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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.

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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!


Gulf Aid Benefit Concert this Sunday, May 16

If you’re in the New Orleans area, there’s no other place for you to be on Sunday of this weekend, May 16, than at Mardi Gras World‘s River City Plaza for Gulf Aid, a benefit concert to raise funds to stop the oil from destroying our wetlands and provide financial aid to affected fishermen and their families. It’s a presentation of WWOZ 90.7 FM New Orleans in conjunction with Mardi Gras World, SDT Waste and Debris, Rehage Entertainment and others, and the lineup of talent will be stellar.

NASA photo from the International Space Station, showing the giant oil slick approaching the Mississippi Delta (top right)

NASA photo from the International Space Station, showing the giant oil slick approaching the Mississippi Delta (top right)

An aerial view of the oil leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, May 6, 2010.

An aerial view of the oil leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, May 6, 2010.

Unemployed commercial fishermen and their families wait in line to receive charity handouts in Hopedale, La.

Unemployed commercial fishermen and their families wait in line to receive charity handouts in Hopedale, La. (via the Boston Globe)

See all 40 photos at the Boston Globe.

As David Torkanowsky said on ‘OZ yesterday, this is to raise money to support people who, along with our musicians, are the mainstay of our culture — the people who provide our seafood. A lot of them are out of work right now, and we need to make sure they can feed their families — families that comprise multiple generations of fishermen from Texas to Florida. (Aside from that, we can hope and pray that there’ll still be safe seafood for them to catch after the disaster in the Gulf.) Beside the impacted seafood fishing families, the benefit is for the families of those who lost their lives in the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and also to provide for wetlands protection and restoration.

If you can’t attend the concert, you have two other things to do. First, donate online to the Gulf Relief Foundation — it’s important. Every single penny of your contribution will go to where it’s needed. Next, the entire concert will be broadcast on WWOZ, at 90.7 FM locally and online to the planet, from 12 noon to 10pm Central Time.

Here’s the lineup of musicians: Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, MyNameIsJohnMichael, Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse Revue, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Honey Island Swamp Band, Beausoleil, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers with Jeremy Davenport, ReBirth Brass Band, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Zachary Richard, Happy Jack Frequency, Allen Toussaint, Voices of the Wetlands All-Stars (featuring Tab Benoit, Dr. John, Cyril Neville, George Porter Jr., Waylon Thibodeaux, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Sansone, Johnny Vidacovich and Marcia Ball), Ani DiFranco, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Mos Def and Terence Blanchard, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz.

It’s amazing that this whole festival was planned and put together in about a week’s time — an awesome effort on the part of all concerned. Help make sure it succeeds and gets the job done. Go, donate and listen.


Jazzfest 2010: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Let’s put one thing on the table straight away — Jazzfest is great and always will be, and I had a great time. So much fantastic music and food, how can you not?

There were a few things I wanted to single out as being particularly good, though, plus the disappointments, plus something that makes me growl. I’ll throw in another few tidbits about the visit itself, not necessarily Jazzfest-related, because I’m a great big cheatin’ bastard.

The Good

Almost every single musical act we saw the entire time at the Fair Grounds (with a few quibbly exceptions). The Bester Singers, Chocolate Milk, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Theresa Andersson, Susan Cowsill (who’s always been good, but with her maturation as an artist in the last 2-3 years she’s become great), Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots, Paul Sanchez, Elvis Costello and his marvelous acoustic arrangements of his older material, nifty covers and his new stuff with the Sugarcanes, the Fleur de Ladies Brass Band (who kicked MAJOR ass), the astonishing New Orleans Spiritualettes, John Boutté, The Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra, The New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, Henry Butler, Band of Horses, Sonny Landreth, Anders Osborne, Charmaine Neville, Clarence “Frogman” Henry (still got it!), Feufollet, my old schoolmate Tim Laughlin, Trombone Shorty (with special guest Mystikal), the Neville Brothers (still at it), and Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias to take us out.

One thing that surely belongs in “The Good” was something I only heard about second-hand, unfortunately — Earth, Wind & Fire’s last-minute substitution for the missing Aretha Franklin. From all accounts they really tore it up, and although I wouldn’t have thought to go see them had they been scheduled, Wes and I both wish now that we’d made it over there to hear them.

Finally, in the music department, we were frequently very moved and touched by all the musicians who dedicated songs and shows to our friend Mary, who passed away on Mardi Gras Day this year. Paul Sanchez, Susan Cowsill, Tim Laughlin, Dave Alvin and more … although we miss her very much we felt good to see and hear how far and wide was her impact on people’s lives. We had a very, very special cochon de lait po-boy for her and our friend Dave, who left us last July. Jazzfest wasn’t the same without them but there were still there with us the whole time nonetheless. As Paul Sanchez said, “We celebrate life by releasing what’s in us. We celebrate life by remembering those who can’t celebrate life with us right now.”

The Fat Pack

Two great new additions to the Jazzfest food lineup made us very happy this year. The standout dish: Shrimp & Grits, by Fireman Mike. A truly amazing dish — plump shrimp in a creamy, slightly spicy gravy over cheesy stone-ground grits. Simple yet full of flavor and nicely filling, this was the only savory dish we went back for twice.

The other standout — La Divina Gelateria, open in New Orleans since mid-2005, made their debut appearance at the Fair Grounds this year, and if you ask me it was long overdue. Sure, we all love Angelo Brocato’s and their ices, spumoni and biscotti, but La Divina kept it exciting with a special feature, the Flavor of the Day — each day, something different. The first Friday’s flavor was Abinsthe Sorbetto, made with Lucid Absinthe and absolutely stellar. It was wonderfully creamy, with the alcohol content of the absinthe making smaller ice crystals leading to the creamier texture but with no cream content, a nice anise flavor and the broad herbal undertone holding it all up. Magnificent. The other flavors of the day were strawberry balsamico sorbetto, Bananas Foster, sweet potato, Creole cream cheese, pineapple-mint sorbetto and finally the amazing Coco Thai sorbetto, made from a coconut milk base with coconut, lime and Thai pandan leaf, very unusual and very delicious. Of the regular flavors, they offered café au lait, crème brulée, stracciatella and my favorite, Chocolate Azteca … rich and creamy dark chocolate gelato spiked with cinnamon, almond and hot chile. (Um, I had that three times. I ate a LOT of gelato and sorbetto at the Fest.) And on top of all that, we made friends with Carmelo and Katrina, the couple who co-own the gelateria, and they are super-nice folks.

Then there were the perennials, food-wise … the stuff that’s always there, and always good. We got our pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo from Prejean’s, the marvelous cochon de lait, soft shell crabs, Vaucresson’s sausages. But as happy as all that food makes me, the thing that’s kept me the happiest the longest, and has been a thread of food connection going back for more years than I realized, is the single most underrated and almost criminally under-noticed food item at Jazzfest: Creole’s Stuffed Bread, from Creole’s Lunch House in Lafayette.

For more years than I could remember (at least as I entered the Fair Grounds for Jazzfest for the first time this year), the first thing I’d do is head to the Creole’s Stuffed Bread booth, just to the left of the Crawfish Monica booth, where all the long lines are. Crawfish Monica is good, but I can make that at home. That simple-sounding but magical combination of ground beef and pork fresh sausage, slices of smoked sausage, spices, minced jalapeños and just enough cheese to hold it all together, inside a thin, crisp bread shell is just one of the best things I’ve ever had. They kick the everlovin’ ass of Natchitoches meat pies, which I find bland in comparison. I eat at least one Creole’s Stuffed Bread every day at Jazzfest and have been for many years.

I love them. And I adore the nice lady who makes them and sells them from that booth every year, Mrs. Merlene Herbert, who remembers me by face (if not by name) every year. The year after the storm and the Federal Flood, the very important and emotional Jazzfest of 2006, I made a beeline to her booth only to find out that it wasn’t there. I was horrified, and hoped that it wasn’t hurricane-related; Hurricane Rita, which slammed southwest Louisiana less than a month after Katrina devasted the Gulf Coast further east, largely spared the city of Lafayette. The news was bad, though — Miss Merlene’s husband had passed a few months earlier, and she couldn’t bring herself to do the months of work required to bake and freeze the large quantity the stuffed breads she needed to prepare for Jazzfest. I missed her and her food too much, so in the midweek between Jazzfest weekends as we headed to the annual crawfish boil we attend in Eunice, I made a detour to the Lunch House in Lafayette to see her and enjoy her food. She was astonished by our visit, and I wish we had had more time to spend with her, but unfortunately we had to take our breads to go in order to make it to the crawfish boil. (I was so hell-bent on Stuffed Bread that I passed right by a sign at a gas station in Opelousas that said “tasso sandwiches,” and I didn’t hear the end of that for about two years, but that’s another story.)

I was trying to remember exactly how many years it had been that I’d been happily gobbling down Creole’s Stuffed Bread at Jazzfest, and I asked Miss Merlene how long she had been vending at Jazzfest. “1989, honey … it’s been 21 years.” Wow. And although I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across her dish, I know I was there in ’89, and have been enjoying them ever since.

I’ll tell a little secret, which I hope doesn’t get me in trouble. One day during Fest this year we went to see Miss Merlene as usual, money already in hand to pay for my Stuffed Bread. “Put that away, dawlin’,” she said. “This one’s on me.” Holy bejeebies … that was a first! It may have been a first-ever, as the younger man who was working in the booth with her did a double-take worthy of a Tex Avery cartoon, and the look on his face said, “She’s never done THAT before!” Well, folks, all I can say is … eat one every Fest day for 21 years and you might get a free one some day too.

Twenty-one years of Creole’s Stuffed Bread was very notable for me in “The Good” this year. May there be many more.

Finally … the rain. Rather, the relative lack thereof. Sure, we got a little soaked the first day, but it wasn’t too bad. Actually, the mud the next couple of days was worse, but the weather on the first Saturday and Sunday couldn’t have been more comfortable. This kept up until the second Sunday, last day of the Fest, when it did sprinkle a little bit but nothing remotely daunting. I don’t know what kind of deal Quint Davis made (not, one would hope, with the guy with the horns and the cape), but whatever he did, he did it right. No sooner had the Nevilles, the Radiators, the Wild Magnolias and all the other finishing acts played their last note when the weather started looking seriously threatening, giving us just enough time to walk back to our car and get inside before the rain, as Wesly put it, started “pounding down like a fucking monsoon.” Talk about timing.

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