Thursday, April 19, 2012
So Much Music So Little Time
Walking down Canal Street to the Mississippi riverfront, the thought crossed my mind on the first day of the French Quarter Festival: How much music is too much? To diehard festivists, this might seem like aimless speculation. But for an aging fan, issues of stamina, decibel levels, sun exposure and sore leg muscles are lurking in the back of the mind.
Put another way, when faced with four days of shows…. 276 musical performances on 22 stages on a round trip circuit stretching almost two miles…how do you decide where to go? Unlike the larger Jazz and Heritage Festival, which has grown to Olympic proportions featuring national draws, FQF features local talent, most of whom were new to me. A lot of the venue/band selections would be rolling the dice. Did I mention that everything is free? Suffice it to say there are worse problems for music lovers than too many choices.
Day One. When in New Orleans start with Zydeco, which is what I did. After sampling the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band (for a Les Bontemps Roulez waltz), I checked in next door with Grayson Capps and Lost Cause Minstrels (“Take Some Poison Before You Die” and “Love Song of Bobby Long”). With a tie-dyed shirt, straw sombrero and a full mane of blond hair, he delivered pulsating blues-rock.
By the time I reached the Jackson Square stage, Luther Kent, a New Orleans fixture who once toured with Blood, Sweat and Tears was cranking up his blues: “If I could find just one good woman, I could get rid of the other 99,” and asking, “Can I get a beer up here?”(It was delivered in a few seconds from the front row.)
Then I retraced my steps back to the waterfront. Along the way I paused for a street (urchin) band…guitar, washboard and gutbucket base…calling themselves the Royal Street Gum Scrapers. At the Zydeco stage Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys (not very but they could play some) had everyone up and dancing. As a fiddle player (red gloves and black and white stripe pants), she may not make you forget Charlie Daniels but will sure make him seem old. She first preformed at FQF at age 8.
For a grand finale, I let the Rebirth Brass Band play me out, or perhaps blow me away. They typify the modern style of these traditional bands, doubling up on the horns and with a microphone in the tuba shell they will vibrate your breastbone. Their merger of hip-hop and gospel call and response drew a huge crowd. I listened to them for almost five blocks walking back to the Quarter on Iberville.
Drawing a smaller crowd but just as much fun was the pickup group, I dubbed the Foot Locker Brass Band because they played outside the shoe store at night on Bourbon Street. They got my two bucks.
Day Two. Armed with camp chairs and sunscreens we again began at the Zydeco stage with Jomo and Bayou Deville and got rocking with The Soul Project covering James Brown, “I Can’t Stand Still,” At Jackson Square it was another New Orleans institution, Banu Gibson, doing songs from Bessie Smith to George Gershwin. Her trombone player in The New Orleans Hot Jazz, who is 81, offered these words of advice he picked up while playing with Lawrence Welk: “Act like your having fun but don’t have any.”
It was traditional jazz at the Farmers’ Market Stage with The New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings doing Driving Miss Daisy (She’s Driving Me Crazy) and getting everyone to sing along with My Blue Heaven.
Back along the river at the Louis Louis Absolut Stage we made our first real find. Not sure if it was the large crowd of locals or the sound of his lap slide guitar but we were hooked on a blues player named Colin Lake.
Whether it was doing traditional songs like “I’ll Fly Away” or his own compositions, “Where Did We Go Wrong,” and “In On Time,” the crowd loved it and so did we. His new CD is “The Ones I Love."
With some regrets we cut our stop with the Pine Leaf Boys short because in New Orleans, you do not want to miss dinner.