Category: Jazz

It’s all about Mardi Gras…

We went to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World where Mardi Gras floats are created. We got sneak peeks at some of this year’s floats, and an even sneakier peek at 2014 floats.Did you know there are over 50 parades every year in the New Orleans area? Floats can only be 16 feet high due to the height of street lights and overhead utility lines. Parades were moved off the streets of the French Quarter as floats got larger. The streets are too narrow to support the amount of traffic involved in the major parades.

Krewes are non-profit organizations that put on the various parades in any given location. Each parade is only held once and each float can only be in one parade. A parade must have at least 14 floats and no more than 28. It suddenly becomes a word problem in math. How many parades with 14 floats can intersect with parades containing 21 to 28 floats without having any two floats crossing paths more than once? All of them.
Yeah. So, anyway. The company Mardi Gras World makes more than just floats for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They also make props (what the figurines and busts are called) for casinos, amusement parks and ad campaigns. They have a set of Chick-fil-A cows (Eat Mor Chikn), and busts of several Warner Brothers and Disney characters. There are also plenty of movie characters and movie stars.

Props are created by taking blocks of Styrofoam and shaping them using basic carpentry type tools and then putting a layer of papier-mache on to smooth and paint. I’ve tried to show all phases of the development, and how many props or busts can be used in more than one context.
Obviously, literal images of a real person or character, can only be used as themselves, but more abstract images can be used in different ways. The head of a mermaid can be a mermaid or a witch, depending on how she’s painted. There are also floats and props that are called signature floats because they are used every year and are known as Kern floats.
The parade floats themselves are works of art. They also contain the necessary elements for lights, ‘fire’ smoke, as well as a restroom and safety hooks to keep krewe members aboard regardless of inebriation. There is even a list of do’s and don’ts for people to follow.
And while we’re talking about parades, and such, we got to see a little procession while we were enjoying an afternoon espresso and beignet. (Whoo! Got to squeeze that in one more time!) A small New Orleans jazz band marched up the street by a group of people with an elderly couple being pulled in a carriage. Upon reflection we realized that there were at least four generations of a family celebrating an anniversary. So that was pretty cool.

So enjoy your little mini, virtual tour of Mardi Gras World.


New Orleans – Thanksgiving Day 2012

I set out to tell you how every year we go out for Thanksgiving, and this year, we went “out” to New Orleans.  I was going to tell you how we went to Las Vegas one year, and it snowed for the first time in some 50 years.  We had rented a bike and were going to ride over to Death Valley.  But the further up the pass we went the colder and wetter it got.  Finally at the top we stopped to get gas, warm and dry.  There was a tiny casino, and they had the most amazing Thanksgiving buffet ever.  Everything you ever wanted, or knew about was there from sweet potato pie to green bean casserole. (I would ask why that is only served at Thanksgiving, but since I won’t touch it with a ten foot pole, I already have my suspicions.)

But I’m not here to tell you about Las Vegas. I’m here to tell you about New Orleans.  I set out to write this on Tuesday night.  But I spent most of Tuesday night packing a bag and then unpacking it.  Then packing it and weighing it. Then unpacking it.  I can easily get 75 pounds of clothes in a medium sized suitcase. Since I’m not willing to pay the over the limit fee, you must decide what you AREN’T taking with you, until we’re down to 50 pounds.  You’d be surprised how much two pairs of jeans weigh.  So no blog Tuesday.

Wednesday morning we left for the airport at 0430 (in the AM for people who use 12 hour clocks), and spent the next six hours on the plane or in the airport.  We were able to check in the hotel early, which gave us time to perform the most important ritual of arrival for road trips.  We went to the grocery store.  We got fruit and cheese for breakfast, coffee, juice, beer (that’s really the point of the trip, the beer) and salty snacks. Then we went to dinner at a place called the Blind Pelican, listened to some live music and watched some bad basketball, drank some good beer, particularly the Hopzilla and the Hopitoulas. (Well, someone had some good beer, and the ginger ale I had was quite stellar, with a fresh bouquet, and a brisk bubbly action… whatever, it’s still ginger ale.)   By the time we got done with 3 dozen oysters, some fish tacos and cheese grits, we’d made very good friends with Ernie-the-chef and he sent out another six oysters.  Three were broiled with asiago cheese, parmesan cheese and seasoned bread crumbs.  The second three were stacked with a slice of marinated pear, fresh spinach, red onion and a slice of jalapeno.  Allow me to say, Oh. My. God.  We should have started there.  They were amazing.

When I got back to the hotel I planned to sit down and tell you all about it,  everything we’d seen (which I had to add to my list of things to do this weekend) and done in such a completely short period of time.  But there is no wireless signal in my room.  Something about one access point in a closet , in a building with concrete and metal walls, and a room that is as far from the elevator (and closet) as possible without actually leaving the building.   Thus, no blog on Wednesday.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving (obviously).   Since we’d gotten to bed late, and had early dinner plans at the Palace Café, we enjoyed a casual morning, with coffee and conversation with our other guest, who I haven’t seen since …well, let’s see…last Thanksgiving when we went to Vegas. (I really should tell you more about Vegas at some point.)  It was important that we get caught up and not to try and do it in a public restaurant, so it was good to just kick back, relax and talk.

Dinner was astounding.  From the impeccable service to the view of Bourbon St., the table setting to the elegant atmosphere, this was an event to be savored.  The menu held so many tantalizing options that we each ended up ordering one thing and then we shared around the table.  For appetizers we had turtle soup and a cream of sweet potato soup with chunks of crab meat.  (We got two of the turtle soup because we knew how good it would be.) If you’ve never had turtle soup, it’s a red vegetable based stew with ground meat, and spices.  I still haven’t been able to place the one spice that was so memorable.  It was completely amazing.

For entrees we had roast duck with foie gras, parsnips and a citrus salad. Our second shared entrée was a mahi-mahi crusted with andouille sausage and seasoned bread crumbs with a beurre blanc and chive aioli with roasted baby red potatoes. (Quite frankly, I think the phrases beurre blanc and chive aioli are a bit pretentious, but if that’s what they want to call white butter and chive garlic dressing, more or less, more power to them.)   Our final entrée was a pompano panzanella.  This was served on a bed of grilled eggplant, spinach and capers.  It became a dilemma how much we really wanedt to share our respective entrees.  I got no bites of pompano, and two bites of duck, and only grudgingly gave up any of my mahi-mahi.

Dessert brought a round of coffee, homemade carrot cake, apple cobbler and pecan pie. The cobbler and pie both included fresh vanilla bean ice cream (can there be any other?).  The coffee was fresh, dark and strong.  I tried to convince the waiter to just leave the pot (one of those nice sterling service pots, not a plastic ‘Nescafe’ twist top.)  but he politely demurred.  When we finished dessert and were enjoying our second coffees (I’d switched to espresso, but let’s just keep that to ourselves) we had him bring back the dessert menu just in case we’d missed anything.

We stayed to watch the parade, complete with marching bands, floats and plenty of beads.  We were able to get right up to the curb as everything was going by, which was pretty cool.  At one point, we saw a tractor (like Massey Ferguson farm tractor, not like Peterbuilt semi-tractor, or Kubota garden tractor) whizzing by in the other direction and then a few minutes later it came back down the parade route pulling a float, directly behind a tractor being pulled by a pickup.  Turns out this weekend is the Battle of the Bayou, with Grambling State and Southern University.  It’s almost like homecoming weekend.  There’s the parade, a golf tournament, a marching band competition and a symposium on education in the rural African-American communities of Louisiana.  Oh, and a football game.  This has been a tradition since 1974, and the game is so big they play in the Superdome.

We ended up at the Blind Pelican (imagine that) to watch the end of the Dallas, Redskins game and the beginning of the Jets, Patriots game.  Just long enough for a beer, don’cha  know?  The beer turned into  two or three, I lost track, two pounds of boiled shrimp (with the heads on), a small margherita pizza…and the half time show.  Good thing the hotel wasn’t that far away.  Just in time we get home for the second half.  Great timing we say.  Everyone is asleep with 10 minutes to go in third period, and so, there was no blog last night.

This morning we stopped at Beignets to have espressos and beignets.  We were going to go to a place called Café du Monde, which is a Must Do in NOLA.  We went there, stood in line for about five minutes (ok, maybe 30 seconds), got out of line walked back two blocks, sat down ordered and listened to some fine jazz sax on the terrace.  Turns out, Beignets is sister to Café du Monde, and serves the same menu as the original.  The lady explained that the beignets at Café du Monde were more doughy with a thicker, heavier consistency and the ones served at Beignets were lighter and crispier similar to a croissant. I prefer my beignets lighter and crispier…and I’ve just been trying to see how many times I can say beignet. (ben-yay)

We walked down by the river front, watched the tankers and working tugs alongside the riverboat cruise and the paddle-wheel steamboat Natchez.  We got to wander back along the French Market, which is one glorified flea market.  (I’ve always thought they should be called fleece markets, but most of the time no one gets it.)  Then wandered back up to Bourbon St where we caught a bus (I know, how déclassé.) to the hotel.

And here I sit.  Getting caught up, getting you caught up.  Writing postcards and making plans for tomorrow.  There are a couple of things I want to do that may not happen, there are a couple of things that I’ll save until Monday, and there are a couple of things that we’ll plan on doing Sunday.  For now, we’re shooting for Mardi Gras World and the New Orleans Museum of Art, and maybe the Contemporary Art Exhibit.  Monday will be the WWII museum, and maybe the Civil War museum.  We’ll see what Sunday holds.

B. – There’s a quiz later.

A red t-shirt with Montreal Jazz Festival on it…

There were a couple of things I hadn’t gotten to share, so here we are.  Sunday we went on that river cruise I told you about.  It was very nice.  The food was good, the singing well above par.  Really, though, the thing about the cruise, is that it’s a cruise.  It was very nice to glide  out to the St. Lawrence Seaway, while eating good chow, and listening to some nice smooth easy jazz.  The singer, Sonja Johnson, has earned a Juno (the Candian equivalent of the Grammy, work with me here) and several other music awards.  Her delivery was refreshing and she didn’t try to overpower the ongoing conversations during dinner.  (Quite frankly, sometimes the background noise was almost overwhelming.  The acoustics on the were  great if you were listening to the music and horrendous if you were being forced to listen everyone’s conversation.  I like  listening to other people’s conversations, but this was a little much.)


It doesn’t matter much one way or the other, it was a very nice evening, and the best part of all of that was the fire works. Sunday was Canada Day, and they celebrate just like we do.  The city of Montreal set off a bargeful of fireworks and the captain of our little cruise boat, actually turned us around and took us back out to the mouth of the piers and let us sit back and enjoy the show from front row seats.


Monday we took an amphibious tour, which was pretty redundant in a couple of ways.  We saw all the things we’d seen on a previous bus tour, which made the only thing worthwhile was the river part.   That however would be the same river cruise we’d taken the night before, with fireworks.  Sorry, day late, dollar short.


This was our last night at the Festival.  We had tickets to the Bessie Smith tribute. This was probably the best show we saw all weekend.  I enjoy jazz fusion, cabaret (lounge) and standards, but I am partial to the blues.  Especially the brand of blues Bessie Smith made famous.  She opened with “Get Outta’ My Way”, and then walked us through the brief highlights of Bessie’s short life.  She sang and talked about the sad short life of Ms. Smith, using the piano, bass and sax players as foils to her story telling.  We sat in the second row and the concert was set up as a stage play.  It was an excellent vehicle to present a poignant and powerful tale of self-destruction, interspersed with the music that fuels and soothes at the same time.