Why We Live in New Orleans

Why We Live in New Orleans

The recent spike in violent crimes can get just about anyone down. The utter disregard for human life and property is enough to make you want to leave New Orleans. It’s the human response to danger: fight or flight. Throw in road construction around ever corner, hurricane season, police shortages, the retirement of Sean Payton, Covid mandates, Armageddon and one wonders why anyone stays in the Big Easy.

Then you get a weekend like the one we just had. Thousands of people young and old, black and white, straight and gay gathered together to watch the first big carnival parade in almost two years. Though the route was shortened, the number of sub-krewes and marching bands were bigger than ever for the annual Chewbacchus parade.

Experiencing Chewbacchus 2022

The Space Vikings had the best sound system in the Chewbacchus parade

According to their website, the “Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (IKoC) is a Mardi Gras parade organization for revelrous Star Wars freaks, Trekkies, Whovians, mega-geeks, gamers, cosplayers, circuit benders, cryptozoologists, UFO conspiracy theorists, mad scientists, and all super nerds. The mission of the intergalactic krewe of Chewbacchus is to save the galaxy by giving the disenfranchised, socially awkward, and generally weird masses access to the magical revelry of carnival.”

For those that were in attendance Saturday night, the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus did not disappoint. There were smiles on the faces of everyone, from the riders to the fans cheering them on. The sub-krewes were all geeked out in funny and whimsical costumes handing out little handmade trinkets and cards to adoring fans. Chewbacchus prides itself in giving everyone a chance to participate in carnival by keeping their membership dues to only $80, and that includes a ticket to the Chewbacchanal after-party at The Fillmore.

So if you aren’t feeling like you’re experiencing New Orleans, then it’s your own damn fault. Get off your ass and gather some friends together for the ride of a lifetime.

Experiencing the King Cake Block Party

Partiers wait in line for king cake and coffee at the Bywater Bakery Block Party

The following day, I trekked back down to the Bywater for the annual King Cake Block Party. Normally held on 12th Night, this year’s block party was pushed back to February 6th due to staff Covid infections and heightened tension around Omicron earlier in the year. With king cakes- sweet and savory- around every corner, both by the slice and the whole cake, hundreds of locals were happily stuffing their faces in sugary icing, boudin, crawfish, and blueberry (not all in the same cake).

Al “Carnival Time” Johnson singing guess what?

But the highlight of the weekend was the musical showcase up the street at the Bywater Art Gardens. Inside the little park was a small stage featuring immense talent. After a short set by Sunpie Barnes and a jam by the Soul Brass Band, an all-star band including David Torkanowski and Herlin Riley performed with some of the legends of New Orleans music taking turns on the mic for a couple of songs each. First up was Deacon John followed by the legendary Al “Carnival Time” Johnson who busted out the classic “Shake, Rattle & Roll” before his eponymous song. John Boutte and his soulful voice devoured the crowd with “Indian Red,” then a surprise appearance by Cyril Neville singing the Professor Longhair classic “Go to the Mardi Gras.” Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Mardi Gras Indians strolled right through the audience before taking center stage with a rousing rendition of “Dear Liza Jane.”

Cyril Neville singing through his bandanna.

The legendary musicians were all there likely playing for free in support of the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic’s Makin’ Groceries campaign, which helps feed struggling musicians and performers. NOMC is a vital asset to the local entertainment industry making sure that everyone has equal access to physical and mental health care.

Mardi Gras Indian leads the way through the crowd

The crowd was all smiles, the vibe was sensational, the music was delicious. John Boutte stated the obvious, “We’ve all been waiting two years for this.” For those of us who deal with the every day bureaucracy and incompetence that come with living in New Orleans, the past two years has seemed like an eternity. It only took two days to wipe away the tears.

On the ride home, I was stopped in traffic as a bunch of houligans in souped-up Camaros and off-road three-wheelers shut down Poydras Street skidding out and popping wheelies for twenty minutes. It didn’t take them much effort to disband when the one police car showed up. Then I detoured to avoid the inevitable Sunday shut-down of Claiborne Avenue second line parades and ended up driving through the Swiss-cheese potholed streets of Hollygrove to get home. I’ll have to wait until morning to see if my tires survived the trip. It’s one more reminder of the dichotomy of living in New Orleans for the past 22 years. Here’s to hoping we survive another one.

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