Since the last time I had been in New Orleans, the great Louisiana Music Factory record store had moved from their longtime location on Decatur Street to new digs on the ground level of the building where Offbeat Magazine is headquartered at the foot of Frenchmen Street. While the new location is smaller (there’s no upstairs), there’s still plenty of selection. I can usually expect to spend about $100 in this store, and this trip was no exception. While vinyl and CD’s are the main attractions, don’t overlook the amazing book department, which is for the most part restricted to books about music or books about New Orleans (I’m especially partial to books that are about both). There’s also a fairly decent selection of DVD’s (mostly about Louisiana), some T-shirts, and an assortment of concert poster replicas. Don’t miss it.
In a city as well-known for music as New Orleans, record stores are important, and the Crescent City has some good ones indeed. Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street is the place for all things Louisiana, from brass band music, traditional jazz, swamp pop and local rock to books and magazines about Louisiana music. Peaches Records on South Peters occupies the space of the old Tower Records, and is a reincarnation of the legendary store in Gentilly that did not survive Hurricane Katrina. The old Peaches was in an inner-city neighborhood, and specialized in rap. The new location still sells rap, but caters more to the tourist trade in the French Quarter. There is plenty of used vinyl, a nice local section with a lot of brass band music, and even a small coffee bar in the front.
Mondays aren’t as bad if you’re fortunate enough to wake up in New Orleans, but it was still raining on and off, but “off” enough that I felt safe in catching the St. Charles Streetcar to head Uptown for breakfast, since my hotel was heating up their breakfast in a microwave. The atmosphere on this particular morning was like a sauna, and grey, foreboding clouds lay to the west. Once I got off at Maple Street, I decided that I didn’t want Camellia Grill, so I walked back to the west and came to a little park with beautiful royal palms, and a couple of restaurants that weren’t open for breakfast. But I finally came to a place called Refuel that was a coffee bar, but also a whole lot more. They served full breakfasts, so I ducked inside to eat, and just in time, because the rains came with a furor, and several of us were more or less trapped inside, waiting for the rain to subside. It never really did, and eventually I gave up waiting, and, since I had finished breakfast, I made a run for it and headed back down to Carrollton Avenue to catch the return streetcar. But the rain was continuing, so I had to hang out under an awning until the streetcar came, and I made the ride back down to my hotel.
Strangely, once I got back to the hotel, the rain tapered off and eventually the sun came out, so I had no trouble walking into the Quarter. At Louisiana Music Factory I bought the famous book on New Orleans R & B I Hear You Knocking by Jeff Hanusch, as well as a CD of tracks from the old Sounds of Memphis recording studio entitled “Play The Game” which for some strange reason is not available in Memphis.
I spent the rest of the day browsing in old bookshops, not buying very much because I had very little money, although I did come upon a used copy of John Broven’s Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans. which I purchased. As I saw the day was getting late, I stopped at the little gelato bar near Faulkner House Books, and then walked back to the hotel.
Once I got there, Sess called and asked me to come by his record shop, so I got my car from the valet and drove out there. I spent a little time hanging out with him and some of his friends, but it was time for dinner, so I drove from there onto I-10 and out into Metairie to Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro for dinner.
When I left there, it was time for the workshop at the Hangar, a nightclub not far from Xavier University in what was called Central City, so I headed over there, finding the location with some difficulty. In this area, there were still signs of much devastation from Hurricane Katrina, but the event was very well attended. Not only did I speak on one of the panels, but I was also asked to judge the performers. Unfortunately, there was a ballgame on the television during our event, and some people were more interested in the game than our workshop, but for the most part things went well. I had intended to go to a beignet place when I left the Hangar, but I was so tired that I just drove back to the hotel and went to bed.
I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.