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Travel Log: New Orleans

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This summer I'll be traveling domestically and internationally, all the while annotating my experiences so as to later share with all you lovely folk. Per usual I'll be spouting off about music, but for better or worse there will also be a smattering of other stuff (I mean this in the vaguest sense possible).

First up on my itinerary was a 5 day jaunt down to New Orleans with my mother. Aboard my flight down I imagined boozy nights of reckless abandon, fueled mostly by jazz and gumbo. But even before arriving in Nola I found myself seated next to an elementary through high school orchestra teacher by the name of Samantha. As it turned out, besides being pleasantly overwhelmed with grad school and her job, Samantha was in the Columbus, OH group Ghost Shirt. After indulging me with a few tour stories and a bit of background on the band the flight had concluded, somewhat to my dismay. Once checked into my hotel and reclined in my post-flight nap posture, I opted to take the time to listen to a bit of Ghost Shirt in lieu of drowsiness. While I didn't expect Samantha's band to be bad, I also didn't expect them to be as good as they were. Ghost Shirt offers an enjoyable alchemy, consisting of Branden Barnett's tender observations reminiscent of Jeff Mangum, Samantha Kim's complimentary stylings (both lyrically and on violin) and a sonic mixing that fluctuates between gentle folky-ness and pop-infused garage.

My first full day in New Orleans concluded in what I expected to be spectacular fashion. Kermit Ruffins, the famed local trumpeter, who's notoriety has grown exponentially since HBO's Treme was aired, was playing an early set at Blue Nile on Frenchmen St. I was a bit disappointed that he'd abandoned his previous gig on Thursdays at Vaughan's, barely a year ago, where he was known to cook turkey necks for the crowd and then hop on stage and perform marathon sets, but regardless I'd found him and was ready to boogie. The set began in good fashion, with Kermit rattling off a few quirky quips and displaying his unparalleled ability by precisely fingering his trumpet with the barrel of a Budweiser. Behind him was a fantastic pianist who's sound had spent just the right amount of time in speak-easys and a bass player who resembled a grizzled basset-hound. Despite the crowd looking more like a gathering at Denny's on a Wednesday morning, it seemed like Kermit wasn't going to ship it in for a crowded room of middle-aged tourists; he seemed to be having fun as he drunkenly played his sober trumpet between moments of playful dialogue. But much to my chagrin Kermit managed to tease me with a cover of the Isley Brother's “Between the Sheets” only to follow it with a downward spiral into sell-out-ness that culminated in a nauseating rendition of the Black Eyed Pea's “Tonights Going To Be A Good Night” that had 5 twenty-something white girls (I emphasize GIRLS) on stage drunkenly gyrating on Kermit's leg like rabid dogs. Undoubtably the man has made it. My friends and I received only dirty and confused looks as we attempted to boo one of New Orleans best trumpeters off the under-the-sea inspired stage. We had failed and I was embarrassed by my lack of judgement, but even more so by Kermit's lack of respect for his audience.

Upon stumbling out of the nightmare that was Kermit Ruffins, I was met by Frenchmen St., which had transformed from a spot to lazily saunter, into a bustling cacophony of brass instruments, slurring drunkards and various squawks of debauchery. After an incredible dish of Chicken Tchoupitoulas at Coop's Place my friends and I wandered through the amazing mess of the French Quarter, acquiring a life-size cut-out of a police officer and eventually bumping into Jeremy Phipps, an up and coming musician whom I quickly bonded with by way of a hateful monologue directed toward Mr. Ruffins. As Jeremy laughed at the vehement hatred spewing from the corners of my humid mouth, my friend Brooke began telling me about his music in a manner much less timid than his. After assuring Jeremy that I was indeed a music journalist and not just some exaggerating drunk wading in his own endless diatribe, he told me about his musical project, Saint Bell. It would be a few days before I actually got to hear his debut album Cold Cold Wind, but since my initial listening I've been unable to put it out of my mind. Phipps is astoundingly progressive in his implementation and mixing of sounds, moving seamlessly between jazz, hip-hop, funk, EDM and brass music he manages an amazing blend that is mature in complexity, yet young in it's ambitions. Arguably, but hopefully not ahead of his time, Phipps's original motif straddles familiarity and simultaneously plunders the abstract side of human consciousness. Cold Cold Wind is hands down one of the most interesting, innovative and creative albums I've heard in a while.

After leaving Jeremy to his trombone ramblings of the night, me and my friends headed back to Blue Nile, assured that Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes would not disappoint. They did not. Comprised of classically trained musicians, they managed to infuse rhythm and blues with a funkier edge that had us all wiggling around the now, even more cramped room. Their set muscled its way into the late night, the first set of two ending at one in the morning. Admittedly exhausted I meandered back to my hotel room after haunting a few strangers with the cop cut-out.

By the end of my long weekend I had managed a swamp tour riddled with alligators and other various creatures, a 4 hour long cooking lesson at the New Orleans School of Cooking and the devouring of enough seafood to add a significant spike to the local economy. For the sake of brevity I leave things here...until next time.

Below is a recipe I picked up for Grits and Grillades at the school, a playlist of swampy jams suited for southern traveling and of course all the great music aforementioned in the article.

 

Grillades

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs. Round steak                            ½ tsp. Dried thyme

1 Tbsp. Joe's Stuff seasoning blend       1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

½ Cup Flour + 2 Tbsp                           1 Bay Leaf

2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil                             1 Cup chopped tomatoes

½ Cup Chopped White Onion               1 tsp. Red wine vinaigrette

¼ cup chopped celery                            2 Tbsp. Sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped bell pepper                    Hot sauce to taste

1 Tbsp. Sliced garlic                              Additional Joe's Stuff to taste

2 Cups Beef Stock

 

Procedure:

Pound out round steak with meat mallet to about 1/4th inch thick then julienne the beef into ½ inch think strips. Combine flour with Joe's Stuff and dust the pieces of meat in the flour shaking off any excess flour.

In a tall skillet, heat the oil and brown the pieces of meat on each side. Lower heat and immediately add onion, bell pepper and celery and cook until translucent. Stirring constantly, add the remaining 2 Tbsp. Of flour and cook on a medium heat until flour starts to brown. Add garlic, bay leaf, thyme, worcestershire sauce, tomatoes and beef stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook 30-45 minutes or until beef is tender.

Once ready to serve add hot sauce, red wine vinaigrette and Joe's Stuff seasoning to taste.

Serve over warm grits and garnish with a poached egg and green onions.

Playlist:

Love on My Brain” - Jim Ford

Didn't I” - Darondo

Street People” - Bobby Charles

"Woman Across The River" -Johnnie Taylor

No Voodoo” - Allah-Las

Greensky Greenlake” -Dead Meadow

Leap Frog” -Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie

"Monday Night In New Orleans" -Kermit Ruffins

Right Place Wrong Time” -Dr. John

Saint Bell

Ghost Shirt

Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes (link)