Heading to New Orleans with your father and his friends for Spring Break is few people’s idea of a good time. While the omertá of the boy’s trip forbids spilling too many specific secrets, the one night I can share contains some of the best examples of great street music I’ve ever seen.
Frenchmen Street falls just inside the Warehouse District and borders the French Quarter. While it doesn’t quite match the relentless and insomniac bacchanal of Bourbon Street, it more than compensates with a selection of excellent jazz and blues clubs packed to the brim with the youth of the Crescent City.
There was some excellent street music, and I’ll get to that later, but for starters: In a packed jazz club which shall remain nameless, the band Yojimbo took the stage with a funky fury powered by their energetic librarian-esque front woman, Carly Meyers. Although initially accompanied by a more-than-competent rapper — surprising since most live rap falls on the quality scale somewhere between Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and Li’l Wayne’s guitar playing — he exited the stage and left the group unaccompanied by a vocalist.
That could have been the kiss of death for many bands: I only wandered into the venue due to the intrigue of an all-white backing band for a rapper and readied myself to leave before they announced their next song. As a follow-up, Yojimbo launched into a series of funk covers of hip-hop instrumentals ranging from MadVillain (Madlib’s collaboration with MF Doom) to the Beastie Boys. I couldn’t have been more impressed if they had just pooped in the refrigerator and eaten a whole wheel of cheese.
Exiting the venue, I steadied myself for the inevitable jaunt to Bourbon Street, but a brass band playing on a street corner waylaid me. Although the assembled crowd blocked traffic, nobody seemed to particularly mind. A car came within inches of blindsiding me, but except for a few scowls and maybe some muttered words there was no comment from either side.
New Orleans is a city of vibrant musical traditions, as a simple 20-minute jaunt down Frenchmen Street on a random Saturday proves. If you look for a temporary respite (but not too restful) from the pumped-up chaos of Bourbon Street, this is where you will find yourself.