Day 2 / Thursday, April 26

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As we got going this morning, there was a bit of rain in the area, but it was over with very quickly. By the time we went out around 10, the skies had cleared and the temperature was a very pleasant 65 degrees. The high temperature today was 74, with a  refreshing breeze out of the northwest that made the humidity tolerable. Basically it was a perfect day, weatherwise.

One thing we noticed today and throughout our stay this year was that any time we were down at the river, the temperature was noticeably cooler. I'm not expert on such things, but I can only assume it was because there was a lot of melted snow in the water coming down from parts much further north.

After getting some food and coffee from the Staybridge breakfast buffet, we headed out to run a bunch of errands. By the way, after so many years and so many different places, we can honestly say that nobody, even a hotel like the Staybridge brewing it in huge amounts, makes a bad cup of coffee in New Orleans. Can't explain it, but it is true. New Orleans has a coffee culture.

First, we went up Canal Street to the CVS at Carondelet Street to mostly get sunblock, but also some larger items that are more easily purchased down here and pitched before leaving as opposed to trying to pack. As I've said, we have this trip figured out.

The CVS is in a four-story reinforced concrete structure built in 1949 for the Gus Mayer Company, a department store specializing in women's and children's ready-to-wear. Founded in New Orleans, Mayer operated there until 1987. They had a Canal Street presence for some 90 years; from at least 1900, an earlier Gus Mayer Co. store had been across the street. Now located only in Birmingham and Nashville, at one time there were more than 20 Gus Mayer stores across the South.

The New Orleans firm of Favrot and Reed designed the Moderne-style structure at 800 Canal, which was built during the latter half of 1948. They were an active firm along Canal Street and were responsible for the Joy Theater among several other buildings. 

The building was severely damaged by fire in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During the reconstruction, the concrete columns were reinforced, floors were removed and repoured, and the windows and storefront systems were replaced. The limestone façade was cleaned and patched and a new roof was installed. Once the structural rehabilitation was complete, the CVS was built out on the first floor. The "GM" shield at the top of the building above the windows and the Gus Mayer name toward the back along Carondelet Street were preserved. 

Next was a stop at the Sheraton on Canal Street to get our shuttle bus tickets to take us to and from Jazz Fest every day. True, we could take a cab, Uber, Lyft, or streetcar and it might be less expensive, but you get dropped off in the Fair Grounds as opposed to somewhere in the neighborhood, so there is nothing quicker. Some people say the neighborhood is fun, though. One of these years we may try it.  

We dropped our CVS stuff and bus tickets off at the Staybridge and right away headed out to the French Quarter and the studios of the greatest radio station in the nation, that being WWOZ, where we picked up our Brass Passes. The Brass Pass is a great deal. It admits us to all seven days of Jazz Fest plus gives us access to the WWOZ hospitality tent with its water, iced coffee, fresh fruit, clean facilities, and live radio broadcasts with special guests. Plus it gives a fairly sizeable donation to the station, which is almost completely listener supported.

If you aren't listening to this great radio station at WWOZ.org, and you like jazz, roots, blues, funk, R&B, bluegrass, Cajun, zydeco, and probably others that I've missed, you should be! 

WWOZ is located in the French Market district, and while we were there, we needed to take care of two things. One was lunch. The other was a sort of history repeating itself. Last year, I foolishly forgot my hat, so we had to spend some time finding a replacement. This year, when Laurie went to put hers on, she discovered that the thing that you press and pull up to keep the hat from blowing off was broken. So guess what? Fortunately the French Market has a bunch of people selling hats, and we finally found a lovely blue replacement for her from a very nice vendor.

Lunch was a no-brainer. Right across from the open-air portion of the French Market is the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, one of our favorite places to eat. It's a really neat place, the service is super friendly, the food is always good, and it's not real expensive. 

Laurie had a Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan nut brown ale while I had the old standby, NOLA Brewing's Hopitoulas IPA

My pizza had crawfish tails and tasso with a really spicy sauce. 

Laurie's pizza had fried oysters, artichokes, and eggplant, which she enhanced with Crystal hot sauce. It might be good, but it is one of the strangest looking pizzas I have ever seen!

After we dropped off the leftovers at the Staybridge, we had one more errand to run, and that was to get some food and drinks for the suite. Much the best thing about the Staybridge is the fact that it has a kitchen with a full-size refrigerator. Over the winter we discovered that Rouses had opened a new market a few blocks from the hotel, on Baronne Street at Girod, so that's where we headed. 

On our way to the store, we passed through Lafayette Square, which has some impressive rows of live oak trees. That's what you see at the top of this page. 

I can't say what other Rouses are like, except for the tiny market on Royal Street in the French Quarter, the one Doreen Ketchens plays in front of, but this one was the New Orleans equivalent of our local Wegmans. The place even has a fresh herb garden on the roof! It was a great discovery, if for no other reason than the prices were a lot better than the "Everything Shoppe" on Canal Street that we have used in previous years. Cleaner and friendlier, too.

Rouses was founded in 1960 by Anthony J. Rouse Sr. It is now one of the largest independent grocers in the United States. Current CEO Donny Rouse is the third generation to run the company, which has more than 6,300 employees and 56 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. 

In 1923, J.P. Rouse opened the City Produce Company in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The company sorted, packed, and shipped fresh Louisiana produce for sale in supermarkets as far away as Alaska. J.P.'s son, Anthony Rouse Sr., worked in the company's packing shed. He and his cousin Ciro DiMarco inherited City Produce Company when J.P. passed away in 1954. 

In 1960, Anthony and Ciro opened a 7,000-square-foot grocery store in Houma. Anthony’s sons helped out at the store after school and on weekends. The family opened a second store in Thibodaux in 1975. The company continued to expand throughout the 1980's and 1990's, and by 1999 Rouses was the largest independent grocer in Louisiana. 

In 2007, in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Rouses acquired A&P's Southern Division, giving the company its first stores in Mississippi and New Orleans itself. The company doubled in size overnight. Founder Anthony J. Rouse Sr. passed away in March 2009 at age 79. He was a pioneer of the modern supermarket business who helped guide the business for nearly 50 years. 

The store we were in is the first major grocery store to open in downtown New Orleans in 50 years. It's in the former Ponchartrain Motors (later Sewell Cadillac) building. Constructed in 1954, it is a fine example of low-rise International Style architecture in the Warehouse District. With the building vacant for 5 years, Williams Architects teamed with Rouses to transform the building into a vital downtown grocery store. Retaining defining elements of the former automobile showroom and the upper-floor parking structure, the renovation/adaptive-reuse merged three buildings into one, with a large back-of-house space for food preparation. The restored showroom mirrors and wood paneling are complemented by sleek, urban interior design. Williams Architects worked with preservation entities to preserve the building's historic character.

      

After we stashed all of our goodies away in the suite, we headed out again for some brass band doings at Jackson Square and had some late afternoon iced coffees at the Envie Espresso Bar and Cafe, another favorite. We go to both locations, each on Decatur Street, a lot, but this time we were at the location closer to Canal Street.

Tonight we went up Poydras Street to the Little Gem Saloon for dinner and music by the awesome, awesome guitarist John Mooney and the equally awesome Alfred "Uganda" Roberts on congas. They were accompanied for a while by Marc Stone, an unhearalded blues guitarist (and WWOZ radio host). They were already playing when we arrived, but  the trio played a good long time and then Mooney and Roberts came back after an intermission to play another long set. 

We've seen John Mooney any number of times at Jazz Fest and one other time at the Litle Gem with Marc Stone. He's one of the best guitarists around, and he writes great songs as well. You can read more about him in the reports from Day 2 in 2013 and Day 10 in 2017, and see and hear more in the reports from Day 4 in 2015 and Day 2 and Day 9 in 2016. 

I've never really given Roberts his due in any of these entries. Here he is talking about his background and his music, and here is a video interview so you can see him in action. (Better to hear him tell about it than read me rehasing it!) For some music, here he is and here also with pianist Craig Brenner doing some old-time boogie music at theJazz Museum's performance space at the Old U.S. Mint. He is one talented percussionist, one who spent a good amount of time playing with Professor Longhair, and his sound blends perfectly with Mooney's blues. There really are no words to describe what he does with the congas. Here are one and two of Roberts and Mooney together.

Stone

Marc Stone is best described in his own words. "I take solo gigs, duo gigs, and I take gigs leading large, all-star ensembles like the Louisiana Blues Throwdown. (Here's an example of that.) For all those things, you start by calling the people you think would be right for that gig. After 20 years of playing in New Orleans, I've got a pretty big book, so there's a lot of people I can call for different applications, and that opens up some really cool possibilities. And because I was a sideman for years, I'm used to being in a situation where I have to respond to what's going on as opposed to only lead, so it's always a joy to play with different players. It's been said that in New Orleans we're all one band.

"Everybody responds to music in a different way. It's interesting to play for European audiences that take a concert-listening approach, where they are sitting there in the same way they'd sit for a classical performance. They're paying attention to every minute detail, which creates some cool challenges. But when you can get them to break out of their shell, people just get down home down, really responding in a visceral way. And sometimes you can hear a pin drop.

"I've had people all over the world tell me that they listen to WWOZ, listen to my show (Soul Serenade, from 2-4 p.m. on Tuesdays ... you can stream the last two shows from this link). It's funny to be out in public and somebody will turn to me and say, 'Hey, I recognize your voice.' I'm just glad that WWOZ allows all of us on the station share the music through an unfiltered channel. Music that we love, music that we believe needs to be heard. And that's what we’re here for.

"Anything I can do to tip the hat to the musicians and the music I love is just a thrill for me."

Stone is too modest. He's a really good guitarist, and the musicians he chooses to share the stage with are always among the best. Here's my video from tonight's performace at the Little Gem, and here are onetwo, and three more by Stone and his band so you can see for yourself how good he is.

Our dinner at the Little Gem was, for me, shrimp and grits with Chisesi's green onion sausage with a leek and cheddar biscuit, and for Laurie blackened catfish with capers and pecans and stewed okra and tomatoes on the side. More Hopitoulas for me, Abita Amber for Laurie. 

After the show we went upstairs to the Little Gem's other performance space, the Ramp Room, where we caught the end of the set by the Asylum Chorus, who were warming up for Darcy Malone and the Tangle. We really like this a lot, too. Here's a sample of that band.

What a perfect New Orleans day! All that, plus Jazz Festing begins tomorrow, and we ... are ... ready!!!

 

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© Jeff Mangold 2012