Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Week in The Big Easy, Part One

Time to share a secret. While juggling the writing of multiple songs was part of it, the other reason for this month's slide in schedule was also due to the fact that I've just spent the past week on vacation in New Orleans (while I realize the vast majority of people who read this blog are close friends and we had someone house-sitting for us, the security nut in me isn't a fan of letting it be known on a publicly-accessible site that I'm going out of town).

Spending time in one of the greatest musical cities in the world definitely warrants coverage on this blog. I could strictly stick to the music I experienced there, but I'd be doing a disservice to this place if I didn't share my thoughts on everything that makes it the wonder that it is, especially since it undeniably has an impact on the sounds coming out of New Orleans.

There's plenty to talk about, so let's get started:

Day 1:
We arrived at our bed and breakfast late in the evening, which was a few blocks North of the French Quarter in the neighbourhood called Treme. Treme is one of the cities oldest neighbourhoods and has gained some recent notoriety with an HBO series of the same name. The proprietor, Cindy, was kind enough to let us know where the few places were where we could still get a nice meal this time of night, several of which were on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg/Marigny neighbourhood.

While Bourbon Street gets much of the attention for being the hotspot of the French Quarter and the location of the famed Preservation Hall, the real musical epicenter of New Orleans is the two-block stretch of Frenchmen Street that contains the best music establishments in the city.  Blue Nile, Three Muses, d.b.a., Snug Harbor, The Spotted Cat... these are just a few of the clubs that host the city's finest musicians.

After a nice dinner at The Praline Connection, where my wife and I enjoyed Jambalaya, Crawfish Etoufee, and our first taste of Sweet Potato Pie, we found ourselves in Cafe Negril listening to an excellent reggae band called Higher Heights.  From what I understand their lineup has shuffled quite a bit since Katrina, but the current roster performed a fantastic set. We then decided to pack it in after a long day of travel.

Day 2:
After a delicious breakfast at the B&B, we met up with a couple friends of ours who we discovered a few weeks before would be in New Orleans for a couple days at the same time as we were before departing on a cruise. We spent the morning and early afternoon on the St. Charles streetcar and touring the Garden District, taking in the architecture of the neighbourhood's homes, businesses and institutions. During this walk we discovered Jim Russel's Records, a store packed wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, with vinyl (as well as some CDs, cassettes, and video games). We would return later in the week, but I regret not picking up a Jimi Hendrix record which happened to be one of the first albums I ever purchased on cassette and was already gone by that time. Lesson learned.

Back in the French Quarter, we visited a local brewpub, Crescent City Brewhouse, to sample some oysters, both cold and hot. I had never tried oysters before (unless I'm mistaken, I'm not sure any of us at the table had) and I very much enjoyed them. The brewpub's beer was also quite good. While mainstream American beers may deserve the disdain we Canadians give them, brewpubs and microbreweries south of the border know what they're doing. The 5-beer sampler I had was excellent, the weissbierr topping the set.

In the evening we got our first taste of Bourbon Street. While Frenchmen Street is the place for music, Bourbon Street is the place for partying. That's not to say there's no good music to be had; plenty of the bars emanated blues and rock covers from talented cover bands, and Preservation Hall is just around the corner on St. Peter. But Bourbon Street is clearly rooted in the booze, beads, and breasts experience of Mardi Gras. We treated ourselves to some large, alcohol-heavy iced drinks, then started looking for a place to eat.

It's really hard to do wrong when it comes to cuisine in The Big Easy, and Storyville Restaurant is proof of that. Though at a glance it may look like a simple drinking hole (with two mini bowling lanes) that would offer mediocre pub fare, we had some of the finest crawfish and soft-shell crab po' boy sandwiches of the entire trip there.

After a long day of walking the city, we decided a walk out to Frenchmen Street wasn't in the cards, but it's not as if the day was devoid of music. Every cafe, restaurant, and bar in the city plays the finest jazz and blues. Walking down the street I heard Robben Ford's rendition of "Chevrolet" from the stereo of a passing car. No matter where you are in New Orleans, you can't escape the music.

Alright, enough for now, time to get to some songwriting, recording, and general guitar antics. More on the rest of the trip later.

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