Friday 17 October 2014. New Orleans Louisiana.
This morning my electronic devices needed a fair bit of my attention. The plan for the US cell phone had expired and I had to top up the account for four days to see me through. I finally found a toll-free number (when the plan is expired, you can’t ring nobody!!) and extending proved to be relatively straight forward. Paying the extra $12 required four attempts and a lot of time as I do not have a U.S. credit card. I finally got away from automated services and talked to someone who could help me all the way through to the end. So, phone back on deck.
The laptop doesn’t like the WiFi in my room for some reason, so I took it on down to Starbucks on the next corner so I could do a little on-line work. Finally done, I returned to the hotel, dropped off the laptop and then waited for a while for my cell phone to charge enough for use while I was out for the day and maybe all night, depending on how the day goes. Anyway, all done and out I go!
My hotel Royal St Charles has a street car stop right outside. I thought I might catch it and spend some time in the Garden District and or Audubon Park this afternoon. Today is day one of the Crescent City Blues & BBQ festival, but does not start until 5.30pm so I had plenty of time.
As I waited for the stop for quite a while, the line grew considerably and it was going to be a crowded trip. I decided to walk around the corner to see if I could get on at an earlier stop. Still no sign of a streetcar named anything, so I walked north along Canal St and found the Joy Theatre on the corner of South Rampart, where I was headed tonight.
Ambling around the CBD, I crossed Poydras back on St Charles Ave and discovered Lafayette Square, site of the Crescent City festival (between St Charles and Camp St) and headed down Girod St toward the river, with no serious intention.
There was a mall at St Peter’s and I followed it, almost stopping a couple of times, before finding myself in Hurrah’s Casino. This establishment is the only one of its kind in New Orleans and I think the only land-based casino in Louisiana (all others being on floating vessels). Anyway, this is not where I wanted to be, so I found the exit, crossed the train line and headed toward the Riverwalk shopping outlets, before getting side-tracked by The Crazy Lobster restaurant which has great views of the River.
A long, slow and lazy lunch followed while I watched the traffic up and down the Mississippi.
Returning to my hotel to change, I made it to Lafayette Square in good time to check out some of the stalls. The square is pretty, statues, hedges and massive trees and the St. Charles street cars riding by add to the ambience. There is a stage at the northern and southern end for the festival over the weekend, although only the northern is operating for the two acts tonight.
Little Freddie King was up first and was well dressed for the occasion. I last saw him at the Ponderosa Stomp one year when that event was held between the Jazz and Heritage Festival weekends. This evening, it was a great blues vibe – Luke Winslow-King (who I’d seen the night before) helped out for almost all the set, playing electric slide guitar for the most part.
Time for a bite to eat – smoked bacon gumbo was excellent – I ignored the pork butt for now.
I caught up with my good friend Brian and we shared a table with a couple who had spent time in Melbourne. Small world.
Ana Popovic is Serbian born, but now based in Memphis Tennessee. Nine albums have been released and her stature continues to grow, with a recent Blues Music Award nomination in the ‘Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year’ category. Powerful and beautiful playing, she is commanding on stage.
It’s a fifteen minute walk up Canal St to the Joy Theatre. Tonight’s event is being organised by ‘thisisnola’, an organisation designed to showcase contemporary New Orleans culture. Tonight the headline act is Hurray For The Riff Raff, with supports by The Deslondes and Coyotes. The event is free and is an RSVP-only, sold out show. The Joy Theatre looks to be another restored theatre in the city, just over the street from the Saenger Theatre.
Coyotes are pretty good – indie rock with a pedal steel guitar which is prominent throughout. I really like the pedal steel and the playing was fine, but somehow it didn’t quite fit for me as it seemed to pulling against the rhythm, slowing it down. I would like to hear more of the band though.
The Deslondes are an interesting bunch – their hometown is New Orleans and they are signed to New West Records. According to the band’s Facebook bio, The Deslondes are a “country-soul band, combining elements of early Stax, Sun and Atlantic records with the influence of a more raw, stripped-down sound gleaned off field recordings from Alan Lomax and Mississippi Records catalogue”.
The band is songwriters Sam Doores and Riley Downing, along with bassist Dan Cutler, pedal steel-fiddle player John James and percussionist-vocalist Cameron Snyder. Each musician contributes writing and arrangements, with different members taking the lead at different times. Doores met Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segara and Yosi Perlstein in New Orleans. Sam Doores & the Tumbleweeds was formed in 2010, also serving as the backing band for Hurray for the Riff Raff. In October 2012, Sam Doores + Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds released their debut album Holy Cross Blues on the Canadian roots label Dollartone Records.
In early 2013, the band completed its current line up and has since opened for The Lumineers and John Fullbright. Later on that year, the band discovered that it would have to change its name. The Tumbleweeds was already taken and that’s how The Deslondes were born—named after the street in the Holy Cross where the band first wrote, practiced, and recorded; and where Sam Doores currently lives.
Well, the band was terrific, their harmonies and overall sound fresh and immensely enjoyable. Much more country than most bands you will find in New Orleans and there were clearly references to some of their influences – The Band, John Prine and Townes Van Zandt. I am a bit scratchy on the outfit’s recorded output but bought the only CD that was for sale. I will be watching these guys closely, very promising indeed.
The headlining Hurray For The Riff Raff are on a roll at the moment. The band’s new release, Small Town Heroes (2014) is its fourth major release and has been extremely well received, amongst other things garnering an Americana Award nomination this year for Best Emerging Artist. Tonight they performed a number of songs from the new album “The New SF Bay Blues”, “Blue Ridge Mountain” (evoking memories of my recent time there), an upbeat “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)”, “Levon’s Dream”, “The Body Electric” (which they performed with gusto at the Americana Awards this September), “Slow Walk”, was another highlight (from the Young Blood Blues album – 2010), a strong statement about drug taking and personal loss, and “Ode To John and Yoko”. Lead singer Alynda Lee Sagara certainly has a voice hard to ignore – she is impressive. Sam Doores guested on “End Of The Line”, “Little Black Star” and the encore tunes “St Roch Blues” and a cover of The Ronettes “Be My Baby” which made everyone leave very happy.
Hurray For The Riff Raff are touring Australia in November 2014 – see here. Thoroughly recommended.