The roads are rough and the footpaths rougher but my god there is passion flowing everywhere on these streets. The people here are truly devoted to their town, and this universal love combined with a helpful nature means they are more than ready to share all the great parts of New Orleans with all visitors. I didn’t leave one cab/uber/lyft ride without at least one tip on where to see something great and very ‘Noorlans’ and two or three must-try foods (and the exact spots to get them).
“How long have you been here?” I would ask. When you hear that accent you just know, though I couldn’t help it as the passion in the answer was always so great it gave me shivers.
“Me? Oh I been here my whoooole life…”
Whether they were 35 or 52 or 68-years old, they spoke with the same love and engagement with the city. Some had left for a year or two but something, something unknown, pulls them back. Just to keep them talking I would ask something like, “What’s your favourite po’ boy?”
“Maaaaan, my favourite? You got fried oyster po’ boys, you got roast beef, you got catfish, you got soft shell crap po’ boys, you got the fried shrimp po’ boys… Oh man, the grilled shrimp po’ boys you gotta get yourself one of them. I know this place just a few blocks over there. I'll point it out to you.”
And if you mention crawfish…
“Awww, crawfish. I love crawfish season. You’re going to Jazz Fest right? You have to try the crawfish bread. It’s great!”
I was indeed going to Jazz Fest. It just so happens I was there on the right weekend (all together coincidentally) to catch the biggest jazz music festival in the world. I was also lucky to be in NOLA the weekend that there was not 1m of water flash flooding across the entire Jazz Fest grounds. The festival is amazing, with some 400,000 people enjoying music, food and revelry across two weekends. As awesome as it was, a festival is a festival. Although it was great fun, the night before I was to enjoy Jazz Fest I visited a smallish music bar well away from the debauchery of Bourbon Street. It was definitely a dive bar (see here for a description), a dive bar which for generations had been soaking up the best music New Orleans has to offer. Outside the bar were three street stalls. One was grilling oysters, one serving pork po’ boys and the last was offering cans of local craft beer on ice. Bunches of people just hanging out and enjoying what was on offer. New friends and old, all excited about being in New Orleans for Jazz Fest.
Inside the bar was darker than outside even though it was 10:30 pm. Something about the years of grime and good times seems to reduce the light in these places. The band room is long and fairly skinny and went from being almost empty to packed shoulder to shoulder within the first four-hour set. This set was broken up by, you know, maybe six or seven different guests including an Indian chief dressed in his prettiest Mardi Gras outfit and leading the band in some classic NOLA tunes.
Before I knew it they were done playing and it was 3 am. I thought there were two bands? What? There is another one to come? Wow these guys know how to party! The second band, on at 3.30 am, was just starting to lift the black pressed-tin roof when at 4.30 am I decided I had to head home. Something about the energy and buzz of the band, crowd and venue was enough for me to want to stay longer. There is no way you can construct an atmosphere like that. It only comes with a special place and whole bunch of brilliant people.
When you are talking to locals and you ask “What is it about the city that you love?” no-one gives a simple or straight-forward answer: It’s the music, the food, the people, the architecture, the history, the tribulations that they have all been though. They love it all. It’s the big easy and there is really no place quite like it.