Day 10 – The Big Easy

New Orleans

0 Miles

Woo Hoo!! New Orleans!

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New Orleans has long been one of my favorite cities in America specifically because it has always retained such a distinct culture of its own. Yes, the French Quarter is a tourist hell filled with young women exposing themselves for $.05 worth of beads (which would normally cost a gentlemen at least dinner and two hours of meaningful conversation), but the city’s architecture, food and soul set it apart from from other American cities .

So far, I’ve talked a lot about food in this blog, and God knows New Orleans has some serious eats. But New Orleans also has an incredible diverse, vibrant music scene.

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Saturday night on Bourbon Street is expectedly crowded but one of the great perks of the French Quarter is a “to-go cup” where bartenders will pour your beer in a plastic cup and allow you to walk outside with it, even walk into other bars. On weekend nights, most of the French Quarter bars have live music that you can hear all over the street. What ends up happening is that you can walk in and out of each venue sampling the live bands playing different kinds of music. It’s really like an acoustic buffet ranging from hard rock cover bands, to classic jazz, to jubilant zydeco music. And to be honest, I’m not even that huge a fan of live music but each venue is so intimate that you always feel like you’re getting a personal concert. So awesome.

My favorite has to be zydeco (which for my European friends is traditional Cajun music featuring accordion and washboard instruments) because it’s so rare that I can listen to, let alone see, this form of music. It’s such inherently happy, fast paced music that always seems to beckon at least few people to the dance floor. The washboard (which is played by scratching two metal forks against the metal washboard worn across the chest) may seem like a primitive instrument but seeing it played live makes my tone deaf toes start tapping. I swear, these Cajuns could elicit Beethoven’s 5th Symphony out of those forks if they felt like it.

During the day on Sunday, I walked through the deeper parts of the French Quarter and got to spend time listening to the street musicians who have a sizable following. Some of the performers really treat each performance like a live set in a club and perform as professionals, not panhandlers. It’s so great that New Orleans fosters this sort of environment. And the sheer quality of the countless musicians in the city keeps the caliber of the street performers high.

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I spent a fair bit of time listening to two women on Front Street named Tanya and Dorsie, that completely blew me away. They rocked the coolest sound with a cool mix of classical violin with deep blues guitar. Go check out their MySpace page. I stood listening for about 20 minutes and was so pissed I didn’t have my camera. I bought one of their CDs in which they perform a rendition of Pacabel’s Canon in D which is a deeply personal piece for me and it almost brought me to tears. It’s so hard to discover cool new music, but even more rare to discover it in person. Check them out!

Of course, no visit to New Orleans would be complete without indulging in the most Creole of foods. Crawfish!! These really are one of my favorite foods to eat. Yes, there is a technique to it and the exercise is certainly a messy one. But there is something deliciously primitive about the process of extracting the meat while sitting at a big newspaper covered table with others all doing the same while the fragrant heat brings a small sweat to your forehead. The spicy / salty seasoning of Zataran’s was cut by a cold Dixie lager which was the perfect foil to the “mudbugs”.

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And I really thought my trip to New Orleans couldn’t get any better. But then in my random wanderings I discovered that this weekend was the New Orleans Oyster Festival!! What God did I please? Oh man, oysters prepared every which way, the Abita truck pulling beer, and a live music concert in the bright hot sun made this the PERFECT afternoon. Rockin’ Doopsie Jr was on stage howling, yelping and doing James Brown splits.

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One of the biggest lines was for the Dargo’s Roasted Oysters similar to what I had the night before at Wintzell’s in Mobile so I thought I’d include some photos of that.

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Mmm..Crawfish pie! I’ve only had this at Jazz Fest. SO psyched to find it here.

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Not exactly sure where I’ll go tomorrow. Part of me wants to explore the Gulf Coast but the other part is curious to see some of the State Parks in the middle of Louisiana.

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: You never know what’s around the bend (in this case, an oyster festival). That, and Tanya & Dorsie. Lastly, wash hands before AND after you pee when eating crawfish. Just trust me.

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