New Orleans, LA – January 2014

Bump in the night

We stayed at the Andrew Jackson Hotel in the French Quarter.  An old hotel in an historic building; all the rooms opened up onto an open-air courtyard, and like most of the French Quarter,  was rumored to be haunted.

It was stormy, with heavy rain and wind, we were woken up  in the middle of the night by drunken hotel quests returning  from a night on Bourbon Street. As we faded back to sleep, we heard some strange noises we attributed to the stormy weather.


Andrew Jackson Hotel Courtyard

We were soon woken again by the noise; it was not the wind: it was coming from the shopping bags in the corner of the room.

I turned on the light and slowly approached the bags and gave them a kick. A small gray mouse shot up vertically, landed and darted behind the dresser.

We called the front desk, got dressed, changed rooms. We left our luggage in mouse-room to pack in the morning; it was, after all,  four a.m.!

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Second line

The New Orleans Jazz Funeral procession has roots in traditional West Africa dances, with a tinge of voodoo.  Brought to New Orleans by slaves, large traditional dances were held in Congo Square and were often squashed by various white leaders of the city. These illicit dances evolved into the famed Jazz Funeral during the early 1900’s and has since morphed into The Second Line;  basically a neighborhood parade, half jazz march, half Soul Train ramble around the city.

Community groups mobilize friends and family, organize large marching bands, obtain a permit and plan the route through the city. This route is only announced the night before, a top-secret tradition. The parade can last hours, travel many miles, and have numerous pit stops.   The parade this Sunday afternoon was slated to start at noon at the downtown Hilton. As we approached the hotel, we realized this wasn’t going to be your typical parade; There were already two large trailers with oil can smokers selling BBQ, and  plenty of coolers full of beer and soda.


Double-barreled urban BBQ trailer

Outside the lobby doors, the rag-tag band milled about, instruments in one hand, beer in the other. The crowd of locals started to build up; they parted at the entrance of the hotel, forming a corridor with some holding a thin rope to keep the front row rabid fans at bay.  The band slowly got organized and started to play, a funky up-tempo loud jazz. The Parade Marshals emerged from the hotel one by one strutting their stuff and throwing down dance moves, gliding and jiving: the crowd went nuts!


Sunday Best.


The funky, dancing Parade Marshals.


















Within a few minutes the crazy parade was on the move. Dancing marshals first, band second, crowd third, two guys with large beer-filled coolers next up, all followed by our police car escort.


Follow the music.


Refreshments on the go.












The parade snaked through town picking up followers along the way, stopping occasionally for a hoe-down; the band would stop marching, and start to play crazy loud; everyone was dancing and jumping around. Then the parade suddenly headed down a side street and stopped at a small intersection for a longer break, the first of many along the route.


Only in NOLA.

There was a small bar on one corner and a few ‘bar cars’ parked in the street. One of these was doing brisk business; a guy with his pick-up, liquor bottle lined up on the roof of the cab. He had a wad of cash in one hand and a megaphone in the other, taking orders and furiously making cocktails in plastic cups; Only in New Orleans.




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New Years in New Orleans

Preservation Hall looked like an abandoned, derelict building from the outside: no windows, clapboard siding, rusted wrought-iron door. We were attending the New Year’s Eve party at this storied New Orleans Jazz Club. In the heart of the French Quarter,  Preservation Hall has been entertaining whiskey swilling patrons since 1961. We were looking for a New Orleans-style New Year’s and this seemed perfect.


















Once through the door, there is a long hallway with old wooden theater seats on one side, on the opposite side, an open doorway. We walked through it, into a dimly lit room with a few old posters hung crooked on the stained wooden-panel walls. There were a few tables up-front and a small drum kit and piano in the corner. So this is where the band plays? It looked more suited for homeless squatters.


So Glamorous.

The hallway spilled out into a traditional creole open-air courtyard, with huge palm trees and tropical foliage. Best of all, the open bar was located at the end of this garden oasis. However worst of all, there was a cold snap in New Orleans this week, the coldest in twenty years; lower thirties and raining. We had packed shorts and t-shirts; turns out it’s actually ten degrees warmer in Seattle; we got screwed.

The music started and we crowded into the small room, not twenty feet away from the band. It was an interesting crew on stage with two tubas, drum-set, piano, trombone and musicians joining in with all forms of instruments and rhythm. As you can imagine, they kicked ass. Everyone was moving, jiving, dancing; including the band. The tuba players were in constant motion, swinging their instruments around without missing a beat; blasting out bass notes you could hear in your chest. With a sazarac in hand and cigarette smoke in the air; we were definitely in New Orleans. It has a timeless feel; this exact scene has been played out in this dilapidated room for decades.



We ran outside to Jackson Square, just in time to see the fireworks explode over the Mississippi at the stoke of midnight.  Celebrating with the friendly citizens of New Orleans, the damp weather was not dampening anyone’s mood.  Afterwards, we headed back in to see the band’s final set, before a short walk to our hotel, dodging the inebriated revelers celebrating the arrival of 2014.



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