PRIME PARTY: NEW ORLEANS
On Planet Carnival, we love New Orleans deeply, and we’re all about Mardi Gras. Yet at the risk of blowing a mind or two, we’d posit that if you’ve never been to the Crescent City, Carnival time might not be the best time for an inaugural visit.
There’s no argument that, in the weeks before Ash Wednesday, NoLa hosts the biggest bash in the USA. Yet the raucous crush of Bourbon Street can be overwhelming, and as Fat Tuesday approaches, the mélange of puke and broken bottles can unsettle even the most tolerant of libertines. The massive floats that symbolize the season can not navigate the narrow streets of the Vieux Carré. While there’s no dearth of food and entertainment, many of the most iconic restaurants and music venues curtail their operating hours so staff can revel with family and friends.
Now in its 36th year, the French Quarter Festival may provide a more manageable introduction to local culture. From April 11th through the 14th, the city’s colonial heart will offer diversions for every age and taste. Things kick off with a Thursday parade. Starting out on Iberville Street, this traditional “second line” will proceed down Bourbon before turn toward the Mississippi River en route to Jackson Square.
All around the Quarter, revelers can enjoy a range of delicacies provided by establishments like The Praline Connection, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, and the legendary Galatoire’s. Those craving more cerebral sustenance will be catered to as well: on Saturday the 12th, the New Orleans Jazz Museum will conduct a symposium on the legacy of Professor Longhair; on Saturday and Sunday lead sponsor Chevron will welcome future geniuses to their Children’s STEM Zone.
No urban center on Earth can boast a greater density of working musicians, many of whom will be playing at more than 20 stages. Thursday’s performances will include the Rebirth Jazz Band and Kermit Ruffins. Friday will be a great day for fans of Little Freddie King, The Soul Rebels or Irma Thomas, the acknowledged “Soul Queen of New Orleans”.
On Saturday, the rhythmically inclined can catch Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & The Golden Eagles and not just one but two Nevilles: Cyril will commence funkin’ it up a little after 2 PM; his niece Charmaine does her thing starting at 5:20.
Sunday’s acts include Tuba Skinny, the Wild Magnolias and The Dixie Cups of “Iko-Iko” fame. As the sun sets over the bright Mississippi, things will wind down with “Dancing At Dusk”, a program of swing tunes by the likes of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Count Basie. Throughout the festival, lessons will be offered in a variety of dance styles, insuring ample preparation for Mardi Gras 2020!
By the early 1960s, the bossa nova boom had fostered the image of Brazil as a sun-drenched playground, simultaneously sophisticated and laid back. But by the middle of that decade, the reality was anything but chill. Backed by the United States, a military coup ushered in an era of dictatorship.
The tropicalia movement emerged as a response. Younger artists fused Brazilian musical traditions with elements of the international counterculture. Caetano Veloso ,a singer and writer from Bahia, was a leading light of the genre. Arrested and forced into exile by the regime, Veloso returned to his homeland in the 70s, and his career has flourished continuously. On April 7th, he will join his sons Moreno, Zeca , and Tom onstage at the Theatre At Ace Hotel .
In Louisiana and in Brazil, the Carnival custom dates back centuries. By contrast, Bacchanal Jamaica was established in 2000, after stormy weather prevented local soca enthusiasts from liming in Trinidad & Tobago.
As elsewhere, Carnival in T&T began as a period of indulgence before the austerity of Lent. Jamrock’s rave kicks off on April 20th, the day before Easter, and concludes with a Road March on the following Sunday. The affair can be understood as an affectionate homage to, rather than an organic part of, The Tradition. Yet it’s hard to quibble with a celebration dedicated to “Sun on your shoulders, sweat on your brow, music in your heart and the spirit in your feet”
And let’s be honest: If you must attend a festival on 4/20, Jamaica seems like a damn good place to do so.