Wednesday, June 12, 2013

French quarter, Spanish quarter, and musical fifty cents

We meander around the streets of the French Quarter passing in and out of heavily-touristed bars and musical venues listening to and feeling the sounds of the section ebb and flow with power, demanding attention, and then eerily silent. For an area laid out in 1718 by the French in a grid of 70 squares, it is strangely possible to get lost in this geometric maze-like neighborhood. As we walk along, Ruth and I mention to each other how very much like Cuba much of this area appears, with lattice work iron doors and windows, wrought iron balconies,

covered, arched gangways, and walled inner court yards

 with elaborate gardens. In 1762, Louis the XV transferred Louisiana to his cousin Charles III of Spain and they held dominion over a feisty French populous for the next four decades until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. I remember wondering when I was in something like sixth grade why the heck we needed to learn all this history and dates and stuff...boring! It would have been so simple just to transport us here and make it all come alive. So it's the French and Spanish Quarter.

We headed off to the Balcony Music Club (BMC)
 to check out what was playing and were treated to the Smokey Greenwell Band playing dynamite funky fabulous blues. Check out their rendition of "On the Road Again" on youtube. Smokey who used to be a member of the group, "War,"
plays a mean harmonica and saxophone, and all of his band are seasoned players with character. As they played, musicians "lined up and signed up" to climb up on stage to jam with them. As the night progressed there were up to eight musicians pushing the limits of the craft of blues, playing horn, saxophone, harmonica, and guitar. I leaned over to Ruth and said that there would  be no way that we could express the synergy of what happens when musicians come together live and the muse emgulfs them. It's just an honor to be present at that moment.

One of the guitarists that came up on stage was Troy Turner, a relative of Ike Turner. Troy exudes a smooth natural stage presence and it doesn't hurt that his guitar work and singing is masterful. He has spent a lifetime honing his musical skills.

Here is he is with Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Just to be true to the musical gods of potentiality, we eventually left the club realizing that where we were was probably the pinnacle of the musical mountain, and headed out to Frenchmen Street, and more, just off the quarter and the hot place to see live music in New Orleans. My only thought is that by the time it has come to this point in public awareness it has already passed its point of power, but we can put on our Sherlock Holmes hats and seek out the new wave. All it takes is "asking around." Soon, a new doorway in "the Force" has opened up to those discerned seekers. We had been here before on a previous visit and the clubs looked and sounded the same. There were some great sounds coming from the windows and doorways framed in neon with street-standers listening cover-charge free. Occasional
cockroaches, seemingly the size of rats, scurried across our pathway finding holes and cracks in the sidewalk, and the faint latent sour smell of old beer, vomit, and detritus that ran off from club and business brick work and foundations tweaked our senses. Crowds of people streamed from one venue to another or just hung out. We passed gatherings of young homeless or itinerant road gypsies sitting around the street grassy medians smoking weed, playing guitar, discussing the thought of the moment, and looking to find themselves, perhaps unconsciously, in a zone of creativity. I remembered from "past lives" in towns and cities across America that often people are attracted to a "scene" or place of potential energy. Some find their dream, others don't. These vortices of energy may be opened up by a person, group, creative vision, or things being in the right place and right time. This is the medium in which the blues is mixed and from which lives of meaning arise.

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