Day 1 / Thursday, April 24


This is the report on trip number three, the second for the full seven days of Jazz Fest plus the Daze Between. By this point we are experienced Jazz Festers, so you won't be reading a lot about discovery; rather, the entries will focus on what we did, who we heard, and of course what we ate. By no means did we burn the candle at both ends on this trip. Instead, we took it easy in the Big Easy, and that allowed us to enjoy what we did even more.

You can check out the complete photo record of this trip on the New Orleans 2014 page of this website, including separate pages with embedded videos from Vimeo, with the usual caveat that the videos are not so much for viewing as listening. 

And by the way, the countdown clock for 2015 is running. 

We had surely been looking forward to returning to New Orleans this year. (How many times do you need to go before it is officially "annual"?) The year between the 2013 trip and this one had not been an easy one. So it was a good thing that the planning is becoming much easier and the execution even more so.

So on Day 1, Thursday, April 24, we were taken to Dulles Airport in style in Ricky's Wrangler for our early afternoon nonstop flight to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on United Airlines. The flight was right on time in perfect weather. Once again we flew along the Gulf Coast from Mobile Bay to and over Lake Ponchartrain before turning south to do that big U-turn and cross the Mississippi River before landing. And once again we could see the Fair Grounds Race Course, all ready Jazz Fest, as we flew along the lakefront. That's the view from above in the picture at the top of this page.

In the airport I grabbed a snack at the Smoothie King in the concourse (if you are doing something for the second year in a row, does that make it a tradition?) and once again we boarded the Airport Shuttle for the ride downtown.

The shuttle delivered us to the Staybridge Suites at the corner of Poydras Street and Tchoupitoulas Street. Do you remember the pronounciation? (It's CHOP-a-TOO-lus.) Everything had gone so smoothly that we were early for our check-in time. The people at the front desk stashed our baggage for us and we took the familiar walk over to Canal Street to PJ's for an iced coffee, which we took down to the riverfront at the foot of Canal, in front of the Audubon Aquarium. There we just sat and watched the river traffic and some kids playing while enjoying the warm sunshine and a slight breeze. After the so-called spring that we had been having in Northern Virginia, this was really welcome.

Meanwhile, back at the Staybridge, our room was ready. Check-in was quick and easy, and the staff at the hotel was as friendly as ever. 

A sidenote here to say that our stay here almost wasn't. We reserved a studio suite at a ridiculously low rate about a month after Jazz Fest last year, and, of course, held the room with a credit card that would be run 30 days before the stay. At some point over the winter our credit card was reissued due to suspected fraud and I forgot to update it with the hotel proper, although I did update it with the InterContinental group's rewards program. 

So you know where this is going, right? About two weeks before we were to leave I checked for upcoming reservations at the IHG rewards website and found the reservation cancelled. I immediately called the hotel and, sure enough, the reservation had gone kablooey (technical term) because the credit card wasn't accepted. What a sinking feeling that gives you. So, after getting a sympathetic listen to my 'this could have been solved easily with a phone call' rant, the question became 'what now?' The staff member I was talking to asked me to hold on for few minutes and when she returned, somehow, someway, we had a room again, and at the same great rate ... which even she remarked was great. But this is a lesson to take to heart. If you make a reservation way in advance, tack a copy of the confirmation in a place where you can see it every day, and write on it in big letters, "CALL IF CREDIT CARD CHANGES!"

There is an even better ending to this story, though, in that when we put the key in and opened the door, we discovered that we didn't have a studio suite. Instead, we had a one-bedroom suite, just like last year, and for the ridiculously low studio suite rate. Shhhh. Don't tell anybody!

As noted last year, the Staybridge is at an almost perfect location, in the Central Business District but a short walk to Canal Street and the French Quarter in one direction and the Warehouse Arts District in the other. Because it is at the corner of two main streets, cabs are readily available. And, of course, Mother's Restaurant is right across the street, which makes the kitchen that much better because a meal from Mother's is almost guaranteed to be two meals. 

After settling in, we headed off to Armstrong Park, on the border of the French Quarter and Tremé. We walked over to Canal Street, then walked up St. Peter Street. We crossed Rampart Street, which serves as the dividing line between the French Quarter and Tremé, and there we were, back at the weekly Jazz in the Park concert and street fair sponsored by People United for Armstrong Park

As we walked toward the main stage, we noticed that Jazz in the Park now includes a youth stage, where young people from the Tremé were performing. Many musicians and virtually all of the organizations that support them in New Orleans have youth programs, recognizing the importance of passing the music down from generation to generation. You see that with all types of music in the city, from brass bands, to Mardi Gras Indians, to the more traditional jazz bands and even the funk rockers and Cajun-zydeco bands. And don't forget the wonderful high school gospel choirs that perform every day at Jazz Fest. 

Our first order of business was some food. The food vendors at Jazz in the Park aren't as organized as those at Jazz Fest. They are more like neighborhood cooks who set up grills or bring in aluminum pans full of food. But that means the food is more like home cooking and that isn't a bad thing at all. After a good deal of exploring, Laurie arrived at a fish wrap and I had pulled pork BBQ on top of grits with fresh corn.

We were a bit late for the music, but did see the last half hour or so of the opening set by Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers. By this point Kermit was on and off the stage, having turned the vocals over to his daughter, Neshia. But we've seen Kermit several times before and understand how he rolls. As a result, we didn't feel deprived. Instead, we just used this as an opportunity to settle back into the laid-back vibe, and we were very happy to do so. And the BBQ Swingers (Kevin Morris on bass, Derrick Freeman on drums, and Yoshitaka "Z2" Tsuji on the piano) are always really good regardless of who is doing the vocals.

However, we did feel deprived when we learned that the show's headliner, Big Freedia, had to postpone until later in May due to a medical emergencyBig Freedia (pronounced like Frida) is the leading purveyor of the New Orleans genre of hip-hop called bounce music and is credited with is recent popularity and that of its offshoot, which you probably know as twerking. 

I'm not going to try to encapsulate what Big Freedia is all about; I will, however, refer you to this great article from Offbeat Magazine. Do azz I say and read it. Then see Freedia in all his glory, doing Explode. Definitely someone to see in person. 

However, in Freedia's place, we were pleasantly surprised to see the "Satchmo of the Ghetto," trumpeter James Andrews and his band, the Crescent City All Stars. James is a member of the New Orleans Andrews family, the older brother of Troy (a.k.a. Trobone Shorty) and cousin of Glen David Andrews in the current generation and grandson of the late Jessie Hill, who wrote Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo. Here's a great article from Offbeat about James, Troy, and Glen David and their family relationships.

If anyone can pull off aligning himself with Louis Armstrong it's Andrews. He's been a member of the Tremé Brass Band and the New Birth Brass Band and played with Dizzy GillespieQuincy Jones, and Dr. John. As a protégé of Allen Toussaint, he learned to respect the traditional, but in contemporary ways. You can hear, feel, smell, and taste New Orleans in his music, but he puts a bit of a twist on it. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show, filled with a combination of New Orleans staples and originals, and we stayed all the way to the end, as the sun set and the park took on its nighttime glow. A perfect evening.

Between Kermit and James Andrews, the Organ Griders Dance Troupe did their thing in the plaza directly in front of the spot where we were hanging out before heading up to the stage for the headliners. As you can see, a dance troupe in New Orleans isn't just your run-of-the mill dance troupe. You can see them, and Kermit, and James Andrews in this recap video from People United for Armstrong Park. 

In the video, in the shot of the statue of Louis Armstrong at the very beginning, you'll see us to the left of the statue, hanging out in the park, waiting for the next music to start, I guess. Laurie's in black, if that helps.

Here are a couple videos of James Andrews, from a performance at the Louisiana Music Factory record store (do look at their YouTube page, it has tons of great music to listen to): Keep That Music Playin', The Big Time Stuff, and his grandfather's song Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo. And from Jazz Fest in 2013, here's the theme from the Tremé TV series with, among others, Roger Lewis from the Dirty Dozen Brazz Band on baritone sax, and the great June Yamagishi on guitar. Finally, here's that same band doing St. James Infirmary, Liza Jane, Stormy Monday and The Saints, and a rollicking Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo. Folks, we're just getting started!

After leaving the park, we headed into the French Quarter and roamed around a bit, basically looking for a bathroom and maybe a place to grab some food, but it was getting late and places were beginning to close. 

We ended up at Pat O'Brien's, a famous bar and restaurant on St. Peter Street, next to Preservation Hall. O'Brien's is home of the famous concoction known as the Hurricane, which we did not try. Also a flaming fountain. I think we had a couple of Abita Amber lagers and then hightailed it out of there. Way too many touristas. But we did use the bathroom!

So we walked down to and around Jackson Square, then back to the Central Business District on North Peters Street and crossing Canal Street, where it tuns into Tchoupitoulas Street. We still hadn't found any food yet, so we decided to hit one of our go-to spots, and that would be Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant, a couple of blocks up Tchoupitoulas from the Staybridge. This place has a great atmosphere, very friendly, with no attitudes, and that's from the employees and the patrons. Plus they had Abita's Joackamo IPA, an interesting take on IPA (which they don't make anymore, unfortunately).

Laurie had a veggie sandwich: roasted portabella mushrooms, red and green peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and onions, topped with swiss cheese and pecan pesto on grilled sourdough bread with spring mix, served with black bean and corn salad. 

I had the Cali Burger, a turkey burger with grilled onions, sprouts, avocado, tomato, lettuce, onion and pickles on a whole wheat bun. No dessert, it was late.

A quick walk back to the Staybridge, and that was Day 1. Festing begins tomorrow, and we ... are ... ready!!!

© Jeff Mangold 2012