Visiting New Orleans post Katrina has been on my bucket list for quite some time. The one and only time I came to New Orleans was the fall of 2004 for a day trip that mostly was centered around sitting among the nose bleed sections of the Super Dome watching a football game.
Yesterday my buddy and I made the 7 hour drive to “NOLA.”
Last night I had a true New Orleans experience and, shall we say, it was so memorable it will go down in the record books of my life as a traveler as one of the best.
A spiritual experience no doubt.
After scarfing down a huge plate of shrimp salad, I headed straight to the French Quarter – Bourbon Street to be exact. We found an Irish pub and camped there until the Preds game started. Fittingly, I suppose, this place is well known for a very strong drink called “The Hurricane.” Basically picture red koolaid with a ton of boos in it.
We left early because the Preds were getting slaughtered. We needed a reprieve, an escape from the sting of defeat.
We knew just the cure for our ills: Jazz.
As a history teacher I love covering the Jazz Age of US History. Jazz not only changed the music culture in America but it also helped blacks in the South slowly gain respect among their white counterparts as jazz musicians transformed from unknown musicians playing in back alley clubs to iconic artists. Some became world famous and showcased their talents to thousands all over the globe.
So I needed to experience jazz for myself. Real New Orleans jazz. In its purest setting.
Last night I got what I wanted and then some. We arrived around 9:30. A bar with a small local crowd playing pool and listening to music from a juke box. I immediately thought we were in the wrong place. There was no stage, no musicians. My bright yellow Preds shirt caught the eye of a local patron who had lived in Nashville but now resides in NOLA. She instantly befriended us and gave us a list of top eating spots around town. We asked her if any music would be played tonight and she smiled as if to say, “Oh boys, you are in for a treat.”
She explained how lucky we were because “The Band” only performed at that particular club on Thursday nights and it happened to be Thursday night!
We asked when they will start and she replied, “Around 11:00.”
I’ve never waited at a random bar for an hour and a half to hear a band play that I’ve never heard before but something told me I definitely needed to wait it out.
So we stuck around and two hours later we noticed a few people walking around the back part of the bar. Disappearing to a hidden location. We followed. In the back was a tiny bar and a very small space where no more then 50 people could stand comfortably. Microphones awaited against the back wall. Then a door opened from behind us from an alley entrance and in strolled the band one by one and the cheers followed. They had to literally part the crowd to make it to the “stage.”
A tuba player, a drummer, two trombones, two trumpets and a sax (who was the leader).
No introductions. They just jumped right in.
It was magic.
A picture or video of the performance would never tell an accurate story of what happened in that crowded room. It was more than just music.
It was history. I felt like I had time traveled to the 20s. I felt connected to everyone there. Young, old, black, white, mixed.
We were all mixed. We were all mixed up in the music.
After each number the sax player would demand that we come closer to the front. I thought we were already close but we got even closer. I was so close to a trombone player he had to dodge my head occasionally as he chiseled away at his musical masterpiece.
I imagined when each of these artists might have picked up an instrument for the first time. Did their parents play jazz? Their grandparents? They played like it was in their blood. The instrument was a part of them like an extra arm or leg.
The music blared equality. We all danced together as humans. There was no classes, races, or social hierarchy. We were all listening to the same great music and having the same amazing experience.
That was my first night in New Orleans.