The Big Easy

NOLA 1 005

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” – Tennessee Williams

We apologize to Cleveland (which takes almost as much undeserved abuse as Patty’s home state of New Jersey) but we do agree with Mr. Williams that New Orleans is one of America’s great cities. Despite the terrible impacts of Hurricane Katrina, the city is still vibrant with great food, music, culture and friendly people. We always enjoy strolling along the streets of the French Quarter, listening to bands playing outside, having beignets at Café du Monde, and taking the St. Charles trolley to the Garden District to see the beautiful old mansions and Audubon Park.

NOLA Collage

Scenes from the Crescent City

Bottom left: You can ride to almost anywhere you want to visit for $1.25 on the trolleys.  Some of them are the original wooden trolleys.

Top left: A typical bungalow along St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District

Top right: A swan in Audubon Park

Bottom right: The Café du Monde, oldest café in New Orleans, which is famous for its beignets. Tourist tip: Don’t try to have beignets there on the Sunday morning of Jazz Fest week when a cruise ship is in port.

French Quarter Collage

Some of the famous balconies and wrought iron railings of the French Quarter

This was our fourth visit to the Crescent City and one of our primary reasons for visiting again was to attend the Jazz & Heritage Festival, also known as Jazz Fest. Started in 1970, it is a two-weekend, seven-day music and arts festival beginning the last weekend in April.  There are twelve different stages in use each day—when we attended there were over sixty different acts to choose from playing all types of music.

But we were at Jazz Fest on a mission—to take Patty to her first Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert. If Chris Christie can reportedly attend 130 Springsteen concerts, Patty had to see at least one.  We don’t have bucket lists but, if we did, a Springsteen concert would be on it.

Jazz Fest Collage

Scenes from the Jazz Fest—A beautiful Saturday and Springsteen resulted in a packed festival.

Bottom left: We arrived just after the gates opened, five and a half hours before Springsteen performed, to make sure we got good seats (thank goodness for jumbotrons).

Top left: At least we had better seats than these people behind us and hundreds more who could not even see the stage.

Top right: This is one of the food vendor areas—Ed went out to get us something to eat but was lucky to find his way back.

Bottom right: An area that could not be avoided despite the long lines.

Jazz Fest 009_crop

While our mission was to see Springsteen, we also saw five other bands.  Here New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint has surprise guest Jimmy Buffett on stage for a couple of songs. Buffett often played for tourists on the streets of New Orleans early in his career. 0503141320a While everyone around us was drinking beer and daiquiris, we had to buy this umbrella just to survive the heat—clearly moving to the mountains of Asheville was a good decision for us.

Jazz Fest 026 The proof we were there—Bruce on the jumbotron.  Bruce and the E Street Band put on a great show, with several New Orleans-appropriate songs including When the Saints Go Marching In and Mary Don’t You Weep along with their own great songs. He also brought John Fogerty on stage for a couple of his hits including Proud Mary.  All in all, it was well worth the wait, crowds and sweat.

The grand finale of our visit was a benefit concert at Preservation Hall, which is held each night at midnight during Jazz Fest. We had two thoughts before going: 1) which performers from Jazz Fest will show up to play with the band, and 2) will we be able to stay up until the end of the concert at 2:00 am?

Pres Hall Collage

Preservation Hall—on the left, waiting for the doors to open for the midnight show and, on the right, part of the Hall “stage”.   The Preservation Hall Band was incredible and the intimacy of the Hall makes it a great place to hear live music.  By the way, the special guest from Jazz Fest was Texas’s-own Robert Earl Kean who was also very good.

For our New Orleans visit we stayed at Bayou Segnette State Park, located south of the city in Westwego.  It is a very convenient location—about 25 minutes to the French Quarter—and is located on the bayou where we could also enjoy kayaking.  Westwego is another one of those Louisiana names that you will probably mispronounce. Ed originally thought it would be west-WE-go, like Oswego, NY. It turns out it is pronounced WEST-we-go, as in “we are going west”.

Bayou Segnette 033

Down on the bayou with a group of “knees” from a cypress tree—scientists have not yet determined the purpose of cypress knees.

Bayou Segnette 017

It’s hard to avoid all signs of civilization this close to the city.

Bayou Segnette 025

A local bayou resident catches some rays.

Bayou Segnette 039

Break time–there are not many places you can stand up in the bayou but Patty found this dead log.

Flower Collage

Flowers in the bayou

A couple of final recommendations for future NOLA visitors:

  • Avoid Bourbon Street. It’s sleazy and aimed at tourists who want to drink too much. The good news is that there are many classy areas with great night clubs and music—Frenchmen Street near Decatur is the new area where locals go for great music.
  • Check on the St. Charles trolley. Part of the trolley line is currently being repaired so you have to transfer to a bus—definitely not as enjoyable as the trolley ride but the Garden District is still worth visiting.

This was our last stop in Louisiana and we have to give kudos to the state parks for having wireless internet in the campgrounds and free washers and dryers.  The wireless was erratic but we are glad that there is one state that is doing something to keep those of us on the road from hanging out in Laundromats.

 

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