The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is legendary, and while the festival that takes place on the fairgrounds is outstanding enough all by itself (as I would soon find out) it’s the countless aftershows that happen nightly throughout the world’s most notorious music city that really amps things up.
Many people are surprised to learn that the festival site closes every day at 7pm; the headliners generally start their sets around five o’clock. Music fans are then allowed about an hour or two for dinner before the aftershows begin to start up at bars, theatres and temporarily converted warehouses from one end of New Orleans to another. The first round of aftershows can end anytime between midnight and 2am which is when the second round of aftershows start up.
Then there are shows that start at four or five in the morning and then – believe it or not – some places even schedule concerts that start at 7am. By the time the afterparties pack it in the festival site is just about ready to open up again at 11am.
It’s a gruelling two weeks.
But on May 1st, 2014 I was still fresh as a daisy, having just arrived in New Orleans the day before. My only chores in the city thus far had been a somewhat disappointing dinner at a highly recommended restaurant called Cochon the previous night followed by a show at a bar named after the great Howlin’ Wolf. So when I walked into Mardi Gras World for the Royal Family Ball Masquerage I was ready to stay as late as the music would allow.
Mardi Gras World isn’t a bar, it’s a large building that houses Mardi Gras floats as they are built throughout the year. That’s what I glean from their advertisements anyway; while it’s a tourist attraction in addition to a working business I had never visited the place before (or since).
From my perspective it was a large, plain warehouse and a pretty empty one when I arrived. The place was completely devoid of atmosphere and aside from a wooden table serving drinks inside and another one outside there was nothing but a stage and a hundred people wandering about. I bellied up to the wooden table, got a drink and did my own wandering until the show started.
The concert featured Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk and Soulive. I forget the order of the bands, likely due to the fact that I did more wandering than paying attention. I’d watch a few songs and then do a walkabout, grab a drink and maybe lean on a handrail staring out over the Mississippi River (oh yeah, the place was right on the river) while the music pumped out of the tin building behind me, and then I’d wander back inside for a few more songs. So went the evening.
This was my first time seeing Lettuce and Dumpstaphunk, and while I had seen Soulive a few times and always enjoyed them I was (and remain) largely ignorant of their work. So if one band blends into another in my memory I suppose I can be excused.
I must say, I went in with a negative bias towards Lettuce. I hate the band’s name, and in my opinion if a band can’t be creative when coming up with their name I have little hope for finding creativity in their music. I know the name Lettuce was a play on “let us play at your bar,” but it’s still a stupid name and they were going to have to blow me away to gain my respect.
They didn’t, and as a result I can barely picture them in my mind.
I remember the Soulive set much better; it’s hard for a guy like me to not pay attention to a guy like Eric Krasno. He’s a great guitar player and a clever arranger and they even did a few of their brilliant Beatles arrangements.
And then there was Dumpstaphunk. This is a band name it’s best I don’t think about. It’s either horrible or almost clever. Did you know that Dumpster is a brand name, like Kleenex and Thermos? True story. So is Laundromat. And Realtor too.
Anyway, Dumpstaphunk made a fine soundtrack to my circling through the crowd (which grew to an admirable size throughout the evening), to the bar, to the Mississippi, to the bar and back inside. I think I might have even made it to the end of the night, or more accurately to the end of the show.
Making it to the end of the night wasn’t even on my radar. After the show I followed my plan of shunning any more aftershows and went back to my hotel to rest up. It was going to be a long, trying week and I was going to have to pace myself.