Archive for the ‘NOLA’ Category

Past Interview Subject Jon Cleary Wins a Grammy.

February 16, 2016
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Jon Cleary (image via Zimbio.com)

Congratulations to past interview subject Jon Cleary on his Grammy win for Best Regional Roots Music album. The NOLA-based pianist is one of the funkiest players out there. Here is my interview with Jon from 2010.

For more of my audio interview with New Orleans artists, check out my podcast, New Orleans Voices.

 

The Magic of Snooks Eaglin.

January 27, 2016
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Snooks Eaglin (image via allmusic.com)

Last week marked the birthday of New Orleans blues guitarist Snooks Eaglin. Snooks was a legend of New Orleans music, but not enough people know about him. Eaglin played with Professor Longhair and also played guitar on the Wild Magnolias’ first album. Snooks passed in 2009, but his music and the joy he had playing still resonates deeply with many NOLA music fans.

As I walked into the Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n Bowl, an elderly blind man was carefully navigating his way up the rickety stairs. I didn’t realize at the time that this was Snooks Eaglin. I was about to find out. For over two hours, he completely melted the stage of that bowling alley.

Every time I saw Snooks live, it was totally mind blowing. Snooks shows would be a combination of blues, jazz, funk and quality old school New Orleans R&B. You would never know what he would play. Anything could happen. He would often just call out key changes to songs as he went along. Snooks rarely used set lists, he would often take requests shouted from the dancing crowd. Meters bassist George Porter Jr. played with Snooks for many years. When I interviewed George, he talked about the experience of playing shows with Snooks,  “Before the gig is over, you will have played three or four songs you’ve never heard before in your life.”

Below is one of my favorite Snooks clips. It’s a cover of Professor Longhair’s “Red Beans.” George Porter Jr. is on bass and Jon Cleary plays piano on this live version. So much soul and fire on this tune! Once you know about Snooks Eaglin, you will quickly learn why he is considered a legend of NOLA music.

 

Raging with the Green Fairy.

January 17, 2016
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Absinthe (image via liquor.com)

“Absinthe is a liquor that they outlawed because it’s supposed to make you trip hallucinogenically. So, I got excited because I like to hallucinate. So, I started drinking lots of shots of it. But, really, it’s just a liquor. So, I was just getting fucked up… I wasn’t even remotely tripping. But, after 10 shots, I fell to the ground and tried to force the trip. “WHY IS THE FLOOR AS LOW AS I CAN GO!?”. But, I was just faking it, ya know? It wasn’t a from the heart trip.” -Mitch Hedberg.

I recently read about an absinthe-related store opening up in Kansas City. It got me thinking about my past experiences with absinthe.

Actual absinthe was outlawed in the US until 2007. However, absinthe has been popular in New Orleans for years. Both the versions you can find in the United States and the harder-hitting varieties from overseas seem to do well in NOLA.

My first time drinking absinthe was at the now closed, kitschy, Russian-themed bar Pravda. Surrounded by the faux Soviet Era relics adorning the red walls, I bought some absinthe for $15 a glass. The melting of the sugar cube through the slotted spoon looked like some weird drug making workshop. It has a strong anise tone and packs quite a punch.

The touristy Pirate’s Alley Cafe, tucked in the French Quarter’s Pirate’s Alley, also features a few quality absinthe varieties. One night, the bar was packed to the maximum. Unbeknownst to me, there was a pirate convention in town. The tiny bar was overflowing with pirates hunting for booty. They were a surly bunch for sure.

The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, in Kansas City, serves absinthe. It seemed like the real deal. I ended up missing my bus because I fell through the worm hole.

It’s important to remember that absinthe has pros and cons. Your paintings will look better and really pop. However, you could lob your ear off. If you see Tahitian colors on the back of your eyelids, you might drink too much absinthe. It’s interesting to see absinthe get big again in trendy circles. Whether it is hip or not, absinthe is guaranteed to leave a strong impression on you.

 

 

 

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Snake and Jake’s: The Best Dive Bar in the World.

January 16, 2016

 

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Snake and Jake’s (image via snakeandjakes.com)

Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge is a legendary dive bar in Uptown New Orleans. Located just past the corner of Oak and Hilary, it can be easy to miss at first glance. There are no signs to look for, just an old wreath and a dive bar sinking into the ground. The only lighting in the bar is red Christmas lights.

Walking into Snake and Jake’s late at night is like descending into another world. The lighting is so dark, you could probably develop photos in the bathroom. It’s like you are drinking in your trippy neighbor’s post-apocalyptic garage.

You never know what will happen at Snake’s, but it always gets weird. A recent NOLA.com article describes the late-night vibe only found at a the five, “A man in a captain’s hat punched a ceiling tile. Someone’s dog fell asleep on a couch. Just after 1 a.m., three women were turned away for having fake IDs.” Snake and Jake’s sits in a strange, fuzzed out reality that is all it’s own.

The bar really starts getting busy after busy after 1 am. However, a NOLA.com piece about the smoking ban noted the ban’s effect on the bar’s hours, “At Snake and Jake’s, a bartender known as Bella Via said on a weeknight, she used to close the bar at 7:30 a.m., with more than a dozen patrons still parked on stools. Now, she regularly closes the bar at 5:30 a.m. instead, often with just a couple of patrons still lingering.”

Legendary pianist Dr. John used to live across the street from the dive. Anthony Bourdain is a fan. I have a theory that somehow everything in the universe is related to Snake and Jake’s. Even a co-founder of Bonnaroo started out as a bartender at Snake’s.

Snake and Jake’s is known for their concoction of Jäger and orange juice. It is a potent cocktail. They also sell Schlitz by the can.

If you ever ask anyone that’s spent a lot of time in NOLA about Snake’s, you often get that shock of recognition and fear. It’s like you brought up some seedy, undercover traumatic event.

In the City that Care Forgot, Snake and Jake’s is like the bar that sanity forgot. The weirdly comfortable vibe within the dive exists beyond pretense. In a gloriously strange place like NOLA, there is only one Snake and Jake’s.

My Thoughts on G-Easy and Success.

January 14, 2016
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G-Easy at the Midland, 1/12/16

Walking up to the massive crowd lined up for the G-Easy show on Tuesday night, my mind was blown. He had sold out the 3,000 capacity Midland Theater, in Kansas City, months in advance. The crowd was mostly young white kids, between the ages of 13 and 19. It was like a teen riot outside the Midland.

I went to college with G-Easy, at Loyola University New Orleans. His fashion sense was always over the top and he had a vision for himself even back then. I hadn’t seen G-Easy live in at least eight years. The Oakland-based rapper has improved greatly since his NOLA days.

It seems like the mainstream has really caught up to G-Easy. His rapping was strong and on-point all night and the beats were fresh and lush. Backed by a drummer and a DJ, he rapped with confidence and ability throughout his show. His stage set up had a very NOLA vibe. The Saint bar scene was a nice shout out to the CBD dive bar. It was like some amped up version of NOLA run through the G-Easy filter.

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G-Easy at the Midland, 1/12/16

Over the years, G-Easy has stayed focused on his vision of grinding hard and moving towards success. His party-centric music seems true to who he is as a person. His music feels like a natural extension of himself and he’s not trying to be a poser. Maybe that’s why he does so well with younger rap fans. He held the crowd’s attention during his 1 hour and 40 minute set. As local music critic Bill Brownlee put it in his review of the show, “The immediately accessible music is ideal for party-minded young adults who have outgrown the output of boy bands but aren’t yet prepared to embrace more challenging sounds.”

His style of rap might not be for everyone, but it’s great to see someone be successful and do what they love. You can hate all you want, but no one can argue with a sold out tour. Tech N9ne even joined him onstage in KC. That is some serious business. G-Easy is doing something right and knows his market. It’s amazing  to see him go from the basement of the student center at Loyola to selling out a venue that holds 3,000 people in Kansas City. Never give up on your dreams and keep pushing forward. G-Easy knew that a long time ago.

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G-Easy crowd at the Midland, 1/12/16

BOLO BOLO.

January 12, 2016

BOLO BOLO: Be on the look out.

The BOLO is the crime watch alert system for Loyola University New Orleans. They give you the rundown on current crime happenings. For many students at Loyola, it goes beyond a catchphrase, BOLO becomes a lifestyle. It is a Loyno thing, but it is also about NOLA too. Once you know about the BOLO lifestyle, it never really goes away. NOLA features it’s own unique type of urban existence. Things are funkier, weirder, grimier and more BOLO. You can be BOLO BOLO, you can get BOLO. When you’re in a rough area of town,

You can get BOLO, “I was drinking the Jager, things got BOLO.” “I went to the Saint. I think I lost my dignity last night.” A person can also get BOLOed. One minute you’re chilling in an apartment, the next minute, you catch a glimpse of the “flabby thighs flasher.” BOLO BOLO!! When you’re out in NOLA, you can often feel that BOLO all around you. It’s like a Spidey sense for poor decisions. Sometimes, in a rough area of town,  you can feel that BOLO creeping in. It’s your intuition telling you to be on the look out. BOLO BOLO is seeing a dude get judo thrown through a glass door as you’re walking into the high school bar.

Being on the look out creates a strange sense of street-level awareness. Once, on the epic three block trek from Feret to Maple, I was hassled by the crackhead diversity rainbow. Within 5 minutes, 6 crackheads of almost every race, color and creed came up to me. They all gave me the same sob story about how their car ran out of gas and how they also needed money for their insulin. I often wonder if some crackheads go to the same finishing school to learn these lines?

Mardi Gras is, of course, a whole different level of BOLO. However, NOLA can be just as rowdy on a random Monday. Uptown, Downtown, CBD, West Bank, it can all get BOLO at any given time. It’s one of the great/awful things that makes New Orleans so unique.

NOLA teaches you to expect the unexpected at all times. Whenever you leave your house, you never know what will be coming your way, but you are prepared for whatever insanity may lie ahead. In life, you will never know what is next, but it’s always important to be on the look out.

Bunny on Top of the Bunny Cage and Jäger on the Lawn: Some Thoughts About Mardi Gras.

January 12, 2016
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A classic shot of the Mardi Gras Bead Tree (image via uptownacorn.com)

With Mardi Gras coming up soon, it’s a good time to talk about the glory of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. There are a lot of misconceptions about NOLA Mardi Gras. It’s not about some irrelevant, trashy tourists flashing in the French Quarter. The real party is Uptown, on the parade route. Mardi Gras is like strange fun for your whole weird family.

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Mardi Gras 2007

Everything about Mardi Gras in NOLA seems excessive. I’ve never been to a bacchanalian Roman orgy, but Mardi Gras must be pretty close. It’s marching bands bringing the funk to the people, the overblown joy of a four hour parade. It’s the stranger that hands you a Jell-O shot at 7 am. As a friend of mine described it after a late-night party one year, “Mardi Gras is the bunny on top of the bunny cage and Jäger on the lawn.”

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Mardi Gras 2007

I think a certain part of me pines for a Mardi Gras family. Propyour kids up on a ladder at the crack of dawn, holding a beer with your kids weighed down with bead neck. Mardi Gras is more than just Mardi Gras Day. It is two weeks of krewes parading, Mardi Gras balls and revelry. The first weekend is more of a family weekend and then the intensity ramps up during the second weekend. By the time Fat Tuesday comes around, it is almost a comedown from the mayhem.

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Mardi Gras 2007

Mardi Gras is a time when subtlety is kept at a minimum. The fashion at Mardi Gras sometimes best resembles an electric space pimp from the future. It can get intense out there on the route. One year, I got a trombone to the side of the head. It was a rookie mistake, never bend down to pick something up. At least it wasn’t a tuba. One year, an old lady knocked me down for beads with an oxygen tank. She’s throwing down on Mardi Gras, nothing is stopping her! That’s dedication.

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Mardi Gras 2007

Mardi Gras is New Orleans is unlike anything else you will ever experience. It is a funky, glorious time. It’s going beyond Bourbon Street and tapping into something real. Get out there, throw down, beast it and laissez les bon temps rouler!

 

Banksy in NOLA.

January 8, 2016
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Soldiers Looting, September 2008

In 2008, around the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the enigmatic street artist Banksy hit New Orleans under the cover of night to do some art. It was one of the few that times I’ve seen any Banksy work in-person.

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Tracking the pieces down was an epic trek. Banksy often does his work in hard-to-find places. He had pieces on St. Claude and on shuttered housing projects. You try to see the pieces before they get ruined or painted over.

While I was shooting a photo of the NOLA Rain Girl, a car drove by. “Banksy sucks!” they screamed out the window. Everybody is an art critic these days. The public reaction to his work around NOLA was mixed. Some people view his work as art and other people see it as graffiti that should be destroyed. It’s all about personal perspective.

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NOLA Rain Girl, September 2008.

This was the time before they started selling Banksy throw pillows or before I met people with Banksy tattoos.

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Met a girl with a NOLA Rain Girl tattoo, August 2012. She wasn’t from NOLA, just liked the look of the piece.

The few pieces I caught that were very NOLA specific. The works were a product of a certain time. His work is political, hard hitting and carries his distinct style. It was fascinating to see Banksy tackle issues in his own weird way.

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Feel Like Funkin’ It Up: The Glory of the Rebirth Brass Band.

January 6, 2016
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Rebirth Brass Band, at the Maple Leaf (Image via http://www.rebirthbrassband.com)

The Rebirth Brass Band is a NOLA institution. They combine jazz, R&B, rap and funk into their own distinctive sound. I have seen Rebirth Brass Band 80 times. Rebirth took home a Grammy in 2012 for Best Regional Roots Music Album.

Rebirth are known for their sweaty Tuesday night gigs at the Maple Leaf Bar. They travel all over the world, spreading that NOLA sound.  They come back, every week, to play in the legendary music venue/dive the Maple Leaf. Rebirth have played their Leaf gig for over 25 years. Catching a Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf is like seeing a team win with home field advantage. They play with intensity, fire and passion. The shows are always packed to the maximum, everyone dancing and getting down for over two hours.

Every show Rebirth Brass Band plays is different, you never know what tunes they are going to bust out. They will often start their set with a gospel number, to get things warmed up. The classic songs will be played, but you will also get the epic jams.

Rebirth is fueled by Crown and Coke and keep the partying crowd fired up. The crowd is a diverse mix of funky locals and college kids. Everyone is united by the Rebirth Brass Band’s joyous sound. The looser the band (and crowd) gets, the funkier they play. Rebirth rarely uses a set list and leader Tuba Phil just calls out songs as they go. They have never played the same set twice. They will roll songs into each other for 30 minute jams.

Rebirth represents NOLA by throwing down hard at every show. They bring the party to the people. Even after all of these years, Rebirth still feel like funkin’ it up every week.

Yes and No: NOLA in a Phrase.

January 5, 2016
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Gregory Davis (Image from JazzTimes.com)

My freshman year at Loyola University New Orleans, I took an introductory class to music industry studies. The course was taught by Gregory Davis, trumpet player for the legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band. In addition to learning about the music industry, Mr. Davis inadvertently taught me a lot about the NOLA mindset.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band skillfully blended R&B and funk into the traditional brass band sound. They pushed the sound forward since their beginnings in 1977. The modern NOLA brass band scene would not exist today if it were not for the innovative sound of the DDBB. They have also toured and collaborated with a ton of artists over the years, from Widespread Panic to the Black Crowes to Norah Jones.

Davis would often pose questions to the class. “What’s a publicist?” he would ask. “A person that promotes an artist,” someone would respond. Davis would answer in his gravelly tone, “Well, yes and no. Kinda sorta…” There was no concrete answer, there is always more to the story. “Yes and no” and “kinda sorta” were his most uttered catchphrases.

Davis would discuss the challenges of touring the world and being on the road. “Some people would say no to drugs, but some of the bands we toured with would say yes to drugs,” he told us once. “The audience would sometimes bring drugs and throw them onstage for the bands,” he stated warily.

NOLA is a city of contradictions, often swirling together, existing in a strange harmony. It is home of the drive-thru daiquiri shop, home of the high school bar. When you leave a bar, you can grab a rum and Coke to go. New Orleans is land of no last call, bars close when they want. “Are you drunk?” “Kinda sorta…” “Is this building up to code?” “Kinda sorta..Napoleonic code.” “Is the streetcar on time?” “Yes and no…Mostly no.”

There is no place like NOLA. NOLA embraces the contradictions that just wouldn’t work anywhere else. It will forever be funky and there is no “yes and no” or “kinda sorta” about that.

 


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