Best of the Fest

May 7, 2007

O Best Beloveds, I ran into an aquantance in NOLA, as one does, someone who apparently had mistakenly dropped off my email list, for she said she and her husband were wondering “Why doesn’t Mary send around food porn any more?” Why indeed? For news about tumor markers is all very well and good, but absurdly detailed discussions about food is much better. Still, you have other things to do with your time (come to think of it, so do I; that test isn’t getting studied for any faster) and so not only will I concentrate solely on the two most important issues of Jazz Fest (Who did you see and what did you eat?) I will hit only the highlights. But the even faster point is this; it was a brilliant trip, one of the best Fests we’ve all ever had, from start to finish, and if the city has a long way to go still, and it does, it’s also come a long way and there are many strong hearts who are going to see it through, and they were much in evidence, on stage and off.

The Best of Who We Saw In No Particular Order:

1) Buncha People At Tip’s For Their Instruments Comin’ Benefit: Soul Rebels outside, Marcia Ball, Troy Andrews and his group, Dirty Dozen, John Cleary with Bonnie Raitt and I can’t remember who all on the inside. Stood up and danced for nearly seven straight hours. Our feet hurt. We didn’t care. Also, Fats Domino was in the balcony and so we were but 15 feet away from him, albeit vertically. He smiled so sweetly.

2) Tony Joe White: I’m late to this party, but I’m thinking about quitting everything to become a psychotic Tony Joe White fan. I feel this is a worthy use of my time. After his growling, dark, spare blues set mere hours after the blues tent at Fest was flooded with over a foot of water (it rained a bit one day, she says with some understatement) sent chills down the spine, most everyone else agreed that he’s the Real Thing. Brilliant.

3) Roky Eriksson at Ponderosa Stomp. Looks like an autistic homunculus. Then this astonishing voice comes out, delivering swamp psychedelia that rocks harder than anyone has a right to. Rock and roll cognitive dissonance. Best kind there is.

4) Susan Cowsill at Carrollton Station. Susan has been doing a regular series called “Covered in Vinyl” wherein she and her band perform an entire classic rock album from start to finish. This time it was the Mamas and the Papas “If You Can Believe Your Ears and Eyes,” with Susan as Mama Cass, Vicki Peterson as Michelle Phillips, Caleb from Dead Eye Dick as Denny, and Paul Sanchez as John. They worked hard on their harmonies and the result was sublime and joyful and great good enormous fun, the way rock can be, or was, once, anyway. Vicki showed off the kind of frugging skills only a 60’s obsessed child can acquire, sharp dressed Caleb grooved around on the stage, Susan rejoiced, Paul beamed and Diana and I just danced. It would have been a beautiful evening if that was all, but Susan’s own sets before and after put us into a euphoric space.

5) Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s. Held in memory of long time Fest and Aug’s supporter Ed Bradley, with Marva Wright (whose career he boosted) singing. At the end, we second-lined back to some tents, and milled about, and Steve mused that if we left right then, he could hear Kidd Jordan at Fest. Then a guy sat at a piano right next to us. Steve “Or I could stay and listen to Dr. John play ten feet away from me.” So we did. Bo Dollis sang, and Dr. John said “Ed Bradley was the eloquentest man I ever met.” We should all be so lucky to get such an epitaph.

6) Franz Jackson at Fest. This 94 year old–!!!–sax guy played with Jelly Roll Morton among others, and despite his much advanced age, can still blow. It wasn’t a novelty act where they prop him up on the chair and he takes a few licks here and there. He played (and very well) the entire hour with a band that included a beaming Evan Christopher, Lars Edegran on piano and other top notch trad jazz locals. He even sang in a still-strong voice that sent us right back to the pre-swing era. At one point, he, Evan and the trumpet player went into a riff that was so fiery I thought the three of them would spontaneously combust. One of the on-going beauties of the city is seeing this constant cross-generational interaction, and the delight on both ends. Bless him–we hope he goes on forever.

7) The Fest Tribute to Alvin Batiste. But no one goes on forever and sometimes they go sooner than they ought. The much beloved clarinet player and music educator died unexpectedly on the eve of a planned tribute to him, and so the show was turned into a massive jazz funeral, commencing with his son (who had played a rare show with his dad just hours before he died) giving a tear drenched eulogy, and with the first hour consisting of various folks playing the sad and somber music associated with the first part of a New Orleans send off, and the second hour of even more folks, including Harry Connick Jr, Branford Marsalis and Trombone Shorty kicking out the jams for the jubilant finish. As irrepressible Bob French (who was also to be honored that day; he gave it up in favor of saluting his late pal) said, most of the musicians on that stage had been directly taught or influenced by Batiste (“Like Knucklehead over there,” he said, indicating Branford), and so they played through their tears, because that was the right thing to do. Harry kept ignoring his own increasingly soon upcoming headliner set across the way to keep his fingers flying across the keys. After another set, a brass band blow out followed, with members of the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth, plus Big Sam, Troy Andrews, John Boutte, Donald Harrison Jr, a bunch of kids taught by Batiste (“You are going to know him” said the announcer, as he introduced each one) and more came down the aisle playing “A Closer Walk to Thee,” as sad as sad can be, and then turning into a tear it up “I’ll Fly Away,” and finally screaming it all up with “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.” They went past closing, and then kept going with “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me,” nothing but tamborine and voice and chanting back to the roots of the city, and their chants kept going long after they left the stage, picked up by the audience and lead by the guy who usually sells peanuts in the aisle. It was an ecstatic note to end Fest on.

There were a whole lot of others, and I’m sure I’m going to be kicking myself for forgetting them–Irma Thomas doing a tribute to Mahalia Jackson, John Boutte’s solo set, any number of gospel acts, Elder Bab and the Madison Bumble Bees (all trombone gospel group), Dr. Michael White, the Holmes Brothers, the Burnside Explosion–but you get the idea.

Best of What We Ate:

1) This Pork Dish I can’t Recall at Fest: (Tejadas, maybe?) Some kind of Cuban/Caribbean spiced pork on crispy thin fried plantains with marinated onions and cabbage on top. A new Fest favorite.

2) Couchon de Lait. Old Fest fave. Still damn good.

3) Pork Five Ways at Commander’s Palace. When Chef Tory says “What if I just send things out to you guys?” we say “Why don’t you?” Also “Yes, please.” Also “HOOYAH.” I’ll not go into all the details (okay, one: Menage a Fois. Just sayin.’) He then capped it off with this dish, precise details of which I will send around once I get them from Chuck, but there was the pork rubbed in spices and chicory, and the one that was slow cooking for two days, and the hunks of special bacon that were crispy but still juicy and the crawfish/pork boudin and no one else at the restaurant got it, because he made it just for us. And when I tried to steal some of Wesly’s, he cheerfully tried to stab me with a fork. I totally deserved it.

4) Five Kinds of Pork in One Hour. Yes, it’s a theme. Hush. See, we went out to Cajun country for the day, and we wanted to take Chuck and Wes to try the boudin at Don’s Specialty Meats, which we had tried back in Nov, boudin described by another taster as “Mere words can not adequately describe the porkiness.” We also had seen people wearing shirts that read “Got Boudin?” So once we got our boudin and some cracklins’, we asked for the shirts. “We are out right now,” said the butcher, and “Yeah, we ran out,” said the check out lady, and then we asked a third person if, once they got the shirts in, she could ship them. “We don’t carry those,” she said, to our not inconsiderable bewilderment. “Those are at Don’s.” Er, aren’t WE at Don’s? No, this is Don’s Grocery and Speciality Meats. The shirts are at Don’s Specialty Meats and Grocery, down the road. Oh. So there was nothing to be done for it but go down the road to Don’s II (a different shop entirely) and try their boudin, which was spicier than Don’s I but just as porky. (Verdict is split; some prefer the spicy, others think the spice overwhelms the porkiness.) Then we went to the Mobil gas station in Opelousas because they have tasso sandwiches with Jack Miller’s bbq sauce, and also smoked sausage sandwiches, and we had both, because the tasso came in quarter sized chunks and the sausage needed to be tried. This is a pork consumption record that will remain a source of pride for some time to come.

5) Crawfish at Marc and Ann’s. Just to break up the pork monopoly. (I nearly wrote “monotony” but then realized there is no such thing.) Gil and Coonie have been boiling for 60 plus crawfish seasons. They get it right every single time.

6) Pretty Much Everything at Delachaise. But especially the asparagus custard, and the variation on lamb tagine and this soft sheep’s milk cheese drizzled with rosemary honey.

7) Cake at the Norwegian Seaman’s Hall. In between sets of trad jazz played by Lars et al, the ladies of the local Norwegian church serve up about twenty kinds of cake and pudding, mostly heavy on the whip cream and marzipan icing. Sugar overload and all the more delightful for it.

8) Chocolate Ice Cream from Angelo Brocatto’s. See, it’s creamy, fluffy Italian ice cream, and it’s very particular to them, and I had not had it for two years, thanks to six feet of water in their shop. But they are back and the recipe hasn’t changed, and there is something important about this. But it’s also just good.

Just good. That’s how this trip was. No, better than that. Just right. Yeah you rite, if you will.

It’s only a mere eleven months and two weeks until Fest 2008.

Not that I’m counting or anything,