Monday, April 2, 2012

Belated Tour Diary, New Orleans, March 16-18

The freeways leading to New Orleans are mostly suspended over gator-breeding swamps and rivers, and it makes the van feel like a time machine headed as far backwards as sideways. Arriving to the Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans by night only confirms that feeling: narrow streets, foreign architecture, gigantic fragrant flowers, curving boulevards, tiled lettering set in the corners of the sidewalks with streetnames like Desire, Piety, Galliard... Where ARE we? When are we?

Euclid Records expanded down here recently, but they seem to have pulled the same trick as the city itself: in a little more than a year, they've created a store that looks like it's been there for decades. Credit James Weber, a guy who was moving out of St. Louis as we were moving in. We met him at the door of the shop and he loaded us in, then took us on a tour of the neighborhood bars. Nothing like a dark street on a warm night in the South with a (perfectly legal) drink in my hand to make me reconsider my life decisions: where has New Orleans been all my life?

We came to New Orleans ostensibly to check out the Southern Graphics Conference meeting that weekend. The SGC event last year happened in St. Louis, and the after-party on Cherokee Street was our neighborhood's shining moment to date. We also had an in-store at Euclid NOLA on Saturday, just a couple blocks from the Ironworks where SGC was headquartered. And: it was St. Patrick's Day, with a parade due to pass practically right outside the door of the store. So basically we were there to check out the scene and see what happened.

The Bywater is a completely different beast than the French Quarter—grimy, overgrown, and in a state of abundantly elegant decay. It's painfully beautiful. We stopped in at Frady's to get a potato po' boy, then wandered the neighborhood and poked into the thrift shops, on the hunt for something green to wear since we'd forgotten to pack for the holiday.

After our set at Euclid James introduced us to Jayson Knox, a guitarist around town who took us over to see the new instrument shop, Bywater Music, where half the gear was calling our name. The parade was starting to roll by outside, starting with a giant phalanx of fancy dune buggies with merry old men gunning the engines. A band played across the street from the crowd at Markey's, who spilled way past the sidewalk into the narrow street and made conversation with the motorcycle cops lining the way. There was just barely room for each truck or float to crawl past without crushing toes; beads abounded. Paige and I had managed to divide a green scarf we found into a hair ribbon and some wristbands, which was good because everyone was wearing some green or other. Matty and Eric Firecracker showed up to toast, and an hour or so after the final float of the proper parade drifted away the SGC procession went by in a blur of majorly detailed, hand-printed traincars. They looked dirty and really happy.

The night gets blurry. There was a looong dinner and a clothing-optional swimming pool, then another bar, then somehow the walking drinks led us to a venue in which a band of veteran punks backed an alternating pair of wizened, sharp-dressed black bluesmen. Then we were in the street with Jayson making our way toward a place that promised Hubig's, the locally made pie (!), and then to another bar, and then we were at last back on Desire, letting ourselves into the pad. The night smelled like all the hanging flowers we'd been walking under.

Good call on Euclid NOLA, Joe.

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