Hello everyone! It’s starting to get warm here in Alabama which means it’s about time for me to start heading north. And I guess I have! It’s been a great week here in Northern Alabama which started with music and history in The Shoals and is ending in the beauty of nature in Little River Canyon. I’ve jammed out in FAME Studios, been moved by the actions of the Freedom Riders and swam in a clear mountain river. This has been my last full week here in Alabama, and it’s about time to turn my headlights towards home for a while. I must say that Alabama has been one pleasant surprise after another. It’s clean, friendly and I’ve had a great time here. Whatever preconceived ideas I had or stereotypes I bought into have, as they have everywhere else, been shattered by the time I’ve spent here. And that’s really been the point of this whole trip - to see things with my own eyes and interpret them with my own mind and heart and come away with my own understanding. And it’s been amazing.
After I posted last week’s This Week, I worked until the library closed at 7, trying to get some photos edited and published and a few other things done. Afterwards, I went to downtown Florence and had a nice walk around the city and took some photos. Then, in the mood for some live music, I went and saw Katlyn Barnes sing at The Boiler Room in the basement of The Stricklin Hotel. The show was good and Katlyn really has a soulful voice and personality. When she was done, I headed out to Swampers Bar and Grille at the Florence Marriott to see Hank Erwin play. They’ve done a really great job with this bar which is full of old guitars, photos and memorabilia from the glory days of Muscle Shoals. Hank was great and this was a good place to round out my evening…
This week has been a good one and a busy one and my last one in Louisiana. I traveled a bit across the North Shore area, north of Lake Ponchartrain and then ducked back to Baton Rouge for the wonderful 3rd Street Songwriters Festival. After a great weekend of music and new friends, I headed back to my former home city of New Orleans to get some work done and prepare to move on to Alabama, which I plan to do the minute this post is published. It’s been a great two months here in The Pelican State, but it’s long past time for me to be moving on, and I’m looking forward to it.
After I finished writing last week, I did indeed go for a couple of beers at the Abita Brewpub in Abita Springs. I had forgotten how cute a town Abita Springs is, and I enjoyed a little walk around before ducking into the brewpub. The bartender was Rita. Rita at Abita! She was very friendly and I enjoyed talking with her as I tried some of the Abita beers I haven’t had the chance to taste yet. When I was done there, I headed down the road and stopped by Ruby’s Roadhouse for a nightcap. This is a great old dive bar and music venue in Mandeville, and if only they’d make people go outside to smoke it would be even better. It’s a cool place though, and I’ll have to get back some day when they have live music on.
I woke up Thursday to torrential downpours and thunder so I made the command decision to stay in bed a little longer. I made a cup of coffee and watched some TV from the cozy confines of the back of my van. It wasn’t what I had planned, but that kind of weather isn’t great for taking photos or really much of anything, so I took advantage of it in the best way I could think of. I may have to do that more often…
Hello everyone, and thank you for stopping by. The flowers are coming in nicely here in East Louisana, but the weather has cooled off significantly as well. I’ve been enjoying the little cold snap though, and sleeping really well cozy-ed up in the back of my van. I had an interesting stop in Alexandria this week, a town which has definitely seen better days, but which isn’t dead yet. From there I headed back into Cajun Country for the weekend, enjoying great food, drink, music and company. I stopped off in Lafayette to get some work done and have cruised across the north of the eastern panhandle to the North Shore where I am writing to you from today. It’s been a fun week as I start to make my preparations for my departure from Louisiana. It’s always sad to go, but it’s almost time I moved on. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along as I go.
When I left you last week, I made my way south along the Mississippi River levee, and found the river is really high. It was definitely higher than the road in a lot of places, and while the levee was doing what it was built to do, it’s still a little bit nerve racking to be driving below the water line. I stopped in a few places to just look out at the river as it flowed past. I made the turn northwest when I hit Louisiana Route 1 and headed on to Mansura for a stop at Juneau’s Cajun Meat Market. This is a spot recommended by a friend as having the best boudin (Cajun pork and rice sausage) in Louisiana, so I had to stop in and give it a go. This was a real butcher shop with all kinds of beautiful fresh meat on display - if I had a proper refrigerator I would have probably spent a fortune there. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I settled for some boudin, a fried boudin ball, and a boudin and pepperjack cheese wrap. All three were amazing and while they didn’t help my cholesterol, they were well worth the stop.
Fred’s Lounge in downtown Mamou, Louisiana isn’t a big place. In fact, depending on which way you’re driving, you could drive past it and never know you missed it. It’s not fancy and if you weren’t aiming for it, it probably wouldn’t entice you to stop by its appearance. Fred’s is only open for about six hours a week, from about 8 a.m. to about 2 p.m. every Saturday morning, so if you came through Mamou at any other time it would be closed anyway. But during those six hours, it is a magical place to be.
For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I have a very special place in my heart for the Mississippi Delta and for the Delta Blues in particular. If you visit Clarksdale these days, in the very heart of the Delta, you can find live blues seven days a week, although it’s taken a concerted effort over many years to make that happen. It’s amazing, but it exists in a museum state. By that I mean that while you can see it in a great juke joint like Red’s, you will watch it sitting down on what was once the dance floor…
Eunice, Louisiana. The day was cold and grey which wasn’t great weather for a festival, but turned out to be perfect etouffee weather. For those who have never had it (or heard of it), etouffee is a type of stew or maybe a serious gravy served over rice in Louisiana. It is one of those dishes which can vary greatly from one pot to the next, depending on the whims and style of the cook. It was great to be able to try so many different varieties of etouffee at the cook-off. Over 40 teams competed in this year’s world championship, coming from near and far to test their recipe against the very best. In addition to etouffee, there were, of course, boiled crawfish, and a variety of delicious sweets to choose from too. Live Cajun music came from the stage and people danced and drank and ate their fill. The locals from Eunice were all very welcoming to those of us from out of town which added to the community feel of the event. In my opinion, it was the local fire brigade which served up the best bowl of etouffee, but to be fair I could only eat about six different samples before throwing in the towel. Although it was a chilly, windy day in Cajun Country, I left feeling warm and satisfied - both in my belly and in my soul. I hope you enjoy these photos from the World Championship Crawfish Etouffee Cook-Off in Eunice, Louisiana.
If you’ve been following along with this blog, you know I have visited some truly stunning small towns along the way. I don’t think any of them can compare, however, to beautiful Natchitoches, Louisiana. While you probably won’t be able to pronounce the name, you can’t help but be drawn in by this beautiful old colonial town on the banks of the Cane River. Originally established as a trading post by French explorers, the town gets its name from the Natchitoches Indians who lived in the area and traded with the colonists. The town was officially established in 1714 and would pass from the French to the Spanish and finally to the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Natchitoches has all of these cultures on display through its architecture and cuisine. I was especially impressed that the town has its own full time horticulturist who creates and cares for the wonderful flower displays which are placed all over the historic district. I love flowers and these really add to the charm and beauty of the town. Everyone I met during my stay was friendly and helpful and proud of their little corner of the state. Natchitoches is home to some charming B&B’s, delightful restaurants and beautiful places to walk and sit and enjoy the atmosphere. If you ever find yourself looking for an escape from the grind of the city, Natchitoches will definitely take you back a different era and a simpler pace of life. In my very humble opinion, it is the prettiest small town in the South.
Happy Spring from Natchitoches, Louisiana. I’m writing this on the 20th, so it is officially spring, and it feels like it here in the South. Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and with the longer days, it is a great time to be outside. I’ve been trying to make some headway this week, traveling to the far southwest of Louisiana and then up the west side of the state. It’s been a great week of beaches, plantations and really cool small towns. I’ve had some great Creole food and met some wonderful people. It has been another amazing week on the road in America.
After I wrote last week’s post, I had a quiet night in New Iberia, but ventured downtown in the morning to see what I could see. I was really glad I did. The downtown area is in the midst of a comeback with many of the storefronts occupied and it had a great vibe to it. It’s a cute little area, and I hope they keep working on bringing it back. I started my day with a visit to the wonderful Bayou Teche Museum right in the heart of downtown. The museum focused on the bayou which runs through the middle of New Iberia and connects points further north to the Atchfalaya River. It was a major thoroughfare in early Louisiana and was the impetus for the settlement of the area. At this point, I’ve been in a lot of small town museums, and this one was particularly well done. There were enough artifacts to be thorough but not cluttered, and enough interactivity to keep from being boring. I really enjoyed learning more about the rural jazz of the region and the ride down the “elevator” into the salt mine made me smile. There was an excellent film on the history of the region as well. The ladies working there were wonderful and happy to talk about their town…
There are a LOT of photos in this post. Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana are some of the most vivid, colorful, vibrant, sensory overloading events in the whole world. The colors, the costumes, the floats, the music and the excitement are all overwhelming. They are joyful and happy events marking the biggest celebration of the year in the state. Photographing them is a true joy, and all of these photos make me extremely happy. In these photos I want to show you the floats, the riders, the spectators, the bands and walking groups that make up the Mardi Gras parades. There are also a few of my favorite kind of Mardi Gras shot - trying to capture beads in mid-air between thrower and catcher. There are six parades featured in this post. The first is the Krewe of Slidellians from Slidell, Louisiana. The following night parade is from the Krewe of Rio in Lafayette. The next daytime parades were the Krewe of Carrolton followed by the Krewe of King Arthur on the same day taken from Lee Circle in New Orleans. There are two photos from the Krewe of Nyx nighttime parade in New Orleans, and finally are a few from the huge Spanish Town parade in Baton Rouge, the pinkest event I’ve ever witnessed. I know there are probably too many photos for one post here, but it was hard to cut it down to just the ones I included. I hope you enjoy them and I hope you can feel the excitement and happiness I tried to capture here. More than anything, I hope they make you smile.
Spring seems to have sprung here in Louisiana this week with temperatures reaching the low eighties with a wonderful breeze to cool everything off. People were out mowing their lawns in the nice weather, and the smell of freshly cut grass enhanced that notion in my mind. Louisiana strawberries are coming into season, and Daylight Savings Time has extended my days a little bit, making everything feel less rushed. It has been a wonderful winter here in the South, but it is nice to see some of these indicators that the season is changing.
After Mardi Gras and months and months on the road, I took a little break for a few days. I was staying with my friend Luke and I had a lot of work to catch up on, so I just laid low on Thursday and Friday. I got back to the gym and started eating salads again. I did edit a lot of Mardi Gras photos though, with more to come, and created a few posts about my New Orleans experiences.
It was wonderful to be back in Louisiana for the end of the Mardi Gras season this year. I got out to see parades in several different towns, and then made my way back to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday itself. It’s a wonderful time of year to be in Louisiana, and for those who have never been, it is so much more than the booze fueled tourist mess you’ve seen on COPS and Girls Gone Wild. It’s full of food and fun and family, parades throwing beads and stuffed animals to kids sitting atop ladders, good vibes and a chance to let your hair down and relax. I needed to let my hair down and relax a bit this time around, and Mardi Gras has been just the cure to the February blues I needed.
I started my Mardi Gras this year with a quiet walk through the French Quarter just after 8 a.m. I was surprised at how few people were out and how quiet it was. The street cleaners were just finishing up on Bourbon Street which gleamed in the morning sun. Jackson Square was empty and there were plenty of open seats at Cafe du Monde. I always love walking around the French Quarter early in the morning, but it was amazing to see it cleaned up and waiting for the revelers to come out and play…
It has been a whole week of Mardi Gras celebrations here in Louisiana, culminating in the big day itself, Fat Tuesday, on Tuesday, March 5th. It’s been an amazing week full of fun, friends, food, music, parades and all that jazz. It’s also the kind of week that you’re sad to see end, but know your body sees differently. It was great to be back in Louisiana for Mardi Gras this year as the last time I was here for Mardi Gras was 2015.
After I wrote last week, I did not, in fact get out of New Orleans. It is way too easy for me to get stuck here, and that is exactly what happened. But in a good way, for sure. Wednesday night after I finished up last week’s post, I went out to see the Nyx parade which was a lot of fun. One of my friends was riding in it, so she dropped me a hand decorated purse, the prized throw from that parade.
Thursday I recorded my podcast, which will be done and published by this time next week. After that, I relaxed for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. It was nice to just relax at my friend Luke’s house and watch TV and take a nap. I don’t get a lot of days like that out here on the road, and I knew a big weekend was coming, so I took advantage of it. I did make it out to the Muses parade in the evening though, which is always a lot of fun.
The history of the Mardi Gras Indians is shrouded in mystery. They have been parading through the streets of New Orleans for well over a hundred years in elaborate, hand-made costumes which take the entire year to create. It’s believed that the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes came to be because most African American New Oreanians didn’t feel they had a place in traditional New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades. Each Tribe represents a specific neighborhood, and spends thousands of hours creating their costumes which will generally only be worn on Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph’s Day. The Tribe will emerge early on Mardi Gras morning and take to the streets, marching to meet other Tribes and engage in ritualistic battles and compare costumes. Since the Big Chief of the Tribe determines the route their march will take, they aren’t known or advertised so you have to be lucky to come across them. I felt very lucky to see this Tribe, representing the 9th Ward, on Mardi Gras Day and follow them up St. Bernard St. for a ways. Their costumes put all other Mardi Gras costumes to shame, and their history and tradition is some of the most mysterious and fascinating in all of New Orleans’ folklore. The best time to see the Mardi Gras Indians, though, is during their St. Joseph’s Day Parade. On that day, many of the Tribes descend on A.L. Davis Park to march through the streets one last time in their regalia before they start designing next year’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of the Mardi Gras Indians.