The charm of New Orleans lives in the French Quarter and in the restored Preservation Hall, not at the racino of the Fair Grounds Race Course.
Clang clang! The red tram screeched to a halt on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Street. It was 11 o’clock in the morning.
“All aboard” the uniformed conductor bellowed. The tram clamored very slowly down the track to Cemetery stop. There were only 1 or 2 standing places left, “Muso’s” from all over the States and as far afield as New Zealand were on their way to the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
“Y’all looking forward to seeing George Benson?” a 50-something man with a goaty-beard, well-worn jeans and a 1980 UCLA t-shirt, enquired.
The festival takes place each year at the Fair Grounds racino and has a cult following. One of the locals boasted having one of the first posters dating back to 1970, the year of inception.
What’s the attraction? Is it the beer and synthetic Daiquiri’s? Drinking in the sun was always a recipe for disaster? Definitely not the disgusting, filthy mobile toilets. A biohazard. Perhaps the chunks of white-death bread are popular? “Delicious Po-Boy’s, the sign reads”. Po-Boy’s with Louisiana crawfish, Po-Boy’s with catfish, Po-Boy’s with anything deep-fried. Cajun shrimp and Jambalaya.
Along the well-worn path to the gates, locals have set up shop. They sell Coke and bottled water. “One dollar! Three for two dollars!” Deckchair and umbrella in place, this is their festival. They watch the passing parade. They after all, cannot afford a ticket at $65 per day, so they might as well make the best of it.
Inside the gates thousands stomp around the pig-bog. It has rained for a week leading up to the festival. The racetrack is a grey gooey marsh scented with horse poo and cow dung. If you happened to be wearing jandles, the goo oozes thickly through your toes and the smell turns your stomach. “Here comes the rain again, let’s duck into the Gospel tent, my husband suggests.
On stage The Chapman Family sing songs of God and Jesus. They are large and round, but boy, can they sing! Moving and wobbling to the music like cola coloured jellies while the visitors stood and enjoyed the power of their voices.
Straining to see Stevie Nicks and trying not to rub the camouflaged kitted Texan’s up the wrong way, we decided it was time to leave. We made our way wearily back to Bourbon Street. Sitting next to us on the tram were two very old ladies with grey hair. They were in deep discussion. “Aahaaaa…., seems like it’s quitting time” they observed in a southern drawl.
“It’s our stop!” We jumped up and waved to the old ladies. Their wrinkled faces told the tale. Long days in the sun and a lot of hardship.
Meanwhile in the Frenchman Street entertainment district they are mixing Hurricane cocktails. We stop at the Dueling Piano Bar. A five-piece ensemble with accordion, sax and washboard are rocking into the sunset. Now this is where N’Awlins lives!