When You Get Back We’re Going to Cha Cha All Night Long… She lied.
So were the words John Clearly sang to our group of revelers at a crawfish boil on Saturday afternoon. It was a private party and we had him and his Absolute Monster Gentleman all to ourselves. His soothing, soulful voice set against the funky grooves of the Gentleman sang about his lady’s betrayal. As I swayed lazily in the sun I had another betraying lady on my mind: The Grand Lady herself; Lady Katrina.
Since the storm, every time I come to New Orleans I can’t help but do a city survey of progress. A “see for yourself” against the newspapers that continue to report just how little progress has been made since the storm. Unfortunately, they are still mostly right. House after house remains marked with the number of evacuees, survivors, the dead. They are still abandoned, bordered up, half torn down. “Do Not Demo” is written in large black letters on several—a plea to the government and developers, perhaps? The once shiny FEMA trailers look weather beaten. Those staying in them, equally worn.
All is not lost. Bourbon Street still bumps along with hurricanes (welcomed when in the form of an alcoholic beverage by frat boys ready to consume them). A girl celebrating her 21st birthday is unconscious in the bathroom stall of Pat O’Brian’s where we have come following the crawfish boil to celebrate the Kentucky Derby with Mint Juleps. The woman with her in the stall says she has never seen her before in her life but was given instructions by her mama to “Keep an eye out.” EMS was called. Upsetting, yes, but also an indication that the “we’re here to party; to dance; to celebrate” mentality of the city is still alive and well. The Quarter wasn’t the only place ready to get down. And as the second weekend of Jazz Fest got into full swing there was still plenty of Cha Cha-ing to be done all over the crescent city.
Friday night I caught the Topaz and Mudphonic show upstairs at the Blue Nile–a thumping, sexy, rockin’ hell of a good time. They were followed by DJ Soul Sister, famous for her rare grooves and New Orleans funk, she kept the party going. Heavy, sweat-inducing, rock was the theme of the night and Galactic ran with it. Tipitina’s was packed with hip shaking fans as Stanton Moore pounded on his drums.
Saturday night was not as successful but so it goes. The fatigue set in and I spent most of the night chasing it. After a series of, “I’m here and the band just finished”, I finally landed at Maple Leaf for the Vinyl show. It was not enough to keep my attention or ease the exhaustion weighting down my body. And so off it was to Le Bon Temps Roule for a Go Go Jungle/Critters Buggin jam. That worked. Mike Dillon already had his shirt off and it wasn’t long before the crowd felt compelled to begin to remove theirs.
Sunday festival highlights: Irma Thomas in the gospel tent. A personal tradition of mine for spirit restoration and life affirmation, she is the perfect antidote to a weekend of debauchery. From heaven to hell, and I mean that in the best possible way, The Raconteurs hit it hard on the Gentilly stage. A young boy of no more than 12 was perched on top of a barricade next to me. He wore a t-shirt with ZZ Top airbrushed in green letters and matching green and black studded belt. A small patch of hair covered his upper lip—the beginning signs of manhood. Jack White finished a guitar solo and he clapped his hands and exclaimed, “He’s the best guitarist ever!” Judging from the crowd’s applause, he was speaking for many. I was quite impressed myself. Even more so, that they were there on a Sunday afternoon at Jazz Fest. It was a seemingly unlikely marriage and delightful surprise.
Back to heaven at the blues tent where Derek Trucks set me right. His rendition of “My Favorite Things” touches the soul and forces your hands up in the air in praise. The man next to me fumbled for his sunglasses as tears ran down his face. When he was done invigorating our souls he called up his wife Susan Tedeschi to the stage. Like I said, heaven.
I will now introduce the New Orleans Bingo! Show with two words: Holy shit. Eloquent, I know. You have to see them to understand. You have to see Clint Maegden to really understand. You shouldn’t go to their myspace page to try and understand because you won’t. I did and almost skipped the show because of it. It doesn’t do them justice. You can’t get the magic of this man’s persona or the power of the group’s show from a website. Trust me. They are New Orleans weirdness at its best. Theatrical; haunting; funny; beautiful and oh yes, talented. Catch them if they ever come your way.
The weekend ended with another tradition now in its second year. The annual closing night pool party thrown by Barbara Prashner of Funky Batz at the Maison St. Charles. Topaz and Mudphonic played again, this time tapping into the New Orleans funk. They were joined by Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds. Partygoers ate gumbo and danced along. Someone grabbed an umbrella shading a table and a second line march started around the perimeter of the pool. “Hold on a second.” Topaz laughed into the mic. He promptly jumped in the pool. Returning to the stage he picked up his sax and picked up, where he left off. Picking up where we left off before the hurricane, before the levees broke, before the government failed to respond is what we need to do. And when I come back I’m going to Cha Cha All Night Long and will continue to do so for many years to come.
By Bree Perlman