It was the last weekend in April, spring here in Wisconsin and also time for us to make our annual trip to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the 49th anniversary version. This year was my 18thtime in a row to attend JazzFest, as it’s commonly known, and my traveling partner’s 10th. We think we’ll make our appearance for at least two more years or until we “age out” which ever comes sooner (or later)! There are definitely people way older than us (or at least look older) that attend so there is hope for us. This will be us in a few years!
For the past few years, we’ve driven our truck and towed our trailer, camping and sightseeing on the route to New Orleans and back, but this year we decided to fly because we had to be more efficient with our time, some family stuff needed attention. In addition, we wanted to save wear and tear on our posteriors based on the fact that we spent the months of January and February touring the Southwest and drove over 9000 miles! Since we decided to fly too late to get a decent fare out of Madison and into New Orleans, we flew to Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi, about 70-80 miles east of New Orleans. We’ve used this airport on previous trips; it’s small, easy to get to, and not nearly as crazy busy as the big New Orleans airport. Besides that, the rental cars are less expensive and a very short walk just from the baggage pickup area. We got into Gulfport late on Wednesday evening so spent the night in a nice hotel a short distance from the airport. After a leisurely morning, we made the drive over to Covington, checked into the hotel and reacquainted ourselves with the area we’ve become familiar with over the past few years, the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
After a good night’s rest, we made our way over the 24 mile Causeway and Lake Pontchartrain to take in our first day of JazzFest. Our typical routine is to arrive near opening (11 AM), set up camp (two chairs and a small cooler) on one of the main stages (there are 12 in total) and then explore the other stages, arts and crafts, Louisiana heritage area, and most importantly the food venues! We took in some excellent acts on the Gentilly Stage with our favorite being Lukas Nelson (Willie’s boy) and his band, Promise of the Real, they put on a rocking good show. He was followed by Sturgill Simpson who has gained a lot popularity in the past few years. We always stay until the end (7 PM) to maximize our enjoyment of the music and the ambience of the Fest, it also allows the traffic to dissipate making the journey home more pleasant.
Here’s some photos from out first day at the Fest.
This year we decided not to attend JazzFest on Saturday, even though there were some great acts that we would’ve enjoyed seeing, it’s usually really packed thus making it more of a challenge to move around, even the wait time to buy beer is longer! Since my traveling partner hadn’t ever taken a swamp tour, we decided it was about time. We made our way down near Slidell to the Honey Island Swamp Tour. This is big operation, upon check in; we were assigned to a color group that designated which tour boat we’d be on. After a brief orientation, we boarded our boat and the young captain pointed the bow into the swamp. The East and West Pearl Rivers border the Honey Island Swamp bringing in fresh water, there was lots of it this spring with all the rain that fell in Southern Louisiana. At our first stop, the captain showed us his crawfish traps that he placed in the brackish swamp water. Yes, he caught some crawfish that he’ll pick up in a couple of days when hopefully more will join those that have already been captured! Then straight to a boiling pot with spices, potatoes, corn, onion and garlic, a tasty meal indeed.
We continued on, enjoying the lushness of the swamp, taking a slight detour into an area known to be the home of some alligators. Sure enough, as though on cue (or the sound of the boat motor), those gators showed up, likely looking for treats offered by the captain. Further on, as we delved deeper and deeper into the swamp, we saw less of the warm sun. When we ran out of navigable water, a raccoon and a family of wild pigs appeared, again looking for treats. The captain called the pigs by name explaining they were the “pets of the swamp!” It was a fun touristy thing to do at least once. I’ve been on other swamp tours, all prior to Katrina that are no longer in business; I found them to be more authentic and less touristy. The following are some photos I took during our tour. We found the homes/cabins/shacks built on the river very intriguing.
Sunday found us back at JazzFest, this time set up by the Acura stage where most of the big name acts perform. Our goal was to see Jimmy Buffett and his Acoustic Airmen, a recent Buffett collaboration between Sonny Landreth, Mac McAnally and Jake Shimabukuro who was subbing for Eddie Vetter of Pearl Jam fame. It was a very fun and entertaining show. Prior to Jimmy’s performance I made my way over to the Blues Tent to see one my favorite bluesmen, Tab Benoit. He put on another great performance, had the place rocking and rolling! We also were treated to performances by Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys and the legendary Irma Thomas. Sunday was probably our best day ever at JazzFest, there was a lot of people but didn’t seem overly crowded and people seemed more relaxed and not as pushy or demanding. Another good time had by all (or at least most)!
JazzFest provides a rich environment for people watching. Between performances, when I’m not out fetching food or beer, I’m watching the interesting folks all there to have a good time just like I am. Here’s my entries for this year’s people watching category!
The next day we headed back into New Orleans to walk around the French Quarter and meet our fellow Madisonian and JazzFest attendee, Jeanne Kramer.
Together, we attended a demonstration at the famous New Orleans School of Cooking. The flamboyant and informative chef, Pat, provided us a history of the development of local food ways all the while preparing gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines. When the food was done, we had a hearty sample of the gumbo and jambalaya washed down with Abita beer. And at the end a taste of the pralines, mmmmmm good! We shared a table with a couple from the Netherlands that was doing a 90 day tour of the US, some driving and some flying. It was fun to talk with them, hear about their country and make some suggestions of places to go and see in the good ole US of A. After the demonstration, we walked around the Quarter some more then made our way back to Covington for our last night in Louisiana, for this trip anyway. Here’s a few photos from our wanderings through the Quarter.
This is a common scene in the French Quarter, some tourist started drinking early in the day and just had to take a nap before the night time festivities begin!
This year is the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans and they have a few signs to mark the occasion.
Since we had a mid afternoon lunch at the New Orleans School of Cooking, we decided to have dinner at the original Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. We each had an order of beignets washed down with a glass of water! Delish!
Tuesday before heading back to Gulfport for the ride home, we met up with our long time friend, Iris Webb. Our first stop was for breakfast at one of our favorite places to eat, Liz’s Where Ya’t diner in Mandeville. After a delightful and filling meal, we accompanied Iris on some errands she needed to run, one to the greenhouse for some plants. I was intrigued by the large variety of plant materials available in the South, many things we can’t grow in our zone in Wisconsin.
Even though we were full up to our gills with breakfast, Iris insisted that we stop at the local bakery, Krummel’s Bake Shop for some pastries and brownies. Those brownies caused the TSA workers at the Gulfport airport a little heartburn, not from eating them but trying figure out what was showing up on the x-ray thus triggering a more in depth search of my carryon!
Our trip to New Orleans and my photo album wouldn’t be complete without a photo of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. Here’s this year’s entry:
Another great adventure to JazzFest and the New Orleans area, can’t wait until next year, it’s the 50th and should be rousing good time.
Up next week, Fort Union National Historic Site.
Until then, travel safe.