My mother’s infectious love for live music is one of my favorite things about her. As her child, I am easily embarrassed by her bold inhibition and tendency to be the first one on the dance floor. Nashville is her musical mecca, and New Orleans, the shiny, new retreat. This year my sister and I joined her at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, just to see what the fuss was about.
Before reuniting with my family, the first person I spoke to was on the airport shuttle, flying in from Minnesota, this purple-haired older lady didn’t give me her name, but did tell me stories of the past 23 years in attendance at Jazz Fest. Back then, every group had their own flag, so missing persons could find them if they wandered too far. Her description of a sea of brightly covered, homemade flags was cut short as she hopped off the bus telling me to look out for her friends, “we have the pink triangle flag this year!”
Our hotel was right on Bourbon street, and punters stood nightly between the neon signs, beckoning us in for shots, or grenades, tall neon cocktail glasses. During the day, the street nursed hangovers and the only remnants of the night before were Mardi Gras plastic beads, lining the footpaths.
Jazz Fest was an unexpected treat and a beautiful representative of the best kind of crowd. A weird mix of genres hit the stage, I discovered Brandi Carlile, a wonderful guitar playing hippie, with a voice that could thaw the coldest of hearts. Greats I had never even heard of like Irma Thomas and Dr. John and the Night Trippers, surprised me and drew out the most enthusiastic reactions from everyone around me. Paul Simon was incredible, and the most professional musician I have ever seen, directing his band, controlling the audience and clearly enjoying himself. Don’t tell anyone, but I was also extremely impressed by Flo Rida, who had more hits than I thought, and seemed to have limitless fun doing what he did! Music snobs, I'm sorry, but he was genuinely one of the best. Jazz Fest also offered me some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten, and so much rain I forgot what it was like to feel dry!
With more live music outside the festival, at night we hit up a couple of bars with local musicians, soulful saxaphone’s and classic rock covers quickly became the soundtrack to our strolls about the French Quarter. With Jazz Fest in town, the streets were busier than ever, and I'm sure avoiding Mardi Gras and festival season guarantees a more relaxed ambiance. I'm not promising anything quiet though, I can't imagine this lively, colourful city be anything less than vibrant!
THE RUBY SLIPPER
Is there anything that feels longer than queuing for brunch? I have a strong suspicion that hanger (yes, hanger) is at it’s greatest in the morning. Waiting in line for The Ruby Slipper for a table for three felt like the longest hour, but we finally got a spot outside! I was extremely satisfied by their eggs - the Benedict there listed as one of America’s best! But it was their french toast batons really blew me away. UNREAL.
OAK ALLEY PLANTATION
The stunning Oak Alley Plantation is worth the trip out of the city. With a fascinating and tragic history, a tour here is a reminder of the South's troubled past. As well as getting educated on a very important part of our past, Oak Alley was featured in several films and TV shows and a Beyonce music video so you KNOW the plantation grounds house are picture-perfect. Those famous Oak trees are over 300 years old!
When in New Orleans, don’t eat pizza. If you need to eat pizza - as we all do - go to Domenica. This stone baked, thin crust, delight surpassed all my expectations. Forget seafood for one night and treat yourself to the best Italian food this side of the Mississippi. Just pop in for a drink if you don’t want to miss out on even one night of crawfish, their cocktails are a delight!
Who doesn't love a good market? An great apres -Beignet stroll through the French Market will make your day! From some hilarious tacky souvenirs to beautiful locally made jewelry, there truly is so much to see. Get lost among the stalls, and make sure to talk to the vendors!
Allegedly one of the oldest bars in America, Lafitte is easily missed, sitting at the darker end of Bourbon Street. A large piano seems right at home, naturally taking up most of the space at the back of the pub. Happening upon a singalong there one night, my sister and I really felt like we had gone back in time for a second, until our walk home through the throngs of Stag and Hen do's brought us to 2016 again with a bang.
CAFE DU MONDE
Topping every New Orleans ‘to-do’ list are Cafe du Monde’s infamous Beignets and they DO NOT disappoint. As outrageous as the queue seems, it's not that long a wait, these guys are efficient! It's truly a beautiful spot sit back and enjoy the buzz that only NOLA provides. Some tourist traps are just so for a reason, you know.
Still avoiding heavy, southern food we ate our last meal together at this beautiful coffee shop. With great natural light - something I don't think food bloggers write about enough to be honest - and fantastic Avocado toast, Willa Jean was a great end to our trip!
Running parallel to the alcohol-fueled Bourbon Street, Royal Street offered a change of pace with cute boutiques and Aladdin's cave-esque antique stores. Save your bank account the stress and treat them like Museums, or make mental notes for your future post-lottery-win home.
Bourbon Street for a few drinks and the most hilarious drunk-people watching.
You can enjoy live music everywhere in New Orleans, but The Spotted Cat is a particularly good joint to hit up.
Take a break from all that southern food and try the excellent Italian dishes at Adolfo's.
We stayed at the Royal Sonesta, an extremely fancy hotel, with an adjoining jazz club that Stevie Wonder played at!
The delightful addition to the Contemporary Arts Center, The Stacks Magazine store stocks beautiful art books and all the dreamy, hipster publications you need.
Quaint and quirky Jimmy J's do a very good, classic breakfast menu.
MISSED, BUT MAYBE NEXT TIME...
Mardi Gras Season
The World War II Museum
More Beignets. All the Beignets.