I’ll be leaving New Orleans on the Sunset Limited in a few hours, after a one-night stopover here. I haven’t been here since 2005 and I have to say, it’s pretty sad. I have always had mixed feelings about this town: As a musician I feel compelled to like it, but the loutish tourism, horrifying poverty and racism, and terrible crime rates aren’t exactly attractive. Katrina seems to have destroyed a lot of small businesses that have been replaced by corporate chains and businesses desperate for tourist cash. Kinda like Ghouliani did to Times Square.
Unlike the other times I’ve been here — my first trip was in 1988 with some college friends — I couldn’t even find any decent music in the French Quarter. Walter “Wolfman” Washington was playing out at the Maple Leaf, but with no car and not a lot of time (and 35-degree weather) I wasn’t in the mood for that trip. I walked up and down Bourbon and Royal Streets and heard almost nothing but disco and club music, or dreadful rock-blues cover bands playing way too loud. There weren’t even any street musicians, but perhaps it was too cold for them.
I finally happened on a Bourbon Street bar called Huge Ass Beers (I give them credit for at least not trying to be falsely authentic) with a couple of guys playing blues in the back. Nothing to write home about, and I didn’t get their names, but they were having a good time and so were the other folks in the bar, mostly a hardcore band from San Diego and their girlfriends.
This morning I had coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, which is at least still there and intact, and walked around a little more. Even in the heart of the French Quarter there are a lot of boarded-up storefronts and for-rent signs. I’ll be glad to get back on the train.