TRAVELING THE BYWAYS OF THE SOUTH The Big Easy Wows You with Culture, Weather & People

I am not at my desk writing the typical editorial for this monthly arts magazine. I have opened up the door, ran from the frame and am seeking the experience that brings new thoughts and visions that only traveling to unfamiliar places can capture. by Pamela Hulse Andrews

I haven’t left beautiful and treasured Central Oregon for good; I have just taken another quick detour to garner creative energy and a sampling of southern inspiration.

New Orleans still has its challenges as more than a decade since the devastating wake of Katrina the city forges forward embracing the southern charm of a cultural phenomenon.

On my recent journey to this eclectic destination along with my brave and charming traveling companion I was tuned into experiencing all that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has to offer. At first thought many envision a bevy of jazz bands and funky musicians portraying the music of the likes of Herbie Hancock, Nat King Cole, Wynton Marsalis or Miles Davis.

While the jazz and blues musicians at this year’s festival such as Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, John Michael Bradford, Jimmy Cliff, Cassandra Wilson and The Robert Cray Band certainly don’t disappoint, the festival name does not appropriately reflect the menu.

Picture Keith Urban, Wilco, Elton John, The Who (the English rock band absolutely fabulous after fifty years), Ryan Adams, John Legend, Tony Bennett with Gaga and the relentless Jimmy Buffet. If you recognize any of these bands you’ll know that this was a significant festival with some 460,000 people in attendance.

But the music was only part of the experience beginning with Tony the taxi driver who filled us with stories from Katrina. Stories I had never heard before about being shipped to Minnesota following the hurricane, being greeted by “a whole bunch of really nice white women hugging him and giving him food and shelter.” Tony, who said he previously thought white women were mean, admitted that they were so nice it changed his life. Now he sees no color but just good people with good manners and huge hearts (the food not so much).

Unlike Minnesota (which oddly enough I found myself lost in a week after my New Orleans visit) the weather is balmy and there’s an air of cocky optimism where hurricane-devastated buildings quietly stand next to thriving restaurants, bars and shops searching for prosperity.

The captivating jazz and blues and the musicians who engage it in charismatic venues are abundant, the cuisine and the locals are squelching with enthusiasm. It’s a place where everyone encourages you to celebrate. The art scene is so electrified you can’t find words to describe the energy. I am struck by the contrast from the secretive bayou and the vanishing wetlands to the capturing streets of the French Quarter where the locals mix with tourists and everyone smells of gumbo, oysters and beer.

The weather does not disappoint either! Imagine thousands of festivalgoers braving torrential downpours but rarely departing because of the mud, the wind and the rain. On the second day it rained all day…until 5pm when the sun came out just in time for The Who on stage.

Departing New Orleans was no small feat. On the last day in didn’t just rain, it turned into a mini hurricane whereby all the electricity went out at the airport. Then I really missed home and was lucky to take the only plane out that day.

As I travel the world over I know that there is so much new under the sun, rewarding me with all things possible. The southern part of America holds a special place in my heart and the music, the art, the cuisine and the friendly soulful habitants are just purely enrapturing.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

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