Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sunday, May 6, 2007: The Grand Finale

Sure enough, I was awake 6 hours later and on schedule to arrive at the Fairgrounds earlier than I ever had before. I grabbed a cab with a couple from somewhere near Laguna Beach. They weren't used to the heat and were having a rough time of it. Later in the day, I passed another couple saying "Man, it gets cold down here."

I arrived a little more than 5 minutes after 007's set began. 007's upbeat, rock-steady groove really makes for a great start to the morning. For such an early set, they had a good-sized crowd at the Gentilly Stage, and everyone was in high spirits, no one moreso than me.

Jonathan Freilich and Alex MacMurray rock out.

Feeling as if I were sitting on top of the world, I knew it was time for breakfast in the form of a Crawfish Sausage Po' Boy. I then ducked into Economy Hall for Louis Ford & His New Orleans Dixie Flairs with guest Barbara Shorts. Shock of shocks, I remember nothing about the music, but I vividly recall the po' boy. It was rather savory but half-way through it, I couldn't gnash my teeth through the casing. I didn't know what that meant, but it couldn't be good, so I stopped eating and disposed of the rest of the sandwich. Guilty, I thought about the starving children in China.

The Crawfish Sausage Po' Boy in question.

Unsatisfied and racked with guilt, I headed to the Lagniappe Stage for the UNO Louis Armstrong Jazz Quintet with Cindy Scott on vocals. Something about this combo really rubbed me the wrong way. No, strike that. They truly pissed me off because the Louis Armstrong Jazz Quintet played music that sounded nothing like Louis Armstrong, especially the soulful vocals from the female vocalist, who naturally sounded nothing like Louis Armstrong.

In a self-righteous huff, I departed the Lagniappe and promptly ran into Sammy. We quickly decided that Soft-Shell Crab Po' Boys were in order, and I have to say that I hit the jackpot with the greatest Soft-Shell Crab Po' Boy in history.

Temporarily sated, we decided to catch Eric Lindell in Blues Tent, which had no air circulation and was hot as balls. Lindell sounded great, even better than normal, especially when playing a bluesy western swing. Unfortunately, the constant stream of sweat pouring down my face made the venue unbearable, so I bid adieu to Sammy and circled back through Acura.

Along the way, I caught a little bit of Allen Toussaint doing "Happiness." It was not bad at all, and I'm told that his entire set was great. Whenever I've seen him in the past, I've found him to be less than engaging as a performer, but maybe I should give him another chance. Anyway, I then found my new best friend, Couscous with Yogurt Sauce and our torrid love affair continued.

I made my way over to the Gentilly Stage and found a great spot down front for Anders Osborne, who surprisingly looked kind of soberish, a rarity for Mr. Osborne. His set was pretty good, but it was cut short when the power mysteriously cut out. Instead of stopping, everyone on stage began a spirited percussion jam. Anders' regular band was already augmented by a few auxiliary percussionists, so this jam was excellent. It finally ended when the guy playing cowbell, who acted as if he may have fallen to Earth from the furthest reaches of outer space, took a flying leap from the stage and landed on the photographer's platform below, perfectly punctuating the final note.

I wanted to see Ingrid Lucia, but I went into the Lagniappe by accident. This was the second day in a row that I made this mistake, and I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Perhaps my bloodstream was suffering from low levels of pork?

I then went to go to Ingrid Lucia's correct venue, Economy Hall, which was very crowded. The only seat I could find was sandwiched between a really fat man and a woman who was taking up part of my chair. Fat Man's girth spilled onto my lap, and the woman to my left was not going to cede any ground. After one song, I had suffered enough and needed to move. I walked around but couldn't find a seat, outside of a chair with a bag on it. I asked the woman next to the bag if she would move it, and she said, "No. Someone is sitting there."

"I understand, but may I sit there until they return?"


"NO?!? WHY NOT?"

"Because you might not ever get up."

I didn't know whether to laugh or just judo chop her in the jugular on the pretext that one less shrew would make the world a better place. Honestly, her selfishness left me completely dumbfounded, and I hate when people and their shitty attitudes become vibe killers on an otherwise great day.

Seconds after walking away, I realized that I missed a great opportunity to take her picture and slap it up on the web for the world to see her as the selfish bitch she is. Assholes of the world, listen up. Next time you piss me off, your picture will be posted all over

Thoroughly irritated, I stormed over to the Jazz Tent, but it was far too crowded, and I didn't have the patience to once again fight for a seat. Just when the day was beginning to suck, the magic of Jazz Fest took over, and I made a discovery in the Gospel Tent. Elder Edward Babb and the Madison Bumble Bees don't make many performances outside of their South Carolina church, but this set was a rousing and spirited affair. Elder Edward would sing/preach a few lines, and then twelve (yes. I said TWELVE!) trombones would fill in with a raucous chorus. Eat your heart out, Bonerama. These guys were simply awesome, and everyone was up and movin' and groovin' with the spirit.

I had never seen Steely Dan before, so I snaked into the crowded Acura Stage for a little bit, including "Dirty Work." I know I'm in the minority here, but their smooth jazz-bordering-on-adult-contemporary sounds don't do much of anything for me, and to my ears, they sounded almost out of place when other artists were delivering gutsy, raw performances at Jazz Fest. After 20 minutes, I had seen enough, and I was able to officially check Steely Dan off the "Bands I Need To See Before I Die List."

This being the final day of Jazz Fest, I had one last item to eat: the amazing White Chocolate Bread Pudding. My dish was overflowing with that wonderfully sweet white chocolate sauce, and I wound up wearing a good bit of it, but I didn't care. This creation is a slice of pure heaven, and it's a must-have every year. Having sampled one of the best dishes at Jazz Fest, I felt content. I did not need to eat any more on the Fairgrounds in 2007. I had made my peace with Jazz Fest's food.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding-- before it made its way onto my clothes.

Sated, I met a few friends for a nice chunk of the Soul Rebels' fun set at the Jazz & Heritage Stage.

The Soul Rebels are up there somewhere.

Then there was but one set remaining for the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and I chose to spend it in Economy Hall with Papa Don Vappie and His Creole Jazz Serenaders. They delivered a great set of rockin' old school Nola classics, such as "Ramble" and "Your Bucket's Got a Hole In It," but the jam into "Iko, Iko," with guest Duvel Crawford breaking it down on piano, was phenomenal. "Down By the Riverside" with its profound lyrics stating "there'll be no more war down by the riverside" added a lot of pathos and emotion to the proceedings.

There looked to be but one number left in the set, but I knew our cadre had a 9:00 reservation at Delmonico, and being stuck in the role of "semi-responsible one," I knew I had to leave first in order to get a jump on the shower. Rather than waiting for a cab, I paid the extra cash and hopped on the shuttle bus. The bus driver was blasting the rocking studio recording of Credence Clearwater Revival's "Heard It Through The Grapevine," and the happy-go-lucky crowd of festers was having a great time. The next tune was "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?," which initiated a full-throated sing-along from most of the bus. It was as if everyone had graduated from "The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round" and logically moved on to CCR. I have to admit that this odd and giddy experience was one of my favorite moments of Jazz Fest.

We made our way to Emeril's Delmonico, my third visit to this elegant restaurant. Delmonico is known for impeccable service, but we had a somewhat surly waitress who gave off an I-really-don't-want-to-serve-these-hard-partying-tourists-especially-the-big-one-from-Boston-who-wants-to-order-17-consecutive-Heinekens attitude. When my request for a Mint Julep was rejected on the basis that the kitchen was mysteriously out of mint, I bitterly ordered a Knob Creek and sulked inside.

My meal began with Lobster Mac & Cheese, a hearty portion that was both lush and mellow. My entree was Duck Breast with Foie Gras in a Smoked Grape Reduction, and while I have no complaints, the dish sounds much better on paper. Three of us were hoping for the Delmonico staple of Smoked Duck Over Cheddar Scallion Grits in a Cherry Cane Reduction, but alas, it was not on the menu. As a side, I ordered Wild Mushrooms in Bacon Vinaigrette, which was quite tasty. I'm beginning to think that bacon should become a lifelong partner with vinaigrette. Flora shared some of her Sweet and Sour Calamari, which we agreed was coated in a very heavy, syrupy sauce that tasted like bad Chinese food. Dessert was a wonderfully rich and tasty Toffee Pudding.

Duck Breast with Foie Gras in a Smoked Grape Reduction

Honestly, I was less than impressed on this, my third trip to Delmonico. The food was good but not truly good enough to justify the prices, and the service, which is Delmonico's hallmark, was less than stellar because of our surly waitress. I decided that Delmonico will be skipped on future trips unless my table is willing to go for the Degustation (tasting) menu.

Stuffed to the gills but somehow managing to avoid the perils of Food Coma, I returned back to the hotel and began calling Gooner, who had agreed to drive me to Saturn Bar on the cusp of the Lower 9th Ward for 007. She did not answer. 8 calls and 45 minutes later, I finally woke her up. Then what did she do? She rallied and picked my ass up because Gooner is a champion.

It was around 1AM or so when we drove to the Saturn Bar. Locals call this neighborhood the Upper 9th Ward, but real estate agents and people hoping to escalate their property value prefer the name Bywater. Whatever you wanna call it, this was certainly the most far off the beaten path that I'd been in any trip to New Orleans.

The Saturn Bar is a great little dive with a strange back room that used to be filled with clutter. The bar's original owner passed away, and his nephew (the new owner) spent a long time clearing out the junk to create a back room for bands to play. Incidentally, this new owner is a great guy, eager to chat about anything and full of interesting stories.

We arrived as 007 was in the last third of a very positive set being played to the shit-eatin'-grinning faithful. As expected, the band was in fine form.

Set Two inadvertently became background music for us, as Gooner and I sat at the bar in dire need of catching up, as well as engaging the owner in entertaining conversation. Throughout the course of our chat, it was revealed that I had never been to the Lower 9th Ward but had long wanted to see it, and Gooner immediately decided that she would take me on a tour as soon as 007 finished, and then she'd drive me to the hotel to pickup my luggage before taking me to the airport. This is one of the myriad reasons that Gooner is the best.

007 ended, and I asked Alex MacMurray if they had any CDs for sale.


"You're all out?" (They had just been pimping them from the stage.)

"Yep," he snorted, giving me the blowoff.

Minutes later, I went to the bathroom, and on the way out, I accidentally ran into Jeffrey Clemens' hi-hat, which was stationed right in front of the exit. Naturally, I expected Jeffrey to be pissed, but he was as nice as he could be, concerned that I might be hurt. I then asked him if they had any CDs, and he gladly sold me one from a large stack as we chatted about their early set at Jazz Fest.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how Jeffrey is so nice and Alex is such a moody fucking asshole. I am far from a groupie and I generally don't talk to musicians, but in every single interaction I've ever had with Alex MacMurray he's been a royal dickhead. Honestly, Alex would have a truly successful career if he didn't treat everyone like a total cocksucker. All I wanted to do was give him money for his work. Is that so offensive?

Gooner and I wanted to get our picture taken in front of The Saturn Bar, but we made the mistake of asking the wrong guy to take our photo. He was a budding amateur photographer, and he insulted my rather inferior camera, insisting that he use his own. Fine. Then we had to move all over the place to find a spot with the perfect mood lighting. It was a laborious pursuit, and despite my protestations that no amount of fancy lighting could make me look pretty, he was persistent. Nearly a year later, I’m still waiting for him to email this precious photo.

Then we went on our late night/early morning moonlit tour of Katrina’s devastation. First, we saw the Musicians Village, where volunteers have been doing a great job of building new houses for displaced Nola musicians. After that, we went into the Lower 9th Ward. This area doesn't come anywhere close to resembling a city. It looks more like a rural patch of land with a couple of dilapidated shacks and no sign of electricity, let alone human life. It's just barren and while there are a small number of crumbling houses, it's mostly nothing but the remains of foundations. With the Lower 9th in a bowl surrounded by the "Mister Go," it was sadly easy to see how these residents lost everything in a very short amount of time.

These were sobering sights, and while it was both morbidly fascinating and depressing, I also had one eye on the clock, worried that I might not make it to the airport in time. In addition, I was slightly frightened that someone might jump in the middle of the road with a gun because we were completely isolated, and no one would hear our cries for help. To her credit, Gooner has become a bonafide Nola resident, as nothing fazes her. She was rather relaxed and unconcerned about the clock, certain that we'd make it.

I made it back to the hotel and raced down the hallway. Unfortunately, for the 5th time on this trip, my key stopped working and I couldn't get back into the room. Miraculously, Curtis was in the room. (There's a first for everything). He let me in and saved me some precious time and Gooner and I sped to the airport. Arriving about 45 minutes before my flight, we said a quick goodbye, I raced inside, and just like that, I was on the flight bound for home. Within hours, I’d be dead on my feet at work, and another phenomenal Jazz Fest would be in the books.

1 comment:

s(b.) said...

Thanks for such a comprehensive review. I jotted down at least a dozen names of bands that I'll be sure to check out.