My first day in New Orleans was certain to be eventful because I had two events lined up! I played Fair Grinds and Neutral Grounds, two very unique coffee shops. I passed two unique signs.
Perhaps a phrase to describe New Orleans would be casual conflicts. People seem to be pretty up front with little pretense, hence a coffee shop calling out their neighbor for not taking care of Fideaux’s business! Hence a garage door being used as a sign.
Fair Grinds treated me to coffee and a delicious and filling grilled sandwich served with an apple and spicy barbecue chips. The sole barista was surprised to find out live music was booked. There were film students working on a group project occupying the performance location. It would be hours before I was scheduled to perform, but the project ended up taking hours. I ended up playing a 30 minute acoustic set to nobody.
The interesting part of the Fair Grinds experience was with the film students! As my booked performance time arrived, I told them the situation and asked how long they would be, to which they answered 20 minutes. As they started filming their last scene, the opening line was too perfect to be coincidence.
“Hey do you hear that?”
“Oh yeah that’s the song we love..!”
After hearing this repeated several times, I asked what song they would be using, and suggested I might know it and could perform it live to add something special to their project. Two eyes burst with excitement while others searched for a way to say no. They hadn’t picked a song and mostly seemed disinclined to engage me. I waited patiently for them to finish, and then immediately belted out the song I would have picked for their scene. They went silent and then asked if they could record me. I agreed and played my song “Is There Any Such Thing As Coincidence?” to drive the point home. They stayed for a few songs, but it was cold and they had been working a long time so they filed out before too long.
I then drove to Neutral Grounds, where I actually write this from now. It has an eclectic style with a thousand things strewn all over the walls, sofas and rocking chairs, chess boards and pillows, and WIFI with no password. Laine, lead singer in the band Chikwood from Long Beach CA, joined me with a friend of hers. She happened to be in New Orleans and noticed my social media posts from within the city. I decided to perform without a PA for the small ambience. I performed with a lot of confidence and passion. Laine followed suit and invited me to play a bongo for a song. I distributed CDs and the barista gave a strong compliment by returning my tip and then some to buy a CD that I gave him with intent for it to be free. He had been working at Neutral Grounds for six years and had been a customer since he was young.
Laine and her friend and I then went to Apple Barrel and watched the Deltaphonics perform as a two piece, and with just electric guitar and drums they got an excellent grooving full sound. I’ve never heard music of this caliber come from a hole in the wall on a Monday in my life. The stage was strangely right next to the door so that to enter the venue you walked toward the band almost as if you were going to shake hands.
The next day I spent writing and practicing, exercising, and cemented plans for a phone interview with Esther Kang for a writing project I hired her for. I went to a venue called Chickie Wah Wah and watched a woman from out of town perform. She sang an original called “Don’t Look Up” that had a terrific hook. Here’s a video of another performance of hers. I was tired and found a Walmart and went to sleep.
In the morning I was woken by a male voice saying, “Hey are you awake?” The tone was friendly but still I hesitated to answer. What purpose could a friendly voice have for waking up someone in a crazy colored van early in the morning? “Noah I want to talk to you!” the voice complained warmly. I was still sleepy, in that familiar state of being unsure if I want to commit to anything yet because it would still be easy to go back to sleep. I decided to speak up, “Yeah I am awake.” There was no response. I decided to go get breakfast so I climbed to the front of my van and threw a hat on to cover my messy hair. As I started to walk away from the van a dirty man jog-waddled over from between parked cars, “Noah!” (If there is any concern for how he might have known my name, it’s written all over the from of the van.)
Bryan was his name. He had been train hopping and living a vagrant lifestyle for several years now. He wore a smile and talked with great excitement and pleasure. He had something wrong with his right eye, a wound or illness perhaps. He used terms I was unfamiliar with. He asked me if I was going to spange (to beg for money) for breakfast, not wanting to impede on my turf. He also asked if I was part of the Rainbow Club. I wasn’t sure what he meant so I said I was straight. He kinda chuckled and told me what the rainbow club is. Apparently it is the nationwide regularly occurring free version of burning man. If you don’t know what burning man is, check it out online.
As jolly and friendly as this guy was, I didn’t really want to talk to him. I’ve conversed with all sorts of homeless people. There’s something strange about a man jolly to be filthy and suffering from physical issues. He talked about the Rainbow Club and about all the free stuff he was able to procure. I didn’t think that was something to be proud of. We went our separate ways and I got breakfast and returned to my van. As I was eating, he came back to my van and asked me if he could use my phone. He called a girl he was supposed to meet up with. It went to voicemail and he left a message that sounded of meek frustration and an attempt to instill some urgency. “So much for the jolly vagrant,” I thought to myself. I received her text later explaining she was at work and maybe they could get together after. I pieced together that they knew each other from high school during a time they were more similar.
Later I went to an open mic night at Buffa’s Restaurant and Lounge. I just have to say before I get started with my experience at Buffa’s; New Orleans has so much personality and culture. It’s certainly got its shit too, but it is one of the most unique and most memorable cities I’ve been to in my life.
Buffa’s back room was packed. I sat at the last available table by myself. There was only one waitress/bartender and one cook for six dozen people. The open mic host was performing when I arrived.
Not long after I took a seat, a woman asked if she could share my table. She was large with brown hair, assertive and curious eyes, and comfortable in her own skin. We struck up a conversation and it was engaging and flowed. Eventually she wanted to talk politics, and though I thought it was a bad idea, she had sort of trapped me into it, so I obliged. I tried to lead with a statement that would reduce the volatility of colloquial political conversation. “First and foremost, whatever our opinions are on the candidates, I think it is important to remember we do not know them personally. My main stance on politics is a frustration with how people let it damage their relationships with friends and family. I say this especially considering how much phony information is purported concerning everything mainstream.” I thought that might tone down any emotionally invested remarks. It did not.
There was one moment in particular when for me the conversation was over. I expressed a certain view and her sentence started with, “People of your age..” and she paused knowing she fucked up, and then cautiously proceeded with her condescension. She might’ve had five years on me. Anyway, the conversation basically died there, I didn’t see much point in “conversing” with someone that had already pigeonholed me. A beautifully ironic moment came later that I should have burst out laughing at. She, being a NorCal native, wanted to brag on her new hometown of three years, New Orleans, saying, “People of all ages will socialize and hang out here.” I replied, “We have that in Long Beach too.” “Really?” she asked as she furrowed her brow. “Yep, some of my closest friends in Long Beach are twice my age. But there certainly is age discrimination in American culture.” And in pure unconscious beautiful irony she again postured as aged and knowledgeable saying, “Oh I wouldn’t say that..” and educated me with a monologue. I wanted to say, “Bitch, you didn’t. I said it!” I guess I took the high road.
Anyway, with regard to the open mic, the host did not stay true to the list. I was seventh on the list and after almost two hours I decided to check the list and I saw someone had written a name next to the name already at the sixth position. As people that came in after me were being called up to perform before me, including the guy that ignored how lists work, I realized I was in a place that played favorites. I played my songs, the audience clapped wildly. They clapped wildly for everyone. It was some of the best applause I’ve ever heard from a small room, but it never changed. While I have no idea if my performances actually moved anyone in the audience, I did give my best brief informational mic sign off, so that’s good.
On to Long Beach, Mississippi!