Before I begin, a public service warning: these daily posts during spring break are often done on the run, usually in a McDonald’s. I generally don’t have the time to review them as might usually, and the chances that I’ll go back and catch things is limited. In advance, let me apologize for typos (especially this year since I am using a netbook) and missing words. It goes with the territory, but it I can, I ‘d rather snatch the time to post as often as time allows.
Now: yesterday was a roller coaster of a day. I started at a motel overlooking Bayou Bienvenue in Chalmette, Louisiana. I had a leisurely breakfast at the cafe of the casino attached to the motel. In this case, a couple of dozen video poker machines constitutes a casino. After a quick visit to the docks and shrimp boats behind the motel, I headed into the City.
It was kind of a gray day as I crossed the Ninth Ward and headed down Elysian Fields to the Marigny neighborhood. I strolled down sleepy Frenchmen Street (it would be an entirely different story 12 hours later). It was one of those aimless mornings that I look forward to, especially in front of hectic week with work and events planned. I walked a lot and found nice places to pause and people watch.
I strolled through the French Market. I passed the University of Kentucky basketball fans lined up a half block to get a seat at Cafe du Monde (I guess I’ve never had a cup of coffee that good). I visited Jackson Square and the Cathedral and headed north to Treme. I crossed Bourbon Street without glancing either way and ended up in the newly refurbished Armstrong Park.
For a music lover, it was like a trip home. Before Katrina it was reputed to be to dangerous to visit and after Katrina, it was closed for years. So I jumped at the
chance to walk across Congo Square where Africn slaves were permitted, every Sunday, to relive their dance and musical traditions. A statue to Mardi Gras Indian chief of chiefs Allison “Tootie” Montana, the Mahalia Jackson Center for the performing arts, statues of Louis Armstrong, pioneering cornetist Charles “Buddy” Bolden, and azaleas and magnolia trees to boot.
I returned to Jackson Square where I was to meet some friends later. There I stumbled on the other end of the New Orleans musical timeline. I got to see the Roots of Music band, the brainchild of Rebirth Brass Band’s snare drummer, Derek Tabb. After Katrina, when the future of New Orleans’ musical traditions were in question,
he conceived of a program to pull inner city middle schoolers off of the mean streets and into the band room. There they would have a few precious minutes away from the drug deals and drive by shootings, incentive to keep up with their studies (they receive tutoring before band lessons), and they would later populate a long list of competitive high school bands in New Orleans. It has been such a success that they are having to turn hundreds of kids away each year.
But this 150 were as good (or better) than many high school bands. They performed in front of an enthusiastic crowd to raise money for a trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade, to which they have been invited. Tabb directed them through several spirited numbers (including a very challenging Rebirth tune) before they passed the bucket. And with a few more days like this, and they should be on their way to Pasadena.
I met my former student and New Orleans trip group leader Kyle, and his roommates. They have paused in New Orleans before heading over to Texas to visit friends for spring break. I took them over to one of my mainstays, Mena’s Palace at Chartres and Iberville, for their Saturday special of fried chicken with red beans and rice. Eight bucks — add fifty cents for white meet. We walked back towards my car so I could head up to Slidell to meet up with arriving students.
The Peace Mission Center, in Slidell, LA, was about a forty minute drive from downtown, including a trip across Lake Pontchartrain. Two groups arrived in the afternoon, unpacked and showered off over 24 hours on the road. The third group did not arrive until after night fall, long after we had headed into the French Quarter. Groups fanned out across the Quarter, some to test new dinner fare, while other took in the Italian Marching Club parade to honor St. Joseph’s Day. Well nominally.
The lure of beads has long worn off for me, but it’s fun to see students at their first New Orleans parade . However, this year’s parade fielded a surprise: the 610 Stompers. They performed at the Macy’s Parade at Thanksgiving and the normally-gratingly, talkative parade hosts were speechless. Basically, they are a bunch of New Orleans schlubs who decided to learn some dance moves so that they could get into a Saints game to perform. They did this during the Saints’ Super Bowl season and the rest, as they say, is history. There motto is “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves.” And they did their routines, danced with the crowd and my students. It was all in good, weird fun.
I ended the evening listening to some music on Frenchmen Street. And the place was humming like I’ve never seen it. I stayed for a couple of sets and listened at several doorways, but the day and the crowds finally took their toll and I headed back across the lake.