Luckily for Andras, the post-Katrina Biloxi/Gulfport regional airport has free wireless. He managed to get some work done while waiting for A&K to touch down.
After a quick beer run to the local Wal-Mart Super Center, we took off -- on the recommendation of several friends -- down Route 90, which paralells the Gulf of Mexico pretty much most of the way to New Orleans.
It was a picture-perfect blue sky day, low humidity, the sun twinkling on the Gulf. All we saw was miles of raggedy live oaks and empty slab foundations where houses had once stood. All the wreckage is mostly gone.
What's left is prime waterfront property -- for anyone gutsy enough to rebuild, and some people clearly were doing just that. The bridge across Bay St. Louis is still out, so we hopped on a ferry from Pass Christian to Bay St. Louis. On the 20-minute ride, Andras got some cool panos, Kay got up close and personal with some seagull shit, and we were all entertained by one of the ferry worker's tale of having left Ohio to clean up after the storm and decided she liked it so much she just had to move to Gulfport.
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Crossing Bay St. Louis
Driving off in Bay St. Louis, we promptly got lost (I blame Mitchie who had chosen that moment to distract us with a phone call). But a very fortuitous wrong turn brought us to The East Wing. That is, a trailer that had been wrapped in pristine white siding and retrofitted with a doric-columned portico. Big white urns were platned with ferns, and there was a Rolls and a new T-bird in the driveway. In fact, if we weren't on a gravel strewn path with the Gulf in sight just a block away, I'd swear we'd never left D.C.
We got to N.O. about an hour or so later, and found our abode --- a one-room loft above a friend's house.
Did I mention this friend keeps chickens? Live ones, that is. I'll return to that later.
After a hearty meal of monterey jack, wheat thins and Negro Modelo, we were off to our first destination, Liuzza's by the Track, a 25x40 foot hole-in-the-wall known to most jazzfest attendees as the place to go continue getting your drink on when they shove you out the gates of the festival. The rest of the year, accordionist/harp player Johnny Sansone invites other local musicians to jam with him on Thursday nights. Little did we know that Phil would be there, too, with his band of miscreants.
Tequila was already a factor for them, and became one soon enough for us, also.
One plastic cup full of rotgut over ice later, Phil, Jimmy, Penelope, Tom and Steve-a-rino tried to convince us to go bar-hopping with them, but we held our ground. A pre-purchase of tickets to a show at Tipitina's Uptown kind of locked us into our later-night activity.
First, though, we thought we'd go see the boys in Paul Cebar & The Milwaukeans because we know how much they enjoy being stalked by A&K. They were at a relatively new place, Chickie Wah Wah's, on Canal St. in an area that was flooded, so still has a fair number of unoccupied houses. Only $10 to get in, and there was a small crowd that wasn't too drunk...or too exciting, either.
That wouldn't do. We piled back into the Impala -- yep, it's a bitchin' Impala that we rented -- and headed uptown to Tips'. A crowd of 20-somethings had spilled out on the sidewalk, smoking and drinking. Surprisingly, a NOPD squad car rolled by real slow and yelled at everyone to get back inside. That wasn't very friendly of them.
We had already missed Eric Lindell and Anders Osborne was wrapping up his set. It was tight in there, smoky, loud, vibrating, typical during the Fest. Lots of bare midriffs and jumpers and spillers, as my friend Dick calls them. It didn't take long for J.J. Grey and Mofro to hit the stage -- Jacksonville, Florida's finest southern rock, but a bit more sophisticated than say...Lynryd Skynyrd (the band that you have to Google to spell right).
It didn't take long for the crowd to start blazing up.
Nope that's not a skunk that got loose, that's club management looking the other way...They were still cooking at 2:30 when we decided that maybe it was time to get dinner.
Perhaps a good idea, but BBQ pulled pork was not my friend today. It did, however, provide us with the needed fuel to haul our tired asses up the steel spiral staircase to our apartment, and wrestle with the lock for a good 15 minutes before we determined that we weren't getting into our apartment. About a half hour later, our host determined that he'd given us a faulty key....and we turned in close to 4 a.m.
Did you know that roosters will crow whether it's daylight or not? And that, say, 3, 4, 5, or 6 a.m. will work just as well?
We know that intimately now.
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Face Painting
9 a.m. and we were up and preparing for our day out at the Fest. It's always hard to get your bearings on the first day and this year they purposely tried to confuse us by swapping the blues, gospel and jazz tents around like they're some kind of Monopoly houses. Not that we spent much time in any of those today, but still.
First up was the Pine Leaf Boys, led by Wilson Savoy and Cedric Watson. This southwest Louisiana-based creole group has been wowing crowds at the Fest and around Louisiana the last few years, and now is getting to be a regular on the festival circuit. The field in front of the Fais Do-Do stage was jammed for so early on the first day. The dancers were already turning the stage right area into a dust bowl.
We moved on to some more of Mofro, then a bit of Don Rich (swamp pop), then to Amazones: women Drummers of Guinea -- as it sounds, an all-female dance and percussion troupe. They're touring the U.S. and winning acclaim and today it was clear why -- they can make you shake your ass.
Then it was some of Kirk Joseph, formerly of Dirty Dozen, and now Anders Osborn's sousaphone player.
We then caught a bit of Grayson Capps & the Stumpknockers, a Gregg Allman look-alike who sings darkly moving blues rock. Lots of women in the audience at that one. I mean, this guy has a ferociously beautiful head of hair. Kay wouldn't let me talk to her, so as not to interrupt her concentration.
I'm a little worried she might be abandoning Tab.
Back over to Congo Square for Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) and Orleans Ave., an ambitious funk/hip-hop/jazz fusion stirred up by a bunch of 20-year-olds. Shorty's a real showman these days, rockin' the white linen pants and oversized shades while he blows and blows and blows his horn (trumpet and trombone).
» Click HERE to view image interactively - The Real Untouchables Brass Band
He got a few thousand people to jump up and down HARD. Once you gave in, you forgot that there was anywhere else to be or anything in the world to worry about.
After that, it was on to the blues tent so we could inhale some crawfish bread (about a pound of cheese wrapped around some crawfish tails, encased in a thin, bready crust. Kind of like a crawfish calzone. We watched Lucky Peterson, in his fine white suit, red shirt, red suspenders, orange tie and white fedora with a red grossgrain band, coax the crowd into singing along to Let's Get Stoned (Ray Charles, I believe.)
Lucinda was calling us. Williams, that is. Yep, the heroin-chic, whisky-drawled darlin' of alt-country, who can either be ethereal or just plain plaintively annoying. But she won my heart pretty quick by breaking into Pineola, and then right on top of that, Lake Charles. A & K were feeling good, since we were also being entertained by Johnno and his pack of pre-filled Hello My Name Is stickers, which he hands out like tarot cards to passers-by. He caught my attention by waving a sticker in my general direction that said, Hello My Name Is I'm Wearing A Strap-On. How could I not invite him over after that?
We traded him a Safety Third sticker and agreed we'd meet over at Acura stage for the closing show: Van Morrison.
First, we popped by the blues tent to hear the immortal Percy Sledge. You know, the guy who basically made the Big Chill completely memorable because they used his When A Man Loves A Woman as one of the key tunes in the soundtrack. A soulful voice, for sure, but the blues tent is just boring as a venue. It's like being at a bad wedding you can't escape. Row after row of immovable cheap card table chairs, bad lighting, concrete underfoot, a canopy that's probably 40 feet at its height, allowing the sound to just richochet all over the damn place.
We did escape, however, with just enough time to catch the last few songs of Van Morrison. He did a few bluesy numbers where he showcased his talents on saxophone, harmonica, guitar, and keyboards. He is a bit of a midget, though, which made it hard to fully capture his eccentric body spasms as he sweetly crooned to the audience of 20,000 or so. He actually left the stage once in what looked like a show-ender, and then decided to come back, I guess.
A side note on the Acura stage: for the first time ever, Jazzfest has ruled that the People Who Usurp Too Much Territory are banned from putting down large blankets, reclining chairs with footrests, driving 40-foot-poles into the ground, and hiring former Chinese border guards as enforcers.
That means that about 100 yards or so in front of the stage are standing-room only. I personally will miss the human obstacle course challenge when making my way closer to the stage, but many, many, many people are happy about this development.
Anyway, if you've made it this far, congratulations.
Everyone else around me seems to be passed out. And we've got a few shows to hit tonight.