedule and sample a few online such as the Bayou Boogaloo –- definitely on my bucket list for a future visit. You’ll find most New Orleanians are incredibly social—almost to a fault. Go to a neighborhood event or establishment and if you are reasonably gregarious, you will meet locals who will happily share their opinions on bands, restaurants and the best route to take to your next event.

IMG_1454French Quarter Festival – This four-day event attracts more audience than the more well-known seven-day JazzFest. The difference is that the stages are scattered about the French Quarter and they are free, making it easy for the casual daily tourist to get sucked into the music. Whereas JazzFest adds a healthy dose of world and national music acts to their line up of local performers, French Quarter Festival is almost exclusively local musicians. Held two weeks before JazzFest, it’s the first major festival of the season. If you’re already staying in or around downtown, you won’t need to taxi or bus to the fairgrounds as you would with JazzFest. Last year French Quarter Festival headlined with Allen Toussaint, who later joined in a delightful conversation with Deacon John about Cosimo Matassa at the festival’s interview stage. I can’t tell you how fortunate I felt to be in the audience for both of those events.

freret-street-festival-2Lagniappe. Regardless of when you go, relax. You won’t be able to do it all. Things will get in your way, like torrential rain storms. Last year, I had set my mind on catching Irma Thomas at the big stage by the river at French Quarter Festival but when I saw a mass of dark clouds headed my way, I reluctantly ducked into the House of Blues courtyard. What a break. Not only did I stay dry but I became acquainted with the talent of Sarah McCoy and Colin Lake –two performers who were able to keep playing despite a very heavy rain. The Irma Thomas show was cancelled. Slow down, take care of yourself and enjoy the moment because you’re in New Orleans, baby!

P.S. JazzFest is a hoot and you should do it, particularly if you haven’t and have always wanted to. Here’s my five things you should know about JazzFest.

Freret Street event marks the start of NOLA festival season

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.

Freret Street Festival is usually the first weekend in April. This New Orleans neighborhood event heralds the start of the festival season.

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).

Bonerama will close out the Freret Street Festival.
Bonerama will close out the Freret Street Festival.

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.

If the technology works for me this weekend, I’ll have a report from Freret Street that will air on my show this Monday. Ruby Ru, KAOS station manager and NOLA music lover, will host the show.