The Testosterone Zone recently returned from its annual pilgrimage to The Big Easy. We were delighted to attend the 40th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Big kudos go out to Shell, Inc. for continuing its corporate sponsorship of this amazing event. Acura, Peoples Health, WWOZ, and the Sheraton New Orleans are also commended for their continuing support of JazzFest. In that same vein, I’d like to know why Cox Cable stepped out and why the Ochsner Hospital or Foundation has not yet stepped up to the plate.
Civic observations: The face of New Orleans improves a little bit every year since Hurricane Katrina. Overall, Uptown, the Garden District, the Riverbend, Mid-City, Metairie, East Jefferson, Fauborg St. John, and Fauborg Marigny are looking better. Houses have been repainted, gardens replanted; new businesses opened and are thriving somewhat. The Warehouse District, the French Quarter, and the CBD appear to be doing as well as ever. Treme is cleaner than it used to be, what with the impound lot gone, but it’s still woefully depressed and rundown. Tulane Hospital is open downtown, but Charity is still shuttered. Ochsner Hospital bought out Baptist a while ago and recently re-opened the Baptist emergency room. Ochsner’s own campus out in Jefferson is ever-gleaming and growing. However, Ochsner needs to funnel some of its millions into a full renovation of its on-site hotel, Brent House, which is tattered and dated and looking quite ratty in areas.
It was another awesome year of entertainment, food, and crafts at this year’s JazzFest. We planned to attend the second weekend of the Fest and arrived on Wednesday, April 29, 2009. [For those who don’t know, JazzFest occurs every year over a two-week period spanning the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May.] The air was sunny and thick with jasmine when we landed. We dropped our bags at the Brent House and then headed out to Restaurant Cypress for dinner. Cypress is an old-timey Creole place out in Metairie. It received a Zagat’s 27 for food, but we found it overrated. The food was good but not great — soups were good, salads disappointed, softshell crab way overdone. (Note to self, avoid duck salad with fig vinaigrette. It made me sick.) Afterwards, WineGuy insisted on sampling snowballs at Casey’s before stopping at the House du Dogue to pick up our ponchos and camp chairs. The House du Dogue really belongs to WG’s long-time friend, Lulu, and her husband. They store our JazzFest gear from year to year.
Thursday, April 30, 2009 was the first day of the second weekend of the Fest. We headed down to the French Quarter to properly inaugurate the weekend. We started with breakfast at Stanley, which featured a delectable Bananas Foster French Toast. Wild Thing consumed every last bit of this dish. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any room left for beignets and hot chocolate at Café du Monde — a post-breakfast snack. Moose put away four of those fried, sugary pillows even after eating a big breakfast!
We waddled over to the Fest and kicked off the weekend. Our first stop was Contemporary Crafts. In addition to all that wonderful music, JazzFest sponsors a huge craft show. There are Contemporary Crafts, Louisiana Heritage Crafts, and Congo Square Crafts (usually geared towards the country featured that year at the Fest). I bought a very modern pair of sterling silver and pearl earrings. Then we plopped down at the Heritage Stage to listen to the Paulin Brothers Band. Afterwards, we wandered over to Fais Do Do and listened to a rockin’ set by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, whose Southern rock roots are reminiscent of Molly Hatchet. I loved it! We stayed at that stage through part of another set until it was time for Emmylou Harris to play. Let’s just say that WineGuy really enjoyed her set; the rest of us merely tolerated it. We hiked back to the car and headed into the Riverbend for dinner. We tried Le Boucherie, a brand-new restaurant brought to you by the guys who run the purple truck outside Tipitina’s every night. Boucherie had little in the way of decor but lots in the way of flavor and presentation. WG’s duck confit and salad were delectable as was my pan-seared snapper over broccoflower couscous. The garlic and parmesan french fries were finger-lickin’ good! Unfortunately, Boucherie’s portions were small, and we all left there hungry. However, that gave us a chance to try dessert and/or more food at Crepes a la Cart. Surprisingly, Crepes a la Cart is a franchise out of Colorado. They opened a tiny place on the edge of Tulane’s campus and are doing a huge business there. Wizard and I opted for more dinner in the guise of a crepe florentine and crepe a la montaigne, respectively. The rest of the bunch opted for dessert crepes containing all manner of chocolate, Nutella, angel food cake, and fruit. They all were fabulous and incredibly cheap. I don’t know how we slept after all that food, but we did.
Friday dawned, and a fever bloomed in Moose. We dosed him with ibuprofen and some allergy medicine and headed out. We skipped breakfast in favor of an early lunch consisting of po’boys from our favorite haunt, Crabby Jack’s, right down the street from the hotel. We picked up duck, shrimp, and oyster po’boys and had an impromptu picnic in an impromptu park right near the Fairgrounds. Bellies full, we waddled into the Friday Fest. For once, we did something smart and set up a “camp” at the Acura Stage; we planned to listen to three of the five big acts scheduled there that hot, sunny day. Wild Thing won the gold star for the day by helping care for Moose as he convalesced. WT rigged up an old sheet to our camp chairs and made a tent under which Moose could stay shaded. Bravo WT! We slurped snowballs the whole day and basked in the swampy tones of Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, Marcia Ball, and the very extraordindary Bonnie Raitt. Although Wizard wanted to hear Musiq Soulchild at another outdoor stage, we opted to hear the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band in the shady, misty Jazz Tent. We stayed for part of that set and heard the last few bars of Tony Bennett’s performance at the Gentilly Stage. That was enough. Friday night’s dinner was in the über-chic Warehouse District at La Boca, an Argentine steakhouse and sister restaurant to Adolfo Garcia’s Riomar (where we ate last year). The skirt steaks were particularly good as was the baked corn pudding. We had dessert elsewhere as WG insisted on performing a comparison between neighboring gelaterias La Divina Gelateria and Sucré. LDG won by a fat molecule.
Saturday found Moose feeling a little better, but Wild Thing was coming down with something — first a bad attitude and and then a bad headache. We dosed both of them with whatever medicine we had and returned to the Fest. Our favorite children’s performer, Johnette Downing, kicked off the day with Moose’s favorite, “Wiggle Worms”. Sadly, we realized — and Moose informed us — that we are all now too old for little kids’ music. Sniff … no more Johnette. From there we went to worship the Rama of Bone — Bonerama, a New Orleans brass funk band consisting of 5 trombones and a tuba. They funkin’ rock! Did I mention there are also cooking demonstrations at JazzFest? Over the years, we’ve seen Susan Spicer, John Besh, and Donald Link cooking up close and personal. This year, we saw some dumbass from the Louisiana Alligator Association slop together alligator sauce piquante. Hey, Quint Davis! Don’t invite him back. We salvaged the rest of the afternoon with a little Jewish soul music from the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. The highlight of the day was hearing Jon Bon Jovi’s entire set at the Acura Stage. (Last year we had to leave Stevie Wonder and Santana b/c the boys were rotten.) Who says you can’t go home? The muscular, still fabulous-haired JBJ from Jersey rocked the Fest to the rail with most of his biggest hits and a monster version of “Shout”. I loved it; WG put up with it, and Wizard didn’t complain. Excellent — I’m going to iTunes to download a Best of Bon Jovi album right now! We had another great dinner that night at One in the Riverbend. One’s heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad was so incredibly fresh and unbelievably good that I had two. Yes, it was that delicious. Dessert that night was fresh Louisiana strawberry ice at Angelo Brocato, whose Mid-City neighborhood looks livelier and safer every year.
The final day of JazzFest was Sunday, May 4, 2009. Despite cloudy skies and a forecast of rain, we began our day with fresh croissants and coffee from the most marvelous little bakery, O’Delice. Run by a Vietnamese woman, O’Delice features exquisite cakes and pastries by the basketful. We stop there every year, and you should, too, the next time you’re in New Orleans. Fueled with chocolate, butter, and caffeine we packed up for the last day of the Fest. Wizard watched the morning weather report and warned us to expect rain, so we packed the purple ponchos in the backpack and headed to the Fairgrounds. [Fairgrounds = Louisiana Fairgrounds racetrack, site of JazzFest, and actually owned by Churchill Downs of Kentucky Derby fame.] It was Sunday morning, so we went to “church” a/k/a the Gospel Tent for a few minutes. Then it was on to Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Band. Cleary played with Bonnie Raitt a couple days earlier and merited a second listen. We killed some time in the Jazz Tent, listening to Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the eponymous family. Wizard could finally see the source of that family’s talent. Afterwards, WG insisted on hearing Neil Young, so we did. Or rather, WG grooved through it, and the rest of us barely tolerated it. I said it on Facebook, and I’ll say it here: Neil Young sucks.
We intended to stay at the Acura Stage to listen to The Neville Brothers close out the weekend, but the skies were threatening. WG and WT found a small tent set up on the steps of the grandstand, and we staked out our claim with our camp chairs. WT tipped us off to the storm by saying he was cold. No sooner did we pull out our ponchos than the clouds burst. A torrential downpour drove a small horde under our tent, but we were well-positioned out of the rain. When the shower passed, hundreds of people fled the Fairgrounds. Too bad for them because we had excellent seats for The Radiators closing set at the Gentilly Stage. A little soggy and replete with a weekend full of music and food, we left the Fest and ended our trip in raw fish reverie at Sushi Brothers.
All in all, it was a great trip! The boys behaved beautifully the whole time and made us want to travel with them more. We told them so and look forward to our next adventure: Ithaca, New York in June 2009 for my 25th college reunion. Go Big Red!