“Marigny Strolling” in the deep and dense foggy night with heavy moonlight on Frenchmen Street just behind the Vieux Carré. Stumbling and bumbling and rumbling, it’s New Orleans city bouncing from D.B.A to the Blue Nile music venues. It’s all smoke and beer and whiskey and sex and sax and funk and trombone. The band starts its third piece still on the first set. It’s Saturday night; everything clicking just right. Big man sousaphonist blows left and right, up and down, pumping the knees marching-style while blowing the hell out the brass. The crowd, hot and high and frenzied, swing forward, backward, left, right, it does not matter. Trombonist with cheeks puffing out like a blowfish about to explode like the “wafer-thin” fat man Mr. Creosote and The Meaning of Life. Drummer desperately tries to maintain pace wildly beating on Kerouac’s[i] “rolling crash of butt-scarred drums.” Trombone man puts down his brass to shout, “You got to wind it up” and something about Michael Buck while the crowd cares less about the actual words because it’s only the beat that means a damn thing. Read more
Saturday nights in the deep New Orleans June summer stick to the skin like the juice from the Rue Des Orangers, or the city’s municipal street “orange” – Satsuma – that sticks to your fingers. It’s “bar in the car” night as down and almost out Lightfoot and I head with a few dollars in hand to Rouses Supermarket in Midcity to buy a bottle of NOLA rum and coke to put in an ice-filled cooler in the back of his car. We invented “bar in a car” years ago to compensate for the costs involved in our nights on the town, (only back then it was, to confess, Red Bull and raspberry vodka along with a few choice enhancements). New Orleans provides a prime setting where those lacking money can provide their own drinks pouring cheap cocktails, wine, or straight hard liquor into plastic cups from the back of their car with a self-supplied bar. Most drinking venues along Decatur Street between Ursulines Street and Esplanade Avenue in the Vieux Carré allow people to enter their establishment with drinks purchased elsewhere.
Café Beignet on Rue Bourbon right on stripper row about three blocks from Rue Canal in the Vieux Carré. It’s memorial-day weekend, a time when travelers from around the world find time to dip down to New Orleans before the oppressive summer heat takes hold of the “northern most Caribbean city” only thirty degrees above the equator. At 9:00am the old French-and Spanish-style courtyard called “Musical Legends Park” offers an inviting space for tourists as they begin their day amidst the statutes of great music heroes of New Orleans, and the smell of Cajun breakfast cooking in the kitchen fills the air. The musicians Steamboat Willie and Friends prepare to play Jazz, Dixieland, and Ragtime for their first set much to the delight of a courtyard full of eager tourists thirsty for New Orleans tunes and specialty cocktails.
People busk all over the place “cruising as pirates” in nearly every nook and cranny of the Vieux Carré and Faubourg Marigny. Although much of this area now resembles a Disney-themed park, outsiders reclaim space for their own individualized uses while taking full advantage of the sustainable habitat the Vieux Carré and Faubourg Marigny provides for buskers and street entertainers of all sorts. Some people busk to survive, while others do it to supplement their meager poverty wages earned working in the New Orleans tourist industry. Still others busk to avoid the bore of mainstream, nine-to-five jobs. Interestingly, many of the hipsters from white middle class families moving to New Orleans rely on welfare-for-the-poor programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, while busking to avoid working jobs in the legal economy. Some people busk, as in the case of many brass bands in New Orleans, as a starting point to launch their careers in the local, and if they’re lucky, international music industry. Buskers develop a particular skill to take to the streets. Buskers busk poetry, music of almost every possible genre, art, tarot cards and palm reading, miming, juggling, freeze posing, politics, tap-dancing, shticks such as “dog in the coffin,” comedy, and so on. Let’s stroll New Orleans streets to peek into busker life: