After Katrina, it was doubtful whether New Orleans could ever come back to its former glory. On the way from the airport, the cab driver pointed out watermarks from 2006 in residential areas that were higher than the roof of the cab. Now, six years later, convention and tourist business is thriving and the City with a Soul is back full steam.
I say City with a Soul to contrast NOLA with Las Vegas, a city with a counterfeit soul. A city built by and for gangsters; a city full of gangster chic and no place to sit in any hotel lobby unless there’s a slot machine in front of it. A city whose soul purpose is separating suckers from their cash.
New Orleans is a unique American social experience. The area around Bourbon Street teems until the wee hours with every strata of society. A place where most of the social laws of God and Man are suspended for the purpose of conviviality.
Of course, the CODES brought down the house at the NOLA House Of blues. This was our third gig there. Total head count was 510 and they had trouble keeping up with the demand for ethanol. The audience was still going strong when we were pulled off the stage at midnight after a three hour set.
Following evening on the town, we soaked up the culture. Mimes in the middle of the street stop their act to compliment my T-Shirt. (The Dude Abides!), Live girls swing out over the sidewalk on trapezes from Bordeaus. Proper ladies in heels give high fives to biker guys. Perfect strangers greet each other with hugs like long lost relatives to a cacophony of music emitting from virtually every doorway. In the words of Paul Simon; “An atmosphere of freaky holiday”.
One street over (Royal Ave) is full of art and original mementos, including much of what you might see on “Pawn Stars”. An autograph shop with signatures from just about everyone who’s anyone (some very expensive) from Marilyn Monroe to every President of the United States. A poster from the Godfather signed by the major cast that includes a real circa 1032) Thompson Submachine gun in the frame.
Bourbon Street is a bit like Paris. Virtually any eatery a passerby might bumble into has great good. Every other bar on either side of the street has live music of virtually any variety. Straight up jazz, Dixieland, hard rock, blues all preformed masterfully.
We bumbled from bar to bar sampling the rich texture of music (enhanced by continuous cups of “Hurricanes”). Ultimately, we ended up in a bar with an incredible set of blues musicians so far outta sight musically we were stunned. The place was packed like sardines and running about 80 decibels. I journeyed up to the bar to get (another) set of Hurricanes, and the barmaid gave me a pick on the cheek. We were all friends by implication of the situation. We were there.
The band was incredible. I managed to get just a hint of it with my iPhone before getting reminded of the no photos/video policies that all have in place. The lead singer/guitarist mentioned between songs something about football and Tebow and that he and his wife were graduates of LSU and, of course, were Saints fans.
That means that this guy playing for us in the middle of the night has a day job. But you could see in his face and his music that his undying passion was being exactly where he was, and the loves of his life were Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top. He was immersed and saturated and through him we were all one. There were people dancing in the aisles and the humanity was at least for the time at peace with the innocence of the universe.
It was an experience I do not believe anyone on this list should ever miss.
I give Bourbon Street at midnight 4 of 5 gas lamps. Must do.