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Posts Tagged ‘live music’


We arrived in New Orleans in mid-afternoon after a smooth internal flight on United Airlines from Newark, New Jersey.

On crossing the threshold of the Cambria Hotel on Tchoupitoulas Street in the increasingly upmarket Warehouse District, I was thrilled to discover in the entrance corridor a series of fifteen wooden slatted artworks celebrating many of the great bluesmen and jazz musicians of the Delta and beyond. I will confine the photographs to three of my particular favourites.

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They are the work of Connie Kittok, a Louisiana contemporary folk artist inspired by her Southern roots. Coincidentally, or perhaps serendipitously, the entire collection is entitled Road Tripping: a journey to discover the heart of the blues. The thirteen year wait between our original plan to take this trip and actually making it suddenly seemed worth it.

An incredible collage of immaculately polished jazz instruments also adorned another wall adjacent to reception.

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We decided to unpack and get dressed to ignore the rain and have dinner early.

We were staying less than fifteen minutes walk from the French Quarter, and wanted to experience Bourbon Street at first hand. After forgetting momentarily that I was not in San Francisco when I bought a Grateful Dead bandanna at the Hippie Gypsy store on Canal Street, and then elegantly dodging a streetcar after looking the wrong way, we ventured into the fabled thoroughfare.

Even though it was still early in the evening, there was a boozy and boisterous buzz about the street.

We walked as much as possible beneath the balconies, from which there was a distinct lack of falling bead necklaces (Mardi Gras was, of course, still months away). There was a considerable amount of noisy and unsightly construction underway. At regular intervals, young children were sitting on the kerb drumming on upturned buckets with astonishing rhythm and dexterity. We were confronted on several occasions by drunks attempting to foist beads on us before demanding money, but we managed to deflect their tiresome attentions.

As this was our first visit to the Big Easy, we were determined to try as many of the  essential NOLA dining experiences as possible. Given that we were in the heart of the French Quarter, it was incumbent upon us to begin our exploration with a Hurricane cocktail (rum, passion fruit syrup and lime juice with an orange slice and cherry garnish) at its original home, Pat O’Brien’s.

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We had drunk many in the past at various Margaritaville and Hard Rock locations, but this was where it was first served. It was no less powerful than what we had become accustomed to, even though we declined the signature glass option. We sat at the bar and chatted with the big bearded barman before stepping out to select our dinner venue.

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We had already been struck from the outside by the appearance and enticing menu of the award winning Red Fish Grill, and decided to eat there. We were not disappointed. A handsome and attractive dining room and pleasant staff complemented superb seafood. My Cajun Jambalaya Risotto in particular was divine.

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The persistent drizzle failed to dampen the spirits of the early evening revellers. Live music spilled out of most of the bars – a cacophony of jazz, blues, hard rock and even country as an inevitable accompaniment to bull riding. With an abundance of choice available, we plumped for the Famous Door, a legendary live music venue where the excellent band ran the gamut of seventies and eighties American rock music – from Jackson Browne and Carole King to Foreigner and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

By this time the potency of the Hurricane, upon which by now we had piled cocktails and double gin and tonics, was beginning to take its advertised and insidious effect. I am convinced, however, that the periodic movement, as if across a ouija board, of our (plastic) glasses was not solely attributable to our mushrooming inebriation. After all, we were in the home of voodoo with many haunted locations close by, so it should be no real surprise that glasses should be sashaying around the table. In an even spookier twist, they stopped abruptly at the table’s edge, thankfully, saving us from having to order another, ultimately lethal, round.

Two flights, of eight and three hours duration respectively in the space of twenty four hours, combined with the alcohol, were beginning to take their toll and we returned, a little unsteadily, to our hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nearly half a century after a procession along the same street proclaimed its demise, I can confirm that reports of the death of the hippie have been greatly exaggerated, at least if events at yesterday’s 36th annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair were anything to go by.

Baby boomers in tie-dye mingled contentedly with Mission families, young Goths and not a few bewildered tourists to create a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere along half a dozen blocks crammed with stalls selling the usual hippie fare – clothing, bags and jewelry, peace badges, organic juice and vegetarian burritos. Music from every era since the Haight’s “heady” days of the sixties spilled out from retail and residential properties alike.

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The street was closed to traffic from Masonic to Stanyan to make way for stages from which a succession of bands played throughout the afternoon.

Our day had begun with a J Church MUNI ride to the intersection with Duboce, from where we cut through the doggie paradise that is Duboce Park before taking the short hike up from the Lower Haight.

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Fortified with ferocious coffees from the People’s Café adjacent to the Masonic stage, we ambled up and down the street for the next few hours, stopping at either end to enjoy the non-stop live music.

Cannabis and BBQ fumes combined to assail the senses, though we managed to resist the giant Polish sausages, grilled chicken and corn that screamed “eat me” every few yards. We finally succumbed, however, to the deep fried Eastern European Jewish inspired potato and spinach knishs – classic, delicious street food.

For refreshment, we escaped to the chilled haven that is Café Cole for apple and carrot and orange juices. And later in the afternoon we dove into Happy Donuts for a coffee and apple turnover – well, it was one of the few places where we could get a seat!   

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I began this piece by declaring that the hippie was still alive and there was plenty of evidence on show that the fashion and values of its “Haightday”, endured.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACredit for the wholly unthreatening atmosphere must go in part to the not inconsiderable but, nonetheless, unobtrusive police and festival security presence. The SFPD even manned its own stall at which were sold baseball caps and other merchandise. The only occasion we observed them being called into action was when they calmly confiscated a bottle of beer masquerading as a brown paper bag.

The absence of alcohol contributed to the lack of aggression. There were, inevitably, some characters under the influence of drugs – after all, this was probably, notwithstanding the security operation, the best day of the year for panhandling – but they posed no threat to others’ enjoyment. And yes, I was asked at one point whether I needed any “good dope or LSD”! 

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The bands were uniformly excellent and enthusiastically received. Baby and the Luvies (above), winners of the Battle of the Bands competition that had predated the fair, rocked the Stanyan stage, but it was, understandably, the headline act, San Francisco based Pamela Parker (below) and her band who really got the crowd going.

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The only disappointing aspect of the day was the weather. Sunny intervals had been forecast for the afternoon, but the entire event took place under grey skies and in a fine mizzle. But it did nothing to lessen people’s spirits.

It seems any day we are in San Francisco, we are touched by the Giants, even when we had not intended to be. Resolving to warm up with a hot chocolate on our return to the apartment we stopped at the Squat and Gobble on Fillmore just as Sergio Romo was closing out a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix to win the series.

Icing on the funnel cake!

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