I think Iâ€™m in love. But not with a person. Nor a drug. Iâ€™m in love with New Orleans.
New Orleans is a city renowned for its music, food, and culture, yet most visitors probably do not even experience close to the best of any of them. The touristy experience is easily found in New Orleans: just head down to Bourbon Street, start drinking daiquiris and watch women (and men at times) expose themselves for a set of beads.
The locals, however, know that the best party takes place at intimate venues all over the city. Live music defines nightlife here. Shows can start as late as 2 am and crazy adventures and characters often comprise what may start out as the most typical of nights.
The best local bands have their weekly gigs at bars all over town. Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday night uptown at The Maple Leaf. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and his band The Barbeque Swingers play Thursdays at Vaughanâ€™s where he is known to work the barbeque before starting up the music. Frenchmen Street has five or six top New Orleans venues that host incredible local music on any given night.
I was extremely fortunate to get to spend my freshman year of college in the Big Easy. Armed with false identification and the eagerness to see as much music as possible, I was introduced to bar hopping at the young age of eighteen. At least once a week (as school work permitted) I tried to go out and see local brass bands, funk bands, jazz bands, you name it. Anything that you could move to and I was there.
One of the best shows I can remember was the annual Lundi Gras show that Galactic plays at Tipitinaâ€™s. The band starts around midnight or 1 am on the last night of Mardi Gras and plays until the sun comes up, usually playing 3 or 4 sets. The year I went, we stayed for most of the show and then walked down to the Zulu parade that would essentially mark the end of the holiday. How we still had energy, I have no idea, but the parade was incredible. Ornately decorated floats carried Zulu members in black face down St. Charles Ave., throwing beads and other giveaways to the crowd. I vaguely remember walking back to Tulaneâ€™s campus before crashing hard in my bed.
After Hurricane Katrina I was forced to leave. I couldâ€™ve gone back after a semester away, but I made the decision to stay here and live in the California environment in which I grew up. But ever since I left three years ago, something keeps bringing me back. So far Iâ€™ve returned yearly and I donâ€™t plan on ever stopping.
My most recent trip was a couple of weeks ago, during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I got to spend time with my old friends, many of whom still live there, and for the first time I introduced my brother to the city.
Let me just explain my first night there. A couple of my buddies picked up my brother and me from Louis Armstrong International Airport around three pm. After eating an amazing grilled veggie burrito from Felipeâ€™s, we picked up some drinks and went down to the levee to watch the beautiful sunset over the Mississippi. We then went back to my friendsâ€™ house, where we got settled, relaxed for a bit and showered away everything that comes with a day of sitting on planes. When we were all ready, our first destination was Miss Maeâ€™s, a 24 hour dive bar on Magazine St. that always has well drinks for a dollar. After drinking a couple of drinks for the price you couldnâ€™t even dream of in California, it was time to see some music. We walked down Magazine to Le Bon Temps Roule where Soul Rebels Brass Band was playing its weekly gig. The band started up and the packed room soon became sweaty and smoky (smoking in bars is a way of life in New Orleans). We danced and drank until who knows when and then headed back to Maeâ€™s for another round of dollar drinks. At this point half the group (myself included) had to turn in, but the other half stayed out, went to cause mischief in some other bars and made a third trip to Maeâ€™s around 5 am. It was a pretty tame night, but I think it shows the difference in nightlife and bar culture from here in California.
This is the first time Iâ€™ve really written about New Orleans since living there from 2004 to 2005. Reflecting reminds me how much I love the city and I truly hope to move back some day. Being from Los Angeles, I had no idea what I was getting into moving down there. Bar hopping in New Orleans is amazing, but the way of life is something that cannot even be expressed with words. There is enough to see and do in New Orleans to last a lifetime, most of which I have not even addressed. I lived there a year and I didnâ€™t even scrape the surface. Although I have seen a lot of music, there are still so many local musicians and bands whose names I have heard yet have never seen.
When you do make it to New Orleans, see as much music and eat as much local food as you can. Explore. There is a whole voodoo culture that I have no idea about. The graveyards in New Orleans are legendary, yet I have not even had the chance to go see them. Iâ€™ve barely even tried any of the hundreds of ways that crawfish is served. Travel is all about new experiences. Trust me, New Orleans has plenty of them.