US Road Trip Travelog: 7th March 2005

A new day and time for a fresh start with New Orleans. It's called 'The Big Easy' for a reason, and rather than trying to force the issue I need to kick back a bit and let New Orleans come to me. A gentle stroll around the French Quarter is a good start to the day.

Decatur Street, New Orleans
Decatur Street, New Orleans.

Q. Why have you got a photo of this frankly pretty unexciting road rather than the famous older buildings and balconies of Bourbon Street?
A. Because this photo includes three of the jewels of New Orleans:

  1. The nearest to the camera is the Louisiana Music Factory, a simply fantastic record shop. I've decided that I need some more proper blues music and find some Elmore James and Charlie Musselwhite CD's here to add to the collection. I know that these days it's possible to buy almost anything online but there is something greatly enjoyable about browsing around a good record shop, and this is one of the best.

  2. Beyond the vile green shop is Olivier's restaurant. It looks pretty up-market but is in fact a really friendly and surprisingly cheap place to eat. Far better food than last night, needless to say.

  3. At the end of the row is Lounge Lizards bar and music venue. More about that later.

After a great lunch at Olivier's, and a bit more wandering around, the weather is definitely getting worse. I make it back to the motel just before the heavens open and the thunderstorm starts. I did venture out in it a bit later but, after a quick soaking, decide better of it.

About 8 p.m. at night I head out again, down Bourbon Street. In may be a Monday night in early March but the place is packed - God knows what it's like in the height of summer or at Mardi Gras - with people in various stages of inebriation. The first decent music I hear is at a place called The Blues Club, so I head in. With my usual impeccable timing I arrive just as the band are taking a break. There's no cover charge (admission fee) here but the beer is $5 a can. Best just to sip and wait then.

The Blues Club
The Blues Club on Bourbon Street.

When the band come back on they are worth waiting for. The lead singer and guitarist - whom I later realise is blind - is an older Dr. John-type figure and he's backed by a slightly younger rhythm section and a much younger second guitarist. The lead guitarist is very good, and his singing is great, but when the young guitar-slinger cuts loose the band really get going. The nearest comparison in terms of music I can think of is probably Stevie Ray Vaughan, a sort of hard Texan blues. The sound quality is also very impressive, unlike the muddy mess that was Dimples in Natchez (though that may have just been the band).

After an hour or so of that it's time to head off again. I was expecting Bourbon Street to be all jazz but all I can hear tonight is rock. I stop in at another bar when I hear a cover of John Cougar Mellencamp's 'Hurts So Good' but quickly depart again when they follow it with an Ozzy Osbourne song.

Huey's Diner
Huey's Diner.

Time for a refuel at Huey's Diner. Like many places in New Orleans, which has no licensing laws or laws of any other sort as far as I can tell, this place is open 24/7. It's bright and clean and the food is simple but good. By the time I'm finished it's getting on for 11 p.m. and I think it's time to see what's happening back at Lounge Lizards. Amazingly, I get there just as the band are getting going.

Stumpknockers at Lounge Lizards
Stumpknockers at Lounge Lizards.

And what a band. Stumpknockers are led by a guy called Grayson Capps. He may sit down and play like Kurt Cobain and look a bit like Kris Kristofferson but not only is he alive and kicking, he can sing in tune as well. The band are just fantastic. I'm not normally a fan of the fiddle but with this lot it fits it really well. The lead guitarist, like a younger Andy Sipowicz on the left of the photo, has obviously been to the advanced school of guitar playing where they teach that less can sometimes be more. I can't hope to describe the music as it seems to encompass blues, country, rock and all points in between.

When the band take a break it dawns on me that I may be the only tourist, apart from a couple at the far end of the bar, in here. Everyone seems to know everyone else and quite a few are obviously musicians themselves as when the band get going again they take turns on stage as well. Some time later, it might be 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., the band finally finish. Well, I think they're finished. I know I am and it's time to go, but on the way out I see that the place has two 'happy hours' - 4-6 p.m. and 4-6 a.m. For all I know the band are still in there playing long after I'm back in my motel bed.

US Road Trip Travelog: 8th March 2005 >