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It’s Carnival Time!

As Al Johnson sings, “It’s Carnival time … everybody’s havin’ fun!”

In fact, Carnival season has been going on for a week now, having begun as true to tradition on January 6, the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Carnival kicks off in New Orleans with the very first Carnival ball that night, put on by a krewe called the Twelfth Night Revelers. Also that night, another group called the Phunny Phorty Phellows take over a streetcar for their first-night-of-Carnival revelry.

Phunny Phorty Phellows

The Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night 2011. Photo by Jim Hobbs, via Creative Commons

We’ve got a nice long Carnival season this year, which I love — Mardi Gras Day isn’t until March 8. That means there’s more time for … King Cake! You can read more about the tradition at the links, but in a nutshell … King Cakes are a sweet, coffee-cake like ring cake decorated with purple, green and gold sugar (the colors of Mardi Gras), available from Twelfth Night until Mardi Gras Day. (There are those who make them available year-round, but it is BLASPHEMY! BLASPHEMY, I TELL YOU! to eat King Cake anytime other than between these dates. Just don’t.) Baked into the cake is a small plastic baby, and if you get Da Baby in your piece of King Cake, you are obliged to throw the next King Cake party. This is a lot of fun, but can be problematic if your luck (good or bad, depending on your perspective) leads you to get the baby numerous times in one Carnival season. As a cartoon in artist Bunny Matthews’ old “F’Sure!” strip, which featured actual dialogue heard in New Orleans once portrayed, a guy said, “Yeah, when I was a kid at St. Rita’s, I got da King Cake baby five pawties in a row! My mama almos’ died,” to which his podna’ replied, “Yeah brah, ya shoulda swallowed dem!” (If this isn’t hilarious to you … well, it’s a New Orleans thing; you wouldn’t understand.)

Expatriate New Orleanians and others who love the city are now, thanks to the fact that we live in Da Future, ordering King Cakes over the Internets! They’re a bit expensive to ship, but as far as I’m concerned it’s worth every penny. Those of us who have baking skills or who live too far away for reasonable shipping, both of which apply to my friend Tiare in Sweden, make things easier by simply making their own!

King Cake, baked in Sweden! Looka dat! Just like ya mamma usesta go ova by McKenzie's ta buy!

I can’t bake worth a hoot, so this year I got mine from my old high school classmate Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes, which are some of the best in town. The first one I tried this year is one of his Pecan Praline King Cakes, which sounds really good. It was JUST delivered, and we’ll haul it to Seattle tomorrow to bring a little touch of Carnival to the snowy Pacific Northwest.

Speaking of pecan praline … King Cakes have come a long way since I was a kid. I grew up on the plain, dry, bready King Cakes made by McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes, and I loved ’em. A lot of people didn’t (the plain, dry, bready bit being a big reason why), but I suppose it’s a nostalgia thing for the rest of us. Most “plain” King Cakes today are at the very least a sweet, moist cinnamon coffee-cake dough, and many have myriad fillings — fruit, vanilla, chocolate, etc. Pecan praline is a new one on me though — nice going, Manny ‘n krewe — and I can’t wait to try it.

There are those who might want to take their King Cakes a bit … further. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Larry Ragusa.

Could it be … the ultimate King Cake? Awrite … I know what you want.

(Thanks to Greg Beron for sending this to me; that’s his brother Larry portraying “Larry.”)


Fats & Dave, together again

Yeah, I know, two posts in one day. Try not to faint.

I couldn’t help it, though. When I saw this report from WWL-TV in New Orleans I had to share it. New Orleans R&B legends Antoine “Fats” Domino and Dave Bartholomew, who together (and along with producer Cosimo Matassa) were responsible for so much great New Orleans music (and the building blocks of rock ‘n roll), hadn’t seen each other or spoken for years. Then WWL reporter Eric Paulsen brought Mr. Dave over to Fats’ house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

“And when these two living legends got together, it was magic… Fats is 82. Dave turns 90 next month. But they felt like teenagers when they saw each other.”

What I’d give to be able to see these two perform together. I last saw Dave years ago at Tipitina’s, heading up a big band and tearing it up for a guy who was in his 70s at the time. It’s been longer for Fats, a Jazzfest performance in 1997. He’s cripplingly shy these days and almost never performs, and was supposed to play Fest again in 2006, but that didn’t happen (sigh).

The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame is honoring Fats and Dave, and the special event will feature Lloyd Price, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, The ReBirth Brass Band, Theresa Andersson, The Dixie Cups, Toots & the Maytals, James Andrews, Jon Cleary & more. As our friend Diana said, “Just your average night in New Orleans …” I surely hope they release a DVD of this event.


Vote for Nine Lives

Yes, we’re all still alive over here — traveling again, and more. Let’s jump back in and talk about some important stuff. First …

Some of you may be familiar with Dan Baum’s excellent book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. It traces the true stories of nine New Orleanians from different parts of the city, vastly different circumstances and levels of New Orleans society and culture. Their stories begin 45 years ago with Hurricane Betsy and take them through the disaster of Katrina, the Federal Flood and beyond. It’s excellent, and I recommend it without reservation.

Some of you may also be fans of New Orleans singer and songwriter Paul Sanchez, who’s one of my very favorite musicians. Paul and his wife Shelly lost everything in the flood of nearly five years ago, but after having gone through the heartbreak and difficulties physical, emotional and financial have picked up and carried on with life in an amazing way. Paul’s life and singing are full of joy and love; he’s been making an amazing amount of music in the last five years, and it’s all terrific.

Let’s take a little musical interlude, shall we?

Paul’s been doing some writing with Los Angeles-based writer Colman DeKay over the last few years — they co-wrote the title track of Paul’s album Exit to Mystery Street and several other songs, and now they’re working on a project that’s got me very excited.

Colman and Paul have picked up the rights to adapt Nine Lives into a musical. I’ve heard several of the songs, and they are amazing. Truly amazing.

The first step is to make a CD of the songs, then … “all the way to Broadway,” as Threadhead Records founder Chris Joseph says. Let’s hear a bit more about the project from Chris and Paul:

In order to do this, they’re going to need some money.

Threadhead Records is perhaps the world’s first non-profit, volunteer-run record label. Their sole aim is to raise funding to help get great New Orleans musicians make records and get them out to the people. Threadhead needs our help with this one, folks — it’s a big project.

Fortunately they’re in line for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi’s “Refresh Project,” but in order for them to be eligible for the money, they need our votes! Go to this URL:


Register at the site. Don’t worry about spam — I’ve been participating in this for a while and I haven’t gotten any. Once you’re registered, vote for the Nine Lives Project. The important thing to remember is that once you click “vote for the project” you’ll be redirected to a login screen. Once you register and log in you will be redirected back to the main page, where you HAVE to click, “vote for the project” AGAIN in order for your vote to count. This is really important — a lot of votes went uncounted until people realized this!

It’s getting down to the wire; only the top ten get the cash and Nine Lives has been as low as #15. We’re up to #8 as of today, so we need to keep the momentum rolling.

UPDATE! Dan Baum himself visited the comments section (wow!) and said that you can vote TEN times a day, as long as you let an hour or so go between votes. So vote early and often! Vote now, and tomorrow, and every day until the end of the month. It’s legal! It’s not as if it were a congressional election in St. Bernard Parish or something.

If we’re successful you’ll be rewarded with a monumental work of New Orleans music, telling some great stories with some great songs. One of the things that’s helped people through the last five years in New Orleans is a ton of great music — mo’ music, mo’ betta!

If you’ve been attentding any of Paul’s recent shows you may well have heard versions of some of the songs. You can also preview one of the songs at Paul’s site — scroll through the music player at the bottom of the browser window until you get to one called “Feel Like A Lady,” with vocals by John Boutté (the song is based on the story of JoAnn from the book and captures one of the character’s pivotal scenes beautifully).

Thanks for helping out, y’all.


A musical prep for Tales

Mon, July 19, 2010: UPDATED with 28 more songs!

We’re not going to Tales of the Cocktail this year. (Waah.)

Vacation time and annoying little details like money didn’t quite work out, so I wish all my friends and readers who are going a GREAT time … and I don’t want to hear a single thing about it, or it’ll drive me crazy. Internet blackout for me! No Twitter! What I will do is find a great bar (which will, I hope, have left a few bartenders behind that aren’t going to Tales) and quaff some cocktails.

My friend Stevi, who does the excellent cocktail weblog Two At The Most, asked me if I could come up with a playlist to help people prepare for getting to Tales next week, which I thought might be fun. (I can’t help but shamelessly mention that there was that New Orleans box set I did a while back that was pretty good …)

I thought about how much I and so many other people enjoyed HBO’s superb New Orleans-based TV series “Tremé” this past year, and included a number of artists and songs featured on that show. If you’re a “Tremé” fan you’ll like this little quickie compilation, which I put together on iTunes using their iMix feature. It’s entitled “Tales of the Cocktail ’10 Prep!”

So, you can buy the whole list, or pick a handful that you might want to hear, or if you have an extensive NOLA music collection use the list and drag the songs into a new playlist on iTunes, whichever you like. (Alternately, you can just ignore it and make your own!) One annoying hitch — I made a 100-song playlist, and for some reason iTunes truncated it to 72 the first time I tried to upload it, so I’ve had to break it up into two playlists. There should be widgets below to take you to iTunes, but in case it doesn’t render properly here are the direct links: (Part 1, Part 2) Look for the full printed list after the break.

Continue reading …

Nobody Knows Nothin’

Threadhead Records have released a new single entitled “Nobody Knows Nothin’,” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Clint Maedgen, along with John Boutté, Susan Cowsill, Craig Klein, Bill Lynn, Gregory Menoher, Margie Perez and Paul Sanchez, and written by John Boutté, Bill Lynn and Paul Sanchez. Proceeds will benefit Gulf Aid, a 501(c3) nonprofit corporation established in response to the biggest oil spill in US history just 50 miles off of the Louisiana coast, and are distributed to organizations focused on supporting wetlands/coastal environmental issues & the well-being of fishermen, and the regional seafood industry.

Nobody Knows Nothin'

To purchase the digital download of the song, and to help with the oil cleanup efforts, go to threadheadrecords.bandcamp.com. The song will also be available soon on iTunes.

While you’re at it, check out the song “It Ain’t My Fault,” by Mos Def and Ben Jaffe, along with Lenny Kravitz, Trombone Shorty and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, also to benefit GulfAid.org:

Buy it now on iTunes!