Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Fine Time in New Orleans

I've been having a wonderful time in New Orleans. We started Monday with an hour or so of car touring, just to get our bearings and see what we wanted to see. Found a rare parking spot on Canal St between Sak's and Harrah's, pumped the meter full of quarters and hit the street. Took just the briefest pass up Riverwalk, then a short trolley ride to French Quarter, then the mandatory tourist stop at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and begniets. Then a brisk walk through French Quarter back to the car - it had all taken longer than we thought, we had already passed the 2-hour limit on the parking meter. Headed west on I-10, got stuck in heavy delays and took the next available exit, which turned out to be Metarie. Rode that street and it turned into a bridge, but not just any bridge - this was the Causeway, a bridge out over a lake so huge that we could see no land on the other side, like an ocean! Gave up on that after a while and took one of the turnarounds they put in every five miles or so. Came back to Metarie and got a room for the night; I hate sitting in a room when all the fun is outside, but tomorrow would be better.

Tuesday we lucked onto a parking space at Decatur and Iberville, and the parking meter was broken, so we got free parking most of the day! Walked through Harrah's casino (where a standard Starbucks coffee is $2.18 rather than $1.77) and noticed that for some reason the restroom signs were marked in English and Vietnamese. Back to Riverwalk for a browse through the shops this time, then out to the riverside and down to the ferry dock where you can get a ride across to Algiers (pedestrians free, cars $1). Had lunch at Drydock, then walked through a couple blocks of amazing old homes on Algiers point and back to the ferry. Walked back up Canal to Bourbon St and started into the colorful FQ. Just past the Hustler Club was a kind of alleyway beer garden called Bourbon Rocks, and I heard a band soundchecking inside and practicing Layla. Sounded like fun so we went in. I watched them for a few minutes then introduced myself to the guitarist, a good guy named Glen Farley. I told him I'd been advised to hit some jams while in town but hadn't found any yet, he said I could try a song here and use his guitar. He didn't ask what style I played, and all I knew about his band was what I heard of Layla, it was just that simple. The would start playing in ten more minutes, at 3:15. We walked up Bourbon a couple more blocks, and by the time we came back the band was playing some classic rock favorites. We watched them for about a song and a half before Glen called me up. The band was beyond competent, but I decided to keep it simple for a first song and I started "Keep Your Hands To Yourself". That went well, and I was invited to stay and play along for a second song, "One Way Out". Then a third and fourth. Glen came back onstage and played a few, then called me back again! I played a couple, he played a couple, back & forth the rest of the afternoon until they finished at 7:15 without a break. The band was very nice about introducing me often to the audience, and several people came up to Barbara (or me when I was offstage) asking for cards, asking to take my picture (I had my Santa glasses on) or just bringing compliments. Some of them were from Atlanta, wanting to know where else I play. I really felt well received! One very nice audience member was telling me where else to go play, but as a stranger in town I had a hard time keeping up with his directions in my head.

After the band finished, Barbara and I walked out onto Bourbon and went deeper into the party district, where the street is barracaded to allow pedestrians only. There were a half-dozen bands or more on each block, and it was still early Monday evening! We ran into the same guy who was giving me directions earlier, he and his wife were walking back home to the exact area he was recommending (called Frenchman Street, where the locals go for their drinking and music, kind of a Little Five Points vibe). Lucky us, this nice couple (Kent & Michelle Payne) took us under their wings and walked us there, giving lots of local info as we went.

We arrived much earlier than the band, so the four of us ate dinner and chatted a bit before going back and watching the next band, fronted by a guitarist named Wolf. I dropped a tip and asked if he took sit-ins, he said yeah after a few more songs. That stretched out past 11:00, most of the audience had left (oddly, they left in one lump, about 25 of them at once! Turns out they were Tulane students who apparently came in a bus) and I was about ready to give up when he called me up. I hit my funky version of "Gimme One Reason" and that went well, and I was asked to play another so I said let's change it up a lot and I did my slow, smoky "Ain't No Sunshine". Both songs got huge responses, and literally every person in the club including the band, band guests, the remaining dozen or so patrons and club owner came and shook my hand. Make a guy feel good!

By this time it was about midnight, our car was still on the street and we hadn't secured a hotel room yet, so we caught one of the many cabs that patrol Frenchman Street and rode the mile or so back to our car. It was still there, still whole, and no tickets. Relief! Once back in our comfy little cuccoon, we headed back up I-10 to a motel district about 10 miles out, scored a room and fell over. We'd had a great day, but we'd been touring mostly on foot for about 14 hours, and we went to sleep before our heads hit the pillows.

Wednesday we headed home, but we'll be back! Big thanks to Glen Farley, and Kent & Michelle Payne, for really multiplying our fun many times over. Props also to Wolf, and to CJ Solomon, another musician who enthusiastically invited us to a real jam night on Wednesday (remember the other shows weren't even jams) and I'm sorry I didn't stick around long enough. Next time!

I'm still experimenting with all the cool stuff you can do in Google maps, but here's an annotated map of what we're talking about. Click the markers. Zoom in and try the Street views, they're fun!

View G&B's New Orleans Trip in a larger map

Here's one of the street views, the front of Bourbon Rocks. Go fullscreen and take a stroll down Bourbon Street; too bad the photos were apparently taken on a Sunday morning.

View Larger Map