10/24/09: I Am Music Workshop Day 2 in St. Louis

All of a sudden, it was winter, and I didn’t prepare for it. I hadn’t brought any warm clothes to St. Louis because I had naively assumed that the weather wouldn’t be that different than what we had been getting in Memphis for the last week. So much for assumptions, and now I was shivering as I drove out to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House on South Grand for breakfast. It was a great choice, a classic late 50’s style place with a classic neon sign thrown in for good measure, and, not surprisingly, great food.
Despite the cold, the weather was bright and blue, so, after I finished breakfast I drove across the bridge to East St. Louis to look for the Gateway Geyser and see if I could get a good photograph of the St. Louis skyline and Gateway Arch. Finding the park that contained the geyser was not easy, as it was tucked behind the Casino Queen, but I did find it. The geyser was evidently not working, but there was a large overlook facing the arch, and I climbed to the top of it to snap a picture. If the weather was cold on the ground, it was absolutely frigid at the top of the observation deck, so I quickly came back down.
Driving out of the park, I accidentally ventured into a warren of old streets through overgrown woods with one abandoned house at an intersection, but I was soon able to get back to the interstate. Given the area’s proximity to the casino and park, I couldn’t help thinking that it would make a wonderful Beale-Street-type entertainment district for East St. Louis.
When I got back to the hotel, it was time for the I Am Music Workshop events to get underway, and the events took most of the afternoon. I was on the distribution panel, along with representatives from Fontana Distribution and Jive Records. Afterwards, those two decided to go with me to dinner, so I drove them up to a place called Pi on the Delmar Loop in University City where we ate gourmet pizza and talked about the music business. It was nearly midnight when we left, and I dropped them off at a trendy hip-hop club on Washington Avenue near the hotel. I was too tired for a hip-hop club, and it was too late for me to make it to the Trio Tres Bien performance at Robbie’s, so I returned to the hotel and went to bed.

10/23/09: I Am Music Workshop Day 1 St. Louis, MO

I had been invited to be a panelist at the I Am Music Workshop in St. Louis on Saturday, so I headed out early Friday morning up I-55, vainly searching for some sort of breakfast. Finally, at Blytheville I found a Hardeee’s where I could pick up a biscuit breakfast, and then I headed on into the Missouri bootheel.
At Cape Girardeau, I went into town to browse at some thrift stores and pick up a cappuccino at the Broadway Books and Roasting Company, and then I continued northward into St. Louis.
I had thought about doing some musicological research in old East St. Louis newspapers at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, but I decided that if I did that, I wouldn’t have any time to shop at local record stores, so I changed my mind and headed to Record Exchange instead. I found a number of 45 singles on St. Louis and East St. Louis labels, but I hadn’t brought much money to spend and I wasn’t sure what I would find at other stores, so I didn’t buy anything there.
The weather was already grey, and turning much colder as I returned to my car and drove over to Euclid Records in Webster Groves. I ended up not buying anything there either, because the Leo Gooden CD I was hoping to find was one they had sold out of, but I did pick up a flyer about live jazz Friday night at a place called Robbie’s House of Jazz in Webster Groves. After a brief stop at Webster Records, I realized that I had only a little time for dinner if I hoped to make it back to the jazz club for live music, so instead of driving over to Vintage Vinyl in University City, I drove to the Galleria where the Cheesecake Factory was, and ate dinner there. After stopping by a Borders Books where I bought a true crime history of East St. Louis, I drove over to the jazz club I had heard about. The club was predominantly African-American, but I was warmly welcomed and made to feel right at home, and the large local jazz ensemble that was playing was excellent. If I had stayed to the end, I might have gotten to sit in on piano, but I was really exhausted, partially from the drive, and partly from having overeaten at the Cheesecake Factory. So I left and drove back into St. Louis on Manchester/Chouteau until I came to the Sheraton hotel where the conference had booked my room. Valet parking was quite expensive, but I had no problems checking in, and my suite of a room was beautiful. I learned that the building had been the Edison Brothers shoe warehouse, and that half of it had been made into a hotel, and half of it into condominiums.

10/05/09: Industry Influence in New Orleans LA

Mondays aren’t as bad if you’re fortunate enough to wake up in New Orleans, but it was still raining on and off, but “off” enough that I felt safe in catching the St. Charles Streetcar to head Uptown for breakfast, since my hotel was heating up their breakfast in a microwave. The atmosphere on this particular morning was like a sauna, and grey, foreboding clouds lay to the west. Once I got off at Maple Street, I decided that I didn’t want Camellia Grill, so I walked back to the west and came to a little park with beautiful royal palms, and a couple of restaurants that weren’t open for breakfast. But I finally came to a place called Refuel that was a coffee bar, but also a whole lot more. They served full breakfasts, so I ducked inside to eat, and just in time, because the rains came with a furor, and several of us were more or less trapped inside, waiting for the rain to subside. It never really did, and eventually I gave up waiting, and, since I had finished breakfast, I made a run for it and headed back down to Carrollton Avenue to catch the return streetcar. But the rain was continuing, so I had to hang out under an awning until the streetcar came, and I made the ride back down to my hotel.
Strangely, once I got back to the hotel, the rain tapered off and eventually the sun came out, so I had no trouble walking into the Quarter. At Louisiana Music Factory I bought the famous book on New Orleans R & B I Hear You Knocking by Jeff Hanusch, as well as a CD of tracks from the old Sounds of Memphis recording studio entitled “Play The Game” which for some strange reason is not available in Memphis.
I spent the rest of the day browsing in old bookshops, not buying very much because I had very little money, although I did come upon a used copy of John Broven’s Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans. which I purchased. As I saw the day was getting late, I stopped at the little gelato bar near Faulkner House Books, and then walked back to the hotel.
Once I got there, Sess called and asked me to come by his record shop, so I got my car from the valet and drove out there. I spent a little time hanging out with him and some of his friends, but it was time for dinner, so I drove from there onto I-10 and out into Metairie to Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro for dinner.
When I left there, it was time for the workshop at the Hangar, a nightclub not far from Xavier University in what was called Central City, so I headed over there, finding the location with some difficulty. In this area, there were still signs of much devastation from Hurricane Katrina, but the event was very well attended. Not only did I speak on one of the panels, but I was also asked to judge the performers. Unfortunately, there was a ballgame on the television during our event, and some people were more interested in the game than our workshop, but for the most part things went well. I had intended to go to a beignet place when I left the Hangar, but I was so tired that I just drove back to the hotel and went to bed.

10/04/09: Memphis to New Orleans

Nothin But Fire Records CEO Sess 4-5 had invited me to New Orleans to speak at a music industry workshop that he sponsors monthly, so after church, I headed out I-55 into Mississippi, and into some very bad weather indeed. Since the trip was taking so long, I just picked up some chicken from Raising Canes in Jackson, and then continued on my way, although by the time I got to Brookhaven, the rain was finally gone. At Hammond, I decided to drive over to the Pontchartrain Causeway instead of continuing down to LaPlace, but when I got to Mandeville I stopped there for gasoline, and noticed a Cafe du Monde location that was still open. so I picked up a cafe au lait and an order of beignets to go, and headed across the long 26-mile bridge. It was very dark and foggy, but I was surprised at how quickly I could begin to see the lights on the superstructure of the Crescent City Connection bridge, which had to still be 15 miles away or so. By the time I got into Metairie, both myself and my car interior were covered with powdered sugar, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at 11 at night. A room had been booked for me at the Holiday Inn Express just down from Canal Street, and as I gave my car to the valet, I could here the beat of drums from the corner of Canal and Carondelet, where a street band was playing despite the wet weather. Apparently the Saints had won their NFL game, and parties were in full swing.

9/26/09: Southeast Music & Entertainment Summit Day 3/Dinner at Captain Dave’s in Murrells Inlet

Saturday I had a lot more SMES events, including two panels to participate in, but I did manage to get down to Murrells Inlet for dinner on the Marshwalk at Captain Dave’s Dockside. I was especially impressed with their unusual hushpuppies- they had no onion, and were served hot with raspberry-honey butter. They’re rather addictive, actually. The fried grouper was also excellent. In the evening, after the panels, however, finding coffee was rather difficult. I eventually found a Starbucks on Myrtle Beach’s northside that was still open, but getting there proved tougher than I had expected because of a large outdoor festival in downtown that had Ocean Boulevard closed. There was a SMES afterparty in the downtown area as well, but I knew that I had a long drive back to Memphis the next day, so I went back to the hotel instead.

9/25/09: Barefoot Landing/Southeast Music and Entertainment Summit Day 2/Dinner at Bovine’s in Murrells Inlet

After breakfast at the Eggs Up Grill, I took advantage of the sunny weather to spend some time on the beach and in the Atlantic Ocean, and then finished up with a trip to the whirlpool.
The SMES events really didn’t get underway until the evening, so I spent the afternoon driving up to Barefoot Landing, a large outdoor shopping area built around a lagoon. Although it was fun to walk around, I didn’t find anything there to purchase, so I headed down into the town of Murrells Inlet to eat dinner.
Many of the restaurants there were built on a boardwalk called the Marshwalk, which had been built over the marsh that separates the mainland from the islands. Before dinner, I decided to walk the length of it, so I did, noticing an island covered with goats, and behind me to the north there was a rainbow against the darker sky where it had been raining up in Myrtle Beach. One of the restaurants along the walk had a statue of an African-American man in a cook’s uniform, whom I surmised might have been a deceased former employee. I decided to eat dinner at Bovine’s, a fine-looking establishment famous for steaks and wood-fired pizzas, and I was not disappointed there.
Afterwards, I went across the street to a gift shop called the Lazy Gator, and there I found just the right birthday gifts for my mother, a book about the Carolina coastal country, and a coffee mug.
When I got back to the hotel, beat battles and rap battles were taking place, some of which I was asked to help judge, but the real fun took place in the informal discussions that developed out on the patio furniture in front of the lobby. There panelists and conference attendees alike sat down and had fascinating conversations that as often as not drew a crowd to gather around, listen and occasionally join in.

9/24/09: Palmetto Bluff/Charleston/Southeast Music & Entertainment Summit Day 1

After breakfast at the hotel, I spent the morning driving around to Savannah bookstores looking for a book on the civil rights movement in Savannah, but nobody had it in stock, so I drove across into South Carolina, touring a resort called Palmetto Bluff, which had been built to resemble an old coastal town.
I had wanted to take the ferry over to Daufuskie Island, the Gullah island made famous by Pat Conroy in his book The Water Is Wide, but there wasn’t time to do it. Instead, I stopped briefly at Bluffton, where the downtown area on Calhoun Street was closed off for a farmers’ market, and then I continued northward into Charleston.
After browsing through CD’s at Monster Music and Video, I headed into downtown on King Street. I browsed a used bookstore and then headed around to the Charleston Market for a steak dinner at T-Bonz. Next door, the same owners run Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe, and I enjoyed some coffee and a slice of peanut butter chocolate cake before heading on across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in the sunset, headed for Myrtle Beach.
By the time I got to Awendaw it was dark, but still warm. The area was fairly rural and remote, but with a few gatherings, around the occasional black church or juke joint.
Once I got to Surfside Beach, I checked into the Holiday Inn, and quickly ran into some of the people from the Southeast Music and Entertainment Summit, but it was late in the evening, so I didn’t go out anywhere.

9/23/09: Lulu’s Chocolate Bar in Savannah

I spent the better part of the day driving from Memphis across Alabama and Georgia, at one point not certain whether I-20 would be open because of the extensive flooding in Atlanta, but by the time I got to Birmingham, I learned that the interstate had reopened. All the same, Six Flags amusement park was more like a muddy lake, and the river in downtown Macon looked as if it was ready to overflow its banks at any minute right into the downtown streets. The drive from Macon to Savannah was much further than I had expected, and it was nearly 9 PM when I arrived. I headed straight to Tony Roma’s on Bay Street for a steak dinner, and then checked into my room at the Avia Hotel, which proved to be an elegant boutique hotel across the street from one of Savannah’s many downtown squares. A block or two away was an outdoor market where there was live music, so I walked over there, but as I approached Martin Luther King Boulevard, I started running into lots of bums looking for a handout.
On MLK there was a place called Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, and, as the name suggested, this was a fabulous dessert cafe where I enjoyed a slice of peanut butter chocolate pie and a cup of coffee before I walked back toward the hotel. Back away from the riverfront was a club I had read about called Jazz’d Tapas Bar, which was also a warm and inviting atmosphere. Unfortunately, they were featuring more of a lounge singer/pianist than authentic jazz, but it was still a late night place to hang out. After the music ended there, I explored some of the old squares with my camera, taking some photos, and then ended up by the riverfront, looking across at the massive Wyndham hotel on the northshore. River Street was lined with establishments, but it was late in the evening and they were all beginning to close, so I walked back to the hotel.

9/5/09: Art Walk in Ocean Springs

We got up early and decided to drive to McElroy’s on the Bayou in Ocean Springs for breakfast and it proved to be a good choice. The new restaurant, built to replace one in Biloxi that Hurricane Katrina had destroyed, was built overlooking beautiful Fort Bayou and the large homes that lined it. As we ate a delicious breakfast, we were able to watch boats that were taking an early morning run on the waters, and birds that were in the trees near the windows. After ending our meal with an order of beignets, we decided to drive into the downtown area of Ocean Springs to see what had been done since the storm, but we soon found that the city was teeming with people because of an event called Art Walk. The streets were lined with tents where artists had set up to sell paintings, pottery and sculptures, and people were walking everywhere. On Government Street, we passed interesting-looking places like Government Street Grocery (actually a restaurant) and Chandeleur Outfitters. I would have liked to have stopped and browsed around, but my mother had to meet her friends from school at the White Cap Seafood Restaurant in Gulfport at 11 AM, so we headed back west into Biloxi on Highway 90.
The White Cap was owned by one of her old classmates, Carl Lizana, and was a beautiful new building at Mississippi City, since, once again, Katrina had blown the old one away. We spent a couple of hours there, eating and talking, and then we left, heading out the new Cowan-Lorraine highway out to Saucier to start the drive back to Memphis.
In Jackson, we went to a restaurant near the stadium called Sal and Mookie’s that proved to be some of the best pizza either of us had ever eaten. I was especially impressed by the herb garden that they had growing outdoors beside the building. From there we stopped by Lemuria Books in Banner Hall, where I bought a book about New Orleans, and then, after a cappuccino from the Broad Street Baking Company downstairs, we started back home to Memphis. We soon learned that the history-making football game between Mississippi State and Jackson State had not gone well for the JSU Tigers, as they got blown out by the Bulldogs.

9/4/09: To the Beach in Gulfport

I had agreed to drive my mother down to Gulfport, Mississippi for her high-school reunion, so we stopped by a Starbucks in Memphis for a pick-up breakfast, and then we headed down I-55, breaking for lunch in Jackson, Mississippi at Majestic Burger. In Gulfport, I had reserved a room for us in the Holiday Inn, which turned out not to be the old hotel I remembered on Highway 49, but a new one around the corner which had just opened in November and was beautiful. Our room was luxurious and comfortable. The party for my mother’s class was at a house on the Tchouticabouffa River north of Biloxi, so I drove her out there, and met a number of her friends from school. The event was held underneath the new house, which had been built since Katrina, on a patio that backed up to the bayou and boat slips. Afterwards, I had hoped to get beignets, but the Mary Mahoney’s LaCafe that used to stay open for 24 hours and which offered them had not been rebuilt since Katrina, so instead we drove across the new Highway 90 bridge, which was lit up in blue neon, across to Ocean Springs and then back to Gulfport along the beach. In most of these areas, there is almost nothing left of the houses and businesses that once stood across from the beaches. A few buildings survived, and new condominiums and motels have gone up, but the rebuilding process is slow, seemingly much slower than New Orleans, perhaps hindered by the bad economy and less familiarity. Biloxi just doesn’t draw the tourists that New Orleans does, even with the casinos.