Strange Winter Rituals on a Busy Lundi Gras


Lundi Gras, the Monday before Mardi Gras Day, is basically a holiday in New Orleans, and thus ordinary things like getting breakfast can become a little complicated. My friend Darren Towns, his wife Jarday, and their children and I had planned to grab a breakfast at a new spot called Cloud 9 Bistro uptown at Magazine and 9th, a place that was supposed to specialize in liege waffles. Unfortunately, because of Lundi Gras, the restaurant had both cooks and servers not show up for work, and the owner stated it would be 45 minutes before he could even take our order. As a result, we walked around the corner to the Red Dog Diner, but they stated that the wait for a table would be at least two hours. Desperate, not to mention starving, I suggested that we try further uptown at Riccobono’s Panola Street Cafe, and although we did have to wait, it was a reasonable length of time, and we got seated. The breakfasts there are always great, and this day was no exception. However, the delays in finding a place and in getting seated meant that when we were through with breakfast, Darren only had about an hour before he was supposed to play at his afternoon gig.
I had traveled to many gigs with Darren and other members of the TBC Brass Band, and almost all of them had been fun, but this one on this particular day was not much fun at all. For one thing, it wasn’t a TBC gig, but rather a pickup band that had been hired for this particular event, and for another, the event had been put together by a certain celebrity performance artist who is often in New Orleans. Her desire to protect her privacy and not disclose her whereabouts meant that I was not to use my phone to film or photograph the goings-on, and that in fact I was to keep my distance from the whole thing. The organizers had given several different addresses to the musicians, perhaps another step in trying to keep paparazzi and other unwelcome guests at bay, and we had gone first to a location in the French Quarter before ending up on a rather desolate street in the 9th Ward neighborhood known as Holy Cross.
The organizers had hired both some Mardi Gras Indians, and musicians, for some sort of outdoor event. They wanted everyone other than the Indians to wear white, and one of the women explained to Darren that they were going to “build an altar” for their ritual, and that they would then walk to the river with the Indians and musicians to “make their offerings.” None of us were quite sure what exactly was going on there, whether voodoo, or New Age, or neo-paganism, but it was all quite strange, to say the least. The weather was bitterly cold as well, and eventually I retreated to the car, where I turned on the heat and sat there for the hour and a half or so that the procession and ceremony continued.
When it was finally all over, Darren and I decided to go and get dinner. Perhaps because of the cold, it never even occurred to me to suggest that we go to the parades. Instead we headed to the new Saltgrass Steakhouse in Metairie, where we enjoyed a steak dinner, and then we stopped by the Cafe du Monde on Veterans Boulevard for after-dinner beignets and coffee. Thoroughly exhausted, we decided not to go out for live music, but to head to the house and get rested up for the big day on the morrow.

8/27/08: The Freddie Jones Quartet at the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe, Dallas

The Cupboard in West Memphis had started selling breakfast, so I stopped there on my way out of town, and then I continued west on I-40. It was National Truck Drivers Week, and in honor of that, a truckstop in North Little Rock was giving away free lunches, a fact which had created a major traffic jam at Exit 161.
I had miscalculated the start of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and had taken a day off work that I probably hadn’t needed to, but since I had already made my plans, I had gone on Priceline.com and booked a hotel room in Dallas for Wednesday and Thursday nights (they had put me in the Hyatt Regency Reunion), and I reasoned that this would give me a free day in Dallas on Thursday to go around to the record stores with posters and promotional CDs.
Below Little Rock on I-30, I began having a problem with drowsiness, so, at Texarkana, I stopped at a Starbucks, and then I headed on into East Texas, stopping at Greenville to go by a Hastings Music in the hopes of finding CDs by The Southern Sea or Tree With Lights. Unfortunately, they had neither of them there.
I had considered eating dinner at Culpepper Cattle Company in Rockwall, but after checking their menu on my iPhone, I learned they had both remodeled and increased their prices dramatically, so I decided to eat at the Saltgrass Steakhouse there instead, and it was quite good. The sun was beginning to set over Lake Ray Hubbard as I stopped at a Starbucks after dinner, and then I headed on into Dallas.
I headed first to Good Records in Lower Greenville, where I found a couple of Numero Eccentric Soul reissues that I didn’t have, as well as CDs by the Sound In Action Trio and the Papercuts. Then I headed over to South Lamar Street, and stuck my head briefly into Bill’s Records before heading down the street to the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe, where the Dallas Observer had said the Freddie Jones Quartet would be playing. The cafe was large, nearly a block long, and was full of people. Freddie Jones proved to be an excellent trumpeter, and his quartet was exciting, if a little funk-oriented. I am not usually a fan of R & B-influenced jazz, but this group was exciting, particularly the drummer and bass-player. At an intermission, I met the trumpeter, and learned that he was originally from South Memphis-it’s a rather small world after all. During the rest of the night, he used two other drummers, and I tried to buy a Brooklyn Jazz Cafe T-shirt, but the owner had taken the key to the shirt-case with her when she left for the day.
I had worried about finding the Hyatt Regency Hotel, but I had no difficulty finding it once I drove into the Reunion area, and once I got checked in, the pool was closed, so I headed up to my room.