My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 4: Finale on Frenchman (Luck of the Indians)


Me? A Music Nerd?!

Me? A Music Nerd?!

I have always loved music, with my passion blooming into obsession in adolescence as my shyness and insecurity discovered a constant, non-judgmental companion.  In my early twenties I discovered jazz, and I was just beginning to explore New Orleans brass rhythms when I first visited the city in 1998.  Being the music nerd that I am, I rushed to Bourbon Street ready to embrace jazz history and modern innovation.  Instead I found seedy strip clubs, cheesy daiquiri bars, corny t-shirt shops, and sleazy dive bars full of bands playing the same stringy-haired southern rock you could find in any bar south of Philly.  (I swear these same damn bands were playing Duval Street on my first trip to Key West where I expected to find steel drums and the next young Buffett!  Doh!)

One of my reasons for writing this blog is that, while I’ve come to love New Orleans, it’s not an easy city to get to know.  Jazzfest was the perfect gateway because it encapsulates all that is great about the food, music, and culture in a confined, accessible area, but beyond this fleeting utopia it took effort, research, and years of visiting to begin to crack the code of a city that can be as intimidating as it is welcoming.  Thus, I aspire to provide a point of entry for uninitiated but curious readers who would otherwise step onto Bourbon, say “This is it?” and head home wondering what all the fuss is about.  So, if you are such a reader, take note: Frenchman Street is [Read more…]

My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 3: Drawn & French Quartered


Crossing Canal

Crossing Canal

As I reached Canal Street, newly baptized in hot chocolate and ready to cross into the Quarter, I found myself trapped.  The truck parade was still limping along (it had started around noon and it was now past 4pm!) down roads lined with metal barricades.  Emerging from St. Charles, the parade turned up Canal, rolling out of sight and creating a blockade that could take miles to circumnavigate. My feet were already throbbing and my cold certainly wasn’t improving. I’d spent over two hours and countless miles to get this far, so law and order would have to accommodate me at this point rather than vice versa.

Police presence, however, was strong this close to parade ground zero, for there is always a crush of tourists and over-enthusiastic locals on Canal Street radiating up and down the blocks adjacent to Bourbon.  I headed north until I saw that people were beginning to leap barriers and rush up to floats with outstretched arms.  Reaching a point where the breach was large enough to provide cover, I leaned over the iron railing and sat my hobo pack on a discarded, crushed box.  Rain was still misting down and the streets–notorious for potholes in this town–were covered with puddles of rain, run-off, and other substances you’d rather not identify, [Read more…]

My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 2: From Families to Freaks on St. Charles


The Pirate Hobo Sets Off On His Mardi Gras Mission

The Pirate Hobo Sets Off On His Mardi Gras Mission

It had rained during our lunch respite, but the crowds remained strong and steady if not overwhelming as I left Superior Seafood and began to wander down St. Charles Avenue.  The truck parade was chugging along–a good two hours strong–and would still be in its final stages a couple of hours later as I reached Canal Street, blocking my entrance into the French Quarter.  It was a little melancholy leaving my friends again and setting off alone into one of the greatest communal celebrations in our nation.  I’d always attended Mardi Gras with friends, the last time with some of my dearest on this planet, but this time I was on a mission as opposed to just hanging out.  Despite slinging a hobo pack over my pirate-clad shoulder, I was serious about documenting as much as I could before midnight struck. [Read more…]

My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 1: From Missing Zulu To Bead Dogs & Bead Babies on St. Charles


The Mardi Gras Pirate Hobo Strikes Again

The Mardi Gras Pirate Hobo Strikes Again

Although Mardi Gras season tends to run late into the night, Mardi Gras day itself is much like Christmas–the excitement begins at the crack of dawn (or earlier), with the festivities already ebbing by late afternoon.  Yes, some people rage on until midnight, just as some cling to Christmas till the waning hours, but the last parade wraps up in the early afternoon, prompting the feasts and reunions in the neutral ground to gradually clear.  Soon the roads are largely deserted except for Bourbon, Frenchman, and (allegedly) those surrounding the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme.  I’m sure a few other spots continue to thrive, but generally celebration tends to move to house parties and bars. [Read more…]

Lundi Gras is the Day, but Danny Cattan is THE Man!


Let it go! Let it Go! Let it Go!

Let it go! Let it Go! Let it Go!

When the world is coming down on me, I let it go!   –Cowboy Mouth, “Jenny Says”

As Cowboy Mouth rocked my Lundi Gras troubles away, two friends from Rocckus, Megan and Amanda from New York (where their brother Chris had already  returned), appeared out of nowhere dressed in gowns for that night’s Orpheus ball.  When it began to drizzle Amanda pulled out a poncho but Megan had forgotten hers, so I offered my jacket as I opened an umbrella in quiet admiration:  It takes dedication to rock out in the rain in evening-wear.   In return, the sisters offered a red spoon to throw during “Everybody Loves Jill” but I proudly/embarrassedly pulled out one of my own, carried from Jacksonville in hopes that Cowboy Mouth would be playing somewhere.  How about right outside my hotel?!  Thank you guardian Mardi Gras angel!

Rocckus Reunites in the Rain with Red Spoons Ready

Rocckus Reunites in the Rain with Red Spoons Ready

Soon the show came to its typical explosive conclusion with “Jenny Says,” Cowboy Mouth’s one radio hit from the mid-nineties and my introduction to the band several years before I otherwise discovered New Orleans music.  It remains their signature song, played penultimately in concert (pre-Katrina it was the final song, but the storm changed everything) by a band that understands why people continue to attend live shows in the digital age.  During this cleverly crafted bit of pop-catharsis Fred LeBlanc has fans [Read more…]

Up-Lifted At Lundi Gras (Are You WITH ME?!?!)

Monday morning I awoke for the last time in my big, comfy bed in the Hilton with a cold still clawing at my throat thanks to Saturday night’s debauchery; but I at last felt rested and filled with possibility.  Today, after all, was Lundi Gras.


Kings of Rex & Zulu Meet On a Drizzly Mardi Gras (Thus apologies for fuzzy photography!)

Kings of Rex & Zulu Meet On a Drizzly Lundi Gras

For most of its history, the day before Mardi Gras was an off-day filled with scarce activity.  In 1987, however, the King of Rex, Mardi Gras’ oldest Krewe that parades Mardi Gras morning, resumed an old tradition of arriving via boat the day before Mardi Gras.  At the same time, a journalist had stumbled on an obscure term used in a remote neighborhoods and attached it to the festivities.  Thus Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) was born and carnival season took its next quantum leap forward.  The revived arrival now took place at the gigantic Riverwalk Marketplace (what would have seemed science fiction absurdity in the early twentieth century when Rex last arrived via water) and grew into a day of concerts and festivities.  Soon King of Zulu began to meet with the King of Rex upon his arrival, though I’ve yet to stumble upon just how far back this tradition dates.  Zulu, an African-American organization born out of defiance much like the Indians, is the second-oldest marching Krewe, thus making this meeting a mildly reassuring gesture (though only mildly ’cause it feels like just that–a gesture) of racial unity during an event largely dominated by white riders wearing hoods and robed costumes (no one said Mardi Gras can’t be oddly creepy too.)  Of all these robed and hooded parade costumes, Rex’s are the most regal, but their lack of clownishness actually gives them more implied menace, and it doesn’t help that Rex’s lieutenants ride on horseback. [Read more…]

Down & Out On Bourbon Street….


Pam Tusa w/her husband--A direct descendant of Serpico & Jesus Christ!

Pam Tusa w/her husband–A direct descendant of Serpico & Jesus Christ!

At the end of our last exciting episode it was early Sunday evening and I was wandering down Poydras in solitude on my way to meet up with Chris and Pam Tusa,  friends from Baton Rouge.  Chris, a writer with an actual published book, Dirty Little Angels (like that means anything!), grew up in New Orleans.  Although locals generally avoid Bourbon Street like day-old crawfish (especially during Mardi Gras) Chris was drawing us into the fray with good reason.

I keep preaching like a vexed televangelist that Bourbon Street, while worth a glimpse into the total breakdown of social decorum and personal restraint, is not New Orleans or Mardi Gras.  A carnival of the bizarre and unrestrained, it’s definitely entertaining for a short while, but unless you’re the type who feels empowered by yelling at strange women to show their boobs for cheap plastic trinkets, you just don’t want to stay there.  Remnants still stand of what Bourbon once was–stoically defying modern comercial opportunism–such as the elegant and locally revered Creole institution Galatoire’s (GAL-a-twah-z) or Preservation Hall, the sparse yet historic jazz club just a few steps off Bourbon; but, for the most part, t-shirt and daiquiri shops and seedy strip clubs long-ago claimed Bourbon for tourists looking for an excuse.  Not to say New Orleans was ever angelic.  The famous Storyville district where jazz was born was known for red light establishments and rough-housing patrons; but it also gave birth to Jazz!, [Read more…]

Sunday, Bloody Mary Sunday….


'Thoth Tut' KINGS was the theme of this year's parade.

‘Thoth Tut’
KINGS was the theme of this year’s parade.

Since arriving in New Orleans I have had trouble sleeping.  Excitement?  Nerves?  Over-stimulation?  Probably all the above.  But after dancing deep into the wee hours of Sunday morning at Blue Nile for an encore performance of Big Sam’s Funky Nation, I was toast.  It was well after 11am before I rolled out of bed Sunday and I immediately regretted the late night.  My throat was sore, my head throbbing, and I ached all over like I’d been run over by the record 8-float trailer Endymion had debuted during the parade last night that we couldn’t quite see. [Read more…]

Rocckus Wrap-Up & Final Verdict (I Just Knew)….

Although Krewe of Rocckus ended with the House of Blues show Saturday night, I decided to lump the two concert reviews together and save Saturday afternoon’s cruise on the Creole Queen for the finale.  After all, every traditional drama ends with either a death or marriage, so read on to see how our tale concludes.

First, however, let me take a moment to wrap-up and reflect.


Waiting To Cruise The Mississippi

Waiting To Cruise The Mississippi

Considering how packed with activity and camaraderie KoR is, it’s a little weird how suddenly it ends, especially considering it’s three more days until Fat Tuesday excess defers to Ash Wednesday chastity.  Saturday night after the show, Rocckus is simply over.  Although several group members headed to the Blue Nile to keep the party going, most went to bed and flew out the next morning.  A few attendees did stay for the holiday, some of whom I kept running into well into Mardi Gras night; but for the most part the krewe just fizzled out.  The welcome brunch was wonderful, and a departure brunch on Sunday morning would have provided nice closure much like horseback policemen clearing Bourbon Street at midnight Mardi Gras officially ends carnival.

That being said, I give KoR a solid [Read more…]

And The Roccktail Winner Is: The Rocck-ito!


Your Roccktail, Sir

Your Roccktail, Sir

In their emails leading up to the event, Krewe of Rocckus’s awesome organizers, Ashley, Ashley, Brian, and Maggie (advanced apologies if I screwed up names or left anyone out, but it was an open bar on the Creole Queen, after all!) gave some hints about the Roccktail contest that would be held at the welcome brunch, but in the end, it was really no contest.  Word is Michael Jerome pouted a bit last year after his team came in second for everything and he was eager to return with a winner.  Either luck or the Patron Saint of Mardi Gras Mojo was on his side, for one of the two sent him fifteen year bartender and food services professional Sally Baker to save the day. [Read more…]