Festivals Herald the Gulf Coast Rebirth
Published Apr 2006

Local musicians will be featured at the Jazz Fest, along with regional and national acts. Louisiana Office of Tourism photo


By Don Redman
Associate Editor

Katrina survivors were dealt a sobering blow recently when Donald Powell, the federal coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, commented that it could take as long as 25 years to rebuild the city. Obviously, with smart planning and wise investments that time span can be greatly shortened, but Powell’s observations nevertheless reminded us that the eight months since Hurricane Katrina was only a blip on the calendar.

For those of us in it for the long haul, there was little else to do than to shrug at the news and turn our attention to the business of living. As the rebirth of the Gulf Coast continues, so does the rebirth of nature. Spring is definitely in the air and that means it’s time for festivals, crawfish boils, baseball and flowers.

In New Orleans, two outstanding festivals are on the near horizon. The ever-popular French Quarter Festival gets underway April 21-23, and is quickly followed by the monster party, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 28–May 7).

Touted as Louisiana's largest free music festival, the French Quarter Festival features more than 100 musicians playing traditional and contemporary jazz, Latin, rhythm and blues, Cajun and Zydeco, New Orleans funk, classical, swing and rock. The festival's signature event, the "world's largest jazz brunch" in Woldenberg Riverfront Park and the French Quarter, offers a tantalizing spread of beverages and specialty items from some of the best known restaurants in the Crescent City. More than 60 food and beverage booths will be scattered throughout the historic French Quarter.

French Quarter Festival also features free tours of hidden patios and gardens of French Quarter homes, a Pirate's Alley art show and more.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival–or as the locals say Jazz Fest–is the celebration of the unique culture and heritage of New Orleans and Louisiana.

This year's six-day Jazz Fest promises to be one of the most exciting–and most important–music festivals ever held in New Orleans. Headliners include Bruce Springsteen, Fats Domino (no, he didn’t die in Katrina as was rumored–he wrote a song about it), Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint with Elvis Costello (an act I’m not going to miss), Jimmy Buffett, and Keith Urban.

Of course, this is an extremely abbreviated listing of featured acts and is by no means intended to slight great local acts like Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, The Meters, The Radiators and Pete Fountain.

The 2006 event marks the 37th edition of Jazz Fest, which will be held at the traditional location–New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course, 1751 Gentilly Boulevard.


Crawfish In Short Supply

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rocked the crawfish industry by pouring brackish waters into crawfish farms and the ongoing drought is making a bad situation worse. But crawfish boils are a part of our culture and despite the expected markup in prices, residents of South Louisiana are still firing up the boiling pots and flavoring the water with cayenne in anticipation of the tasty crustaceans.

Not to brag, but my older brother is perhaps the best crawfish boiler in the region. He’s fanatical about cleansing the mudbugs prior to cooking, rinsing them first in fresh water and them soaking them in salt water to “purge them.” He likes his crawfish spicy, but not so hot as to burn the lips, although your eyes water and your nose runs.

Like countless other crawfish cooks, he adds lemons and a plethora of vegetables including the standard ears of corn, onions and red potatoes, mushrooms, whole garlic, artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower. Hot dogs and sausage links are thrown in, too. And if anyone happened to catch a drum while fishing, he’ll throw that in, too, wrapped in cheesecloth (the fish comes out tasting like crabmeat).

Once the crawfish are cooked and heaped across layers of newspaper, it’s time to pinch tails and suck heads. And while the main entrée is indeed important, the main focus these springtime rituals is passing a good time with loved ones and friends.

Biloxi is gearing up for the 14th annual Cajun Crawfish Festival that’s been expanded to include two weekends, April 20–23 and April 27–30. Organizers expect to cook up 15,000 pounds of spicy crawfish for the fest, which will also include music by Charlie Daniels, Blake Shelton, the Little River Band and others. During the day, regional and local music acts will perform. There also will be carnival rides, games, contests and regional as well as international food at the festival, which will be at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

“Springtime on the Mississippi Gulf Coast wouldn’t be complete without our famous boiled crawfish,” said Stephen Richer, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Despite Hurricane Katrina, our delicious fresh seafood remains one of our popular attractions.”

Tickets are $10 for adults, $3 for children 6–12, and free admission for children younger than 6 years. Call the Coliseum at (228) 594-3700 for more information.

For information on other events at Mississippi Gulf Coast–including a bluegrass festival and renaissance fair in May–see their Web site, www.gulfcoast.org.

Play Ball!

The first pitch of the 2006 season was thrown April 7 before a sell-out crowd packed into Zephyr Stadium to watch the return of the New Orleans Zephyrs, a AAA minor league affiliated with Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals.

More than 11,000 area residents attended the game, signaling the return of something familiar. The Zephyrs are the first New Orleans team since Hurricane Katrina to begin their season at their home stadium.

Meanwhile, literally across the street, the New Orleans Saints began their mini-camp, offering football fans a chance to steal an early glimpse of the team that many hope will take the city to the Super Bowl.


Stop To Smell The Flowers

Most of the azaleas in the New Orleans area have already bloomed, but many other plant varieties are just getting started. A great way to experience the rebirth of plant life is to check out the rebirth of the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park.

Hurricane Katrina dealt a serious blow to the Botanical Garden. There was serious tree damage, which was followed by flooding in the garden by as much as three feet covering the plant collection for nearly two weeks. As a result, the vast majority of the plant collection was lost. The loss of electrical power led to the death of containerized plants that were above the floodwaters. Such plants included orchids, staghorn ferns, bromeliads, and other plants through heat buildup in the greenhouses and the disabling of automatic watering systems.

In the ensuing eight months, green thumbs have been steadily at work and the Botanical Garden recently reopened to the public with an added retail nursery. Hours of the Garden and nursery are Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. Admission to the Garden is currently free, but donations are welcomed to assist in funding the Garden's operation.

And finally, there’s a new spring in my step. Nearly seven months after the storm, I finally was able to move back home. I am thankful for the FEMA trailer, but I’m not going to miss it for one minute.

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