Tag Archives: Chickie Wah Wah

New Orleans: The whole town’s a musical stage

5 Mar

If you like live music, New Orleans is the place for you.

For choices, accessibility, affordability, variety, quality and just plain fun, I can’t imagine there’s a better place in the country.

New Orleans band Bonerama Mark Mullins

Mark Mullins of Bonerama performs at Rock ‘n’ Bowl

NYC, just for its sheer size, probably has as many choices. Nashville, another music town, could compete. Maybe Seattle, possibly Memphis. There’s probably a few others in the discussion, but when you look at the whole package, it’s hard to beat the Crescent City.

On a recent trip, we managed to take in five different shows in four nights. And that’s only counting the formal shows, not the street musicians or the shows we glimpsed while strolling past various bars. And none of those shows were on Bourbon Street or in the French Quarter, the city’s two best known locations.

Our first night, we hit two different shows on Frenchmen Street, which has become the place to be for live jazz. We caught two sets by Miss Sophie Lee, who styles old-time jazz, at the Spotted Cat. And then we walked across the street and caught a set at d.b.a. by the Stooges Brass Band, which plays a hard-driving funk-rap-jazz-rock style of music.

The Spotted Cat is a simple little bar with a nearly ground-level stage. The audience is only arm’s reach from the band — and you’re never more than a couple dozen feet from the show.

Across the street, d.b.a. is a much bigger venue with lots of floor space for listening or dancing, and the band is spread across a large, elevated stage. A big wooden bar is accessible from two sides of the building. It offers a large variety of beers from across the country and even around the world, including a large selection of beers on tap, which isn’t always the case in NOLA. It also offers a number of specialty cocktails, but the night we were there, the bartenders weren’t keeping up with the simple orders, let alone the complicated ones.

We try to stop by the Spotted Cat every time we’re in town, but lately, we’ve learned it’s best to visit on a weeknight. Frenchmen Street, which is just steps beyond the French Quarter, may become overwhelmed by it’s own good reviews. If you don’t get into some of the bars early on a weekend, you’ll have a hard time getting in the door or claiming a spot of your own. If you like the crowds, by all means, visit on the weekend. But if you want a little elbow room, get there early or visit on a weekday.

Keeping my own advice in mind, we decided to head to Chickie Wah Wah, 2828 Canal St., on Friday night. Easily reachable by the Canal Street streetcar but far enough away that you have to put out some effort, this neighborhood bar is quickly becoming a favorite.

The drinks are reasonable, food’s available, the crowds aren’t overwhelming, the stage is easily viewed and the talent is top-notch.

Paul Sanchez Susan Cowsill Chickie Wah Wah

Paul Sanchez accompanied by Susan Cowsill at Chickie Wah Wah

We listened to New Orleanian Paul Sanchez, late of Cowboy Mouth, and he was joined for a few songs by Susan Cowsill, who sang one of my favorites, “Crescent City Sneaux. ”

Sanchez has a long history of performing in New Orleans and around the country. He has appeared on and contributed to the HBO show “Treme,” including the song he co-wrote with John Boutte, “At the foot of Canal Street.”

Sanchez has also been working on a musical adaptation of the novel “Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans,” a book I read after our first trip to NOLA in 2008. The city’s story is told through the lives of nine people, sketched out between hurricanes Betsy in 1965 and Katrina in 2005. Sanchez and colleagues have written 39 songs for the musical and have released one CD of the music. I’ve searched, but can’t tell the status of their drive to get the show on Broadway.

On Saturday night, we headed to Rock ‘n’ Bowl, 3000 S. Carrollton Ave., for a performance by the high-energy trombone-centric Bonerama.

The sets included covers of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and the jazz classic (and a personal favorite) “Lil’ Liza Jane.” From their own catalog, they played “Bayou Betty” and, off the new CD, “Close the Door,” among others.

As you might guess, Rock ‘n’ Bowl lent itself to an eclectic crowd: there was a 60th birthday party, a class reunion, bowlers and, come 9 p.m., there was a dance-floor full of revelers, including the owner and one bartender doing things with a hula-hoop that would make the girls on Bourbon Street jealous. If you like brassy, up-tempo, funk-rock, Bonerama is the band for you. We’ve seen them once in Iowa (yes, Iowa) and once in NOLA, and I’d see them every chance I can.

We closed out the trip at Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Ave., on a Sunday night. Tip’s has great music throughout the week — generally rock or funk or rap or the like — but Sundays is (generally) reserved for the Cajun Fais Do-do, or Cajun dance party. It draws the locals itching to stretch their legs with a two-step and features the music of Bruce Daigrepont and his band.

This is the second time we’ve made the Fais Do-do, and we’ve had a blast. You’re likely to get asked to dance by the locals — particularly if you’re a female — and Bruce will serve his home-made rice and beans and shoot the breeze with customers during the intermission. He asked for requests at one point in the show, and they were happy to accommodate my plea for “Jolie Blon.”

Rock ‘n’ Bowl and Tip’s are both reachable by a combination of streetcar and buses, or you can take a cab to either, which is what we did this trip to save time.

Four nights, five widely different venues, and not a bad stop in the bunch. Every place in NOLA is fair-game for a show, including the streets and parks. If you make it to New Orleans, be sure to leave plenty of time to take in the live music shows. And, if time permits, you might even stroll down Bourbon Street.

♦ ♦ ♦

In this YouTube video, Paul Sanchez tells the story behind the writing of “At the foot of Canal Street:”

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Sights of the Sounds

18 Feb

Photos of the music venues and performers during a visit to New Orleans from Feb. 13-17, 2014. 

Been there, done that … and a bucket list, too

6 Mar

I started this blog as a way to share my thoughts on some of my favorite subjects, but it also serves as a reference and a repository for me.

I write a number of posts on running and training, cooking, art and my travels. These are a few of the avocations that bring joy to my life. It’s fun to share my thoughts on these subjects with others. It forces me to really think, to reflect, to look at subjects with a critical eye. It’s therapeutic, and it’s a creative outlet.

An evening stroll past Tujague's on Decatur Street.

An evening stroll past Tujague’s on Decatur Street.

But the blog site also serves as a place for me to park information so I can readily retrieve it. I got tired of simply bookmarking sites on my web browser. I’ve got a million things bookmarked, and after a while, they become a jumbled mess.

So a couple of pages on my site serve as my own personal reference book … which can also be used by others. If you have any interest in these same subjects, I hope you’ll find them useful.

On the top menu, under “Places to Go,” I have listed two towns that we have visited recently, New York City and New Orleans. As I have come across places I wanted to visit or explore in these cities, I’ve included little write-ups on them and included links.

I’ve only visited New York once, so the links there are pretty small. That’s not the case with New Orleans.

Places to Go> New Orleans> Been There, Done That

This is a list of places I have gone and can personally recommend. I’m not a native, just an big fan of what I think is a unique, engaging American city. The locals may offer different recommendations, but these are what I can personally attest to. And when we visit, we generally quiz the locals to broaden our horizons.

Beyond the real obvious (Cafe du Monde, Pat O’Brien’s piano bar, Commander’s Palace, Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, all of which should not be missed by first-timers), I’ve included some places that a tourist may or may not normally go. There are so many choices in restaurants, bars and attractions in New Orleans that it can be hard to narrow the choices.

 

Bourbon Street revelers.

Bourbon Street revelers.

Among my top choices are: Brigtsen’s restaurant, Emeril’s NOLA and Emeril’s, Cochon Butcher and Drago’s. For bars, I’d recommend the Spotted Cat, Tipitina’s and Tujague’s (if for nothing other than a Ramos Gin Fizz). But there’s also Tracey’s (to watch a game) and Chickie Wah Wah (for live music). Bar hopping in Algiers is fun. Jeesh, where do you stop?

We’ve visited New Orleans three times in the past year, so the list of places we’ve been has grown rather fast. (Although not fast enough for me.)

But there’s never enough time to see all I want to see and go everywhere I want to go, so that’s why there’s another section…

Places to Go> New Orleans> Bucket list for NOLA

I keep this as a running list of places I want to go on my next visit. There are so many good places to get to, I can’t just remember them all. I have to keep them written down in some organized fashion.

As I review this list, I can’t believe I still haven’t attended a session at Preservation Hall. It’s been on the bucket list since the beginning, but somehow other things always get in the way.

I wanted to visit Carrollton Station on the last visit. We made it to the same general neighborhood (Brigtsen’s restaurant), but we didn’t make the short hop to Carrollton Station. That’s a regret.

I wanted to get to Howlin’ Wolf for more live music, but there just wasn’t time. I couldn’t remember the Maple Leaf, but it came to me when visiting with the locals at Tipitina’s. This time, I made sure to add it to the Bucket List.

 

Tipitina's, New Orleans, La.

Tipitina’s, New Orleans, La.

There are so many good places to eat in New Orleans, it’s impossible to get to them all. While listening to a podcast from WWNO — see the Useful Links section — I learned that there are now more restaurants in New Orleans than before Katrina, despite the population still being significantly less than before the hurricane.

Brennan’s is one of those touchstone restaurants that we somehow have never visited. Herbsaint is a place that I have heard many good things about, but we’ve never got there. The list goes on and on.

 

Many places have found their way onto the Bucket List through the recommendations of friends and fellow bloggers. WordPress offers a reader, and the reader can be set up to categorize blog posts that reference your favorite subjects. Add “New Orleans” to your list, and you’ll get lots of good stories.

I haven’t been very good at keeping track of where all the recommendations have come from, but I will now make a conscious effort to do so. One recent post that is a goldmine is from the blog eatdrinkculture.wordpress.com. Great blog in general, and here’s a link to a roundup of New Orleans restaurants. This post alone could keep me coming back for years.

My most recent visit to New Orleans was in mid-February 2013. We arrived the day after Fat Tuesday. We made the journey with several friends, which made the visit even more special. I was able to move a lot of items from the “Bucket List” to the “Been There, Done That” list.

But there’s still plenty left to explore in the Crescent City. And if you enjoy New Orleans or want some recommendations from an interested outsider, I hope you’ll continue to check back on my blog site because these pages are sure to be constantly evolving.

OFFER YOUR THOUGHTS: What are your recommendations for places to eat, drink, stay or explore in New Orleans?

Music galore in Crescent City

19 Feb

Click on any photo to launch the gallery.

I got to check a number of items off my musical bucket list in a recent trip to New Orleans with my wife and friends.

Tipitina’s was the highlight of this trip. We attended the weekly Fais Do Do — or Cajun dance party — featuring Bruce Daigrepont and his band. They were raucous, and the locals certainly put on a display of fancy Cajun dancing.

As newbies, we stood out, but the locals and the band encouraged everyone to get on their feet. It was a friendly group, and fiddle player Gina Forsyth even took time to talk to our group as we entered the bar, and then mentioned the visitors from Keokuk, Iowa, during the first set!

Band leader Daigrepont supplied complimentary red beans and rice during the intermission, and what a treat that was. I’ve never heard of Mick Jagger serving fish and chips during a concert!

Great Cajun and Zydeco music, a friendly band and crowd, free dance pointers — I can’t recommend the weekly Fais Do Do any higher.

We also made two trips to Frenchmen Street, located in the Fauborg-Marigny, just outside the French Quarter. On Wednesday night, we heard another good band at the Spotted Cat. But the street bands were even more fun that night.

We returned on Saturday, and the bars were so overflowing that we didn’t stay long. We would have loved to hear John Boutte at dba, but it was wall to wall people. We eventually stayed for a few songs at Maison.

The takeaway for the day: come early on the weekend or come on a week night.

And we stopped by Chickie Wah Wah on Friday night. The bar is located quite a ways down Canal Street but easily reachable by streetcar. Loved the bar and talking to the locals. Johnny Sansone and a couple others played a few improvisational sets for the evening. Tift Merrittwas playing on Saturday, and the way Frenchmen turned out, I wish we would have returned for her. I loved some of Merritt’s earlier songs, so it would have been fun to see her in person.

If the trip showed anything, it showed just how varied the outstanding music can be in New Orleans. Where else would you find such a wide variety of top-notch music in friendly and inviting confines in a span of just a few days? Only in New Orleans.

Here’s a short video I shot of one of the street bands on Frenchmen Street:

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