Two weekends ago, Jean and I trekked down to New Orleans to attend the first week of its fabulous annual Jazz Fest.
New Orleans is a very familiar stomping ground for me. I grew up in Baton Rouge (though as by friends are quick to point out, I was not born there.) and I went to LSU and graduated in 1960. Soon thereafter I was working for a New Orleans Congressman, then another Congressman from just across Lake Ponchartain. I cut my cultural and culinary teeth on many trips with my parents and siblings to see the opera, symphony, and theater – and dine at some of the world’s great restaurants. (Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s, to name a few.) I cut my social teeth on uncounted trips to the French Quarter with numerous high school and college buddies, where I developed my fine tastes for wine, women, and music!
I still have many friends and relatives down there, and to add icing to the cake, my son married into a prominent New Orleans family a few years ago. So I have been to New Orleans more times than I can count – at least five times since Katrina.
This time, we flew down on Thursday along with two of our children and their spouses two of whom had never seen New Orleans. I knew it was going to be great, when our son-in-law first stepped into the French Quarter and exclaimed, “Do you mean you can drink on the street in New Orleans?” I laughed and told him that the weird people were those who did not drink on the street in New Orleans! He had a great time.
Throughout the weekend, we played, partied, ate marvelous meals, and absorbed a great variety of music that defines the unique New Orleans culture with a host of friends and relatives, many of whom had come down from the D.C. area.
Jean and I split up during the daytime. She spent her time perusing the dozens of world-class art galleries and having lunch in some of the classic New Orleans corner restaurants. And, of course, she bought another lovely painting of a New Orleans street scene, our fourth. Three of them are by her cousin, David Lloyd, whom we recommend highly!
And I, of course spent my days at the Jazz Fest, which was held at the New Orleans Fairgrounds – a very large horse racing venue near New Orleans City Park.
There were eleven large stages and tents on the Fairgrounds, all of which had non-stop music going from eleven in the morning until seven in the evening. Many of the stages had more than twenty to thirty thousand people watching. And everything that has made New Orleans one of the great music cities of the world – Dixieland, Zydeco, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Latino, Indian Dance, Marching Bands – to name a few – was there in abundance. It was physically impossible to hear it all, or even a majority of the performances.
The areas we visited in New Orleans, largely the French Quarter, the Garden District, and the area around the fairgrounds have bounced back from Katrina. If all you saw was what the tourists see, you would think it was back to normal. It isn’t, and some areas are still grossly depressing to pass through.
But this weekend brought out all the best in New Orleans. It was wonderful.