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Arts & Culture

Spring in New Orleans: French Quarter Festival and Beyond

French Quarter Fest (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

It’s safe to say spring in New Orleans is synonymous with one thing and one thing only – festival season! Coming up is one of the visitor and local favorites, French Quarter Fest! With over 800 local musicians and a giant New Orleans food lineup that’s been proudly deemed “the largest outdoor brunch,” it’s easy to see why this festival is a crowd pleaser. Celebrating it’s 30th anniversary, this year is certain to be a great one full of new food vendors and amazing music!

new orleans podcastOn this episode of GoNOLA Radio, our hosts get an inside look at the festival and the life of special guest Debbie Davis who will be rocking her ukulele on the Hotel Monteleone Cabaret Stage Saturday, April 13 at 1:00 p.m. and with her long time ’20s & ’30s boogie woogie singing ensemble, the Pfister Sisters, on Sunday, April 14 at 12:30 p.m. on the WWL-TV stage. Find out why she chose to play the ukulele of all instruments before the conversation wanders to all the other amazing spring festivals in New Orleans, like Chaz Festival, Bayou Boogaloo and Greek Fest!

So get your speakers turned up and let the countdown begin!

Radio is a free New Orleans podcast hosted by Sunpie Barnes, Lorin Gaudin, George Ingmire and Mikko about the food, music and culture of the Crescent City. Subscribe to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or download to your mobile device on Stitcher. GoNOLA Radio features music by Cale Pellick.

Podcast Transcript

Sanpa Barnes: Welcome to Go NOLA Radio. My name is Sanpa Barnes and I will
be your host of hosts as we explore New Orleans to learn about the city’s
rich culture, heritage, food, and music. We bring you experts, the real
deal experts, who will talk with you about people who make New Orleans such
a wonderful place to live and visit. It’s Go NOLA Radio.

George: It is springtime in New Orleans, which is synonymous with festival
time in New Orleans. In fact, it seems like every week of every month, the
first three or four months of the year, there is something to do with
music, food, children’s activities, all that and more. We are here with
Lauren Goden, the lovely Lauren Goden.

Lauren: Hello.

George: Mr. Miko, how are you?

Miko: Great, it is good to be here.

George: And a dear friend, somebody who is a lovely singer and takes the
most beautiful pictures too, by the way. You won’t know that on a radio,
you’ll have to go to the website, but Debbie Davis. How are you doing?

Debbie: Aw, gee whiz, thanks George.

George: You really photograph wonderfully and

Debbie: You have got to thank Zack Smith for that.

George: Well, he does bring out the beauty in all of us.

Debbie: I agree.

George: It is just whoever photographs you is lucky, a lucky man, and a
lucky woman.

Miko: And the bee sting lips works. That’s great.

Debbie: Go on. No, I’m serious, go on.

George: Here we are. You are obviously going to be out there on the
festival scene.

Debbie: I am

George: I’m going to start a little ways back. I met you, musically, at the
Funky Butt. You were playing.

Debbie: That was a million years ago

George: Johnny Vidacovich was… I want to say Matt Perrine, of course a
very lucky man and I think Eric Traub, maybe on saxophone.

Debbie: I think it was Eric Traub.

George: Maybe Erin Fletcher?

Debbie: No, I think it was probably Todd Duke, does that sound right?

George: Todd Duke was playing guitar, okay and it was the downstairs of the
Funky Butt. The now shuttered Funky Butt, right across the street from the
famous Congo Square we were talking about that on the last podcast. Here we
are again today and just evolving as artists and what not.

Debbie: That was a lovely time, George. Thank you for reminding me of
that.

George: You grew up in a household of musicians, actually.

Debbie: I did.

George: So I know a little bit about this, but I bet all our listeners do
not.

Debbie: Both my parents are opera singers, and when I was born they were
living in Manhattan, and working. My dad was in New York City Opera and
they were both traveling a lot. Free-lance mercenary musicians, it’s not
much different than what I do now. But when I was two, they moved out to
rural New Jersey, which only made me get older and want to get back to a
city. So I didn’t move back to New York. But moving here was I think a lot
better in a lot of ways. I grew up knowing that you could make a living as
a musician, and knowing that you could have kids, and that was never a
question for me.

George: Speaking of all these festivals, tell us some of the outfits you
will be with. I believe the new ones Nightingale’s will be one of them?

Debbie: Yes, I will be with that outfit and we will also be wearing… You
said outfit and I immediately went to our sponsor Trashy Diva. We are being
sponsored by Trashy Diva, and we are getting paid in clothes.

Lauren: That’s awesome.

Debbie: Because money you spend, a good dress that will serve you for
years. That is the outfit I am with and that is the outfit I will be
wearing. Trashy Diva has been great for sponsoring all of us

George: French Quarter Fest

Debbie: Yes, the preview day of French Quarter Fest in Jackson Square.
We’re closing the stage out.

George: Congratulations.

Debbie: Yeah, we’re going to look fabulous. So don’t miss that one.

George: And you have the Pfister’s of course

Debbie: Yes, I will be at the French Quarter Festival with the Pfister
Sisters on Saturday, in Jackson Square, and then immediately following that
I’m probably going to literally jump on a bicycle and get to the next gig.
Nice. Thank you for that.

George: Well, I just saw you with a little dog

Lauren: Her name isn’t Debbie Gulch

Miko: Very nice. Well, I just remember last year, if you don’t mind George,
you sang at the Monte Leon on their Cabernet stage, which is still the
Monte Leon stage, except you told me they were moving it.

Debbie: Now it’s at the Palm Court this year.

Miko: It is still the Monte Leon stage. That’s a nice touch

Debbie: Yes

Miko: But this is fantastic, you were up there with Alex McMurray, and
please refresh my memory, you had a great band. It was kind of a departure
for you, but it was a wonderful, I thought, package-able almost Las Vegas
kind of act.

Debbie: My goodness, I didn’t even have any feathers on. Yeah, it was Alex
McMurray, Bill Malchow on piano, James Singleton on bass, and Helen Gillet
joined us for a few songs too, before she had to run to another gig. That’s
what French Quarter Festival is, it’s basically seeing how many people, you
can see on different stages in the same day.

Lauren: What brought you to ukulele?

Debbie: It was cheap and it was small and it was easy to play.

Lauren: Oh, Jesus. That’s great.

Debbie: Also, because my husband plays so many gigantic instruments, that
there was no room for one more.

Lauren: I was going to ask you, do you have more than one and do you have a
favorite?

Debbie: I do have more than one and I do have a favorite. My favorite is
the one that I play most, the one that you see in the pictures on the
record actually.

Lauren: It’s pretty.

Debbie: It’s a concert, which is slightly larger than a soprano, but it’s
tuned the same and it’s made by South Coast Ukulele’s, which I actually
have a ukulele endorsement from South Coast Ukulele’s. It’s got a great
pick up in it and it stays in tune, no matter how many people accidentally
kick my case. Yeah, you find the one you like.

George: But since you are talking about ukuleles, I’m going to ask about
food. I mean here we are with, there is so much great music, but French
Quarter Festival is also, I think it’s referred to as the world’s largest
outdoor jazz brunch.

Lauren: It is, the jazz brunch, the world’s biggest jazz brunch.

George: And then Ben Zabo croissants one of the oldest vendors out there.

Debbie: I was just going to say, that’s one of my favorite things to get
out there.

George: Another musician, as well.

Debbie: Vance Walker sausage.

George: Great singer, as the sausages have been made since the late, like
1897 or so.

Lauren: A great singer. Lots of people do not know that about Vance

Debbie: I didn’t know he was a singer.

Lauren: Oh, yeah. He’s terrific.

Debbie: Killer.

George: He’s on Nine Wire. He’s on his collection. Then there’s also, we
have sausages from 30 years ago, now we have Dreamy Weenies.

Debbie: I was so going to talk about them.

George: Tell us about Dreamy Weenies.

Lauren: Dreamy Weenies are amazing on Rampart Street right across, again
from our Congo Square that we want to talk about again and again and again.
The guys that own it are Nasr Nance and David. They are fabulous and what
they’re bringing this year, they’re a new vendor to the French Quarter Fest
this year. They’re doing three different types of their hotdogs and
sausages, and what’s really cool is that they offer a vegetarian. They
offer halal kosher if you want to eat at their place and they have three
separate fryers.

So they really are serious about the business. Then if you want just a
classic dog, it’s outstanding. They make their own bread. The sausages and
the sauces are phenomenal. It’s an incredible restaurant, so if you don’t
make it to French Quarter Fest, where they are going to have their booth
this year, you can actually go to their restaurant and it’s outstanding. I
mean one of my favorite things to get there. This year there are several
new food vendors at French Quarter Fest and a lot of really great… One of
the coolest things that Jackson’s Square, which is where a lot of the
French Quarter vendors, I mean that’s the kind of place you want to be as a
food vendor, because it’s very central to the whole festival.

The French Quarter Fest people tell me that they reserve that spot for
actual French Quarter businesses, and for obvious reasons. I mean really
it’s about supporting the French Quarter. As much as we love all the
restaurants in New Orleans and I know they do too, that that’s where it is,
and so joining this year also is a place called Something Else Cafe, which
is in the French Quarter. It is on Exchange Ally.

George: It is those guys that own Charcoal’s.

Lauren: It is the same guys that own Charcoal’s and something else that’s
really fantastic too. They’re going to do a really cool shrimp burger this
year that’s fantastic. So you are going to get the opportunity to have
classics. If you want your turtle soup, you can get your turtle soup. You
want whatever those things that, sort of scream New Orleans to you, but you
want to go a little bit off the beaten path. You’ve got the Dreamy Weenies.
You’ve got Something Else and a whole slew of ethnic foods too, over by the
Mint. It is really literally, you can eat, dance, and kind of jive your way
all the way from the Mint to Canal Street. It’s just brilliant.

George: And the week or two before that. Actually, I think it’s actually
just the week before, is another festival just to remind people that as I
said, there are festivals every weekend it’s the Freret Street Festival.

Lauren: Fabulous

Debbie: I love the Freret Street Festival.

Lauren: Me, too.

George: Eight blocks long and they’ve got roughly 10 restaurants now there,
that have opened over the last few years.

Lauren: It will be 11 soon.

George: Eleven, okay.

Lauren: Three Muses is opening up a Freret Street branch.

Debbie: Fantastic

George: Wow, and Three Muses. You hold down a gig over there

Debbie: I do

George: And that’s another place where we’re talking about creative food-
making with Daniel Esses.

Lauren: Yeah, incredible, great chef.

George: And great music, a very intimate…

Lauren: Ok, so we love though, the fact that there are so many festivals.
There’s Greek Fest, Bayou Boogaloo, right?

Miko: Those are in the same neighborhood, the Greek Fest is up on Bayou
St. John.

Lauren: Wednesday at the Square.

Miko: The Bayou Boogaloo, my daughter is a big star there. She’s six years
old.

Lauren: That’s awesome

Miko: It’s really perfect for children and when they get good weather like
they did last year, it’s really a great day on the bayou over by American
Can.

Lauren: It’s wonderful

Miko: Just up the road, the Greek Fest, I think that is the most inspiring.

Lauren: That’s up by the lake

Miko: Yeah, it’s on Robert E. Lee right? But they started remember before
they had that beautiful church.

Lauren: Yeah, the Hellenic Church, it’s gorgeous

Miko: They did it to build the church and it really got a life of its own.
I think that was sort of the first flagship festival that wasn’t like about
jazz or anything. It was just the Greek Fest and forget it, everyone just
went, and I’m talking about 20-25 years ago.

Lauren: And it’s so much fun because they serve retsina and Ouzo, if you
want to get your drink on.

Miko: And the ladies are up all night baking I mean.

Lauren: Beautiful food, beautiful Greek food that you can get a big plate,
and you can go vegetarian, if you so choose or you can go carnivore, and
it’s all delicious and beautifully prepared and a ton of fun. It’s just a
blast. It’s a nice respite and it is usually very busy too, but everything
seems to happen on the same weekend, so you almost have to pick.

George: And then there is Jazz Fest, in the middle of Jazz Fest is Chaz
Fest.

Lauren: Chaz Fest

Miko: Bywater’s answer to the Jazz Fest

George: That is Chaz, Chaz Fest. Of course, if you’re at our website right
now listening to the podcast, there will be a link to Chaz Fest, which is
an outdoor event in the back of these three or four houses?

Lauren: Yeah.

George: That also doubled, at one point, as a recording studio.

Lauren: Unfortunately, the truck farm is not doing that anymore

George: The truck farm is now shuttered, but there’s still the spirit of
it there and it’s just an amazing event. There are a lot of people serving
food. Eve Abrams and Shotzi are serving their crawfish bread.

Lauren: And their lemonade.

George: And their lemonade, which is a vodka or whisky optional lemonade

Lauren: And then right across, you can get a little something to put in
your lemonade

George: Exactly

Lauren: From Mr. Pat.

George: There are two stages there. You’ve got the big stage and then this
little stage, which is a shack where one of the walls fell down, so it just
kind of became a stage.

Lauren: It turned into one.

George: You go into these events, even living here, going. Am I really…
Is this really happening?

Lauren: Is this up to code?

George: Yeah, perfectly situated in a place that is evolving, in terms of
the like arts and restaurants and what not. There’s a lot happening in New
Orleans. There’s so much to do and it’s starting as we speak.

Miko: The good news is that a lot of our listeners don’t live here. So
it’s like, “This is my window of coming in.” So you’re going to come in to
something, so you look at your four days, nine days. It turns into six
months, but if you’re going to be here

George: It was 20 years for me

Miko: Yeah, that’s right. I’m still on my vacation.

Lauren: Yeah, 15.

Miko: Yeah, 1980. You’re coming in. Make sure it overlaps. Bring your
little backpack. Stake out a place to use the restroom. And go and match it
up with what you’re going to do.

George: This would be a shameless plug, if it wasn’t for the fact that Go
NOLA is partners with nuanceonline.com who support my nationally syndicated
radio program. So you can also go to neworleansallthewaylive.com, and
listen to what’s about to happen or what has already happened. You can hear
interviews with the people from Dreamy Weenies and the Okra Song.

Lauren: Fantastic

George: You can hear about Congo Square. There is a nice dovetail between
what we’re doing here and what that national program is doing.

Lauren: I’m looking forward to the festival season this year.

George: I think we all are. I invite our listeners to come to New Orleans
and consider not leaving.

Sanpa: Go NOLA Radio is a production of New Orleans Tourism and Marketing
Corporation, in conjunction with FSC Interactive, music by Cale Pellet. My
name is Sanpa. Tune in next week and subscribe to Go NOLA radio on iTunes
or gonola.com.

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