by Nancy Bestor
Crawfish bread….jambalaya….crawfish etouffe…pounds and pounds of crawfish and shrimp…beignets…These are just a few of the delicious Cajun dishes I sampled on my recent trip to New Orleans and the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Jazz Festival, which this year celebrated its 40th anniversary, happens over two weekends at the end of April on the New Orleans fairgrounds race track. Jazz Fest features fantastic music, outstanding local cuisine, and great New Orleans’ artisan booths. It’s a great musical and culinary party, which draws more than 400,000 visitors each year.
My biggest Jazz Fest complaints are that there are so many stages featuring so many excellent artists that it is hard to choose who to hear and also that my stomach only has so much room. On our first day, we stopped in the gospel tent to hear Irma Thomas’ tribute to Mahalia Jackson. From there we went to the Acura Stage to catch Lionel Ritchie singing Easy Like Sunday Morning. Then on to the Blues Tent for Elvin Bishop. We didn’t get to George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, or the Black Crowes, or Dr. John. And this was just day one!
Day two included The Funky Meters, Cowboy Mouth, Tab Benoit, Sam Bush, and Simon & Garfunkel. But my favorite day of music was definitely our last full day in New Orleans when we were fortunate enough to see The Levon Helm Band, Johnny Lang and the Allman Brothers Band. Since we were not able to clone ourselves, we unfortunately missed Anita Baker, Shawn Colvin, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Keely Smith, and Marcia Ball. Do you stay and listen to one band for their whole show, or travel between stages, like a person with a serious case of Jazz Fest ADD, catching a little bit of one and a little bit of another? Everyone has their own Jazz Fest formula. Ours varied depending on the bands and our mood.
My girlfriend and I did not just go to Jazz Fest on our long weekend in New Orleans. We also spent a lot of time in the French Quarter, which truly feels like another country, not the good old U.S.A., and ate at several great New Orleans restaurants. A few of my favorite stops were Maximo’s Italian Grill (www.maximosgrill.com), where I ate a delicious scallop salad; Galley Seafood in Metarie, where a family friend and I shared five delicious pounds of boiled Cajun seasoned crawfish and two pounds of boiled shrimp, and Mother’s Restaurant (www.mothersrestaurant.net), where I sampled a breakfast of grits, biscuit and debris (delicious meat droppings) – all of it outstanding. In fact, my mouth is watering all over again just thinking about it.