BONNAROO’S ADVENTURES IN MARDI GRAS, PART 1

BY PAUL PECK (@PAULNPECK)

NEW ORLEANS SIMPLY HAS MORE FLAVOR THAN ANY OTHER CITY.  AND I’M NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT THE FOOD.  FLAVOR EVERYWHERE AND IN EVERYTHING.

New Orleans feels like an escape from reality.  Superfly started down there and it’s an obvious inspiration for the environment we create at Bonnaroo. Nowadays I live in NYC and I get down there too often to complain, but honestly, not often enough.  So you best believe when I’m in New Orleans, I’m grabbing a biscuit and soaking up every little bit of flavor.

New Orleans ain’t the easiest city to navigate right off the bat but with a little direction it can be incredibly rewarding.  We want to help our Bonnaroo peeps experience the New Orleans we know and love.  There’s a lot of shiny things and tourist bait that looks and feels authentic but ain’t quite right.   The original goal of this project was to offer some guidance to help keep you on track in the crescent city and in the right situations, presented in a way that was insightful and entertaining.  We wanted to make you feel like you were in the crew and along for a funky ride.

Next piece in the puzzle?  Find a producer that can pull the viewer right into their world.  I watched the Neistat Brothers TV show on HBO and it was unlike anything I’d seen before.  It was a show about the real life travels and adventures of two brothers – Casey and Van Neistat.  Because the show was filmed in an impromptu style on whatever equipment made sense for each situation, it looks and feels like real life.  As I watched more of Casey’s movies on Youtube, I realized this was the guy to produce Bonnaroo’s Adventures in Mardi Gras series.

Day 1 Production Schedule: Tuesday, February 14th
Jacques-Imos and Rebirth Brass Band

12:05PM – Casey arrives in New Orleans.

Afternoon – Shoot New Orleans b-roll

Evening – Frenchy Gallery (8319 Oak Street)

8:30PM – Dinner with Jacques Leonardi (Chef/Owner) at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe at 8324 Oak Street, New

Orleans, LA 70118.  Big Sam and Corey Henry (of Rebirth Brass Band) will join us for dinner.

After dinner –Rebirth Brass Band at The Maple Leaf (8316 Oak St)

The crew was Casey, Jacob (shooter/editor), Mary Beth (producer), and myself.  We all stayed in the Irish channel.  It’s a central location – Uptown near Tipitina’s, not too far from the French Quarter – and not a bad spot to stay for a future visit, especially during Mardi Gras since it’s striking distance from uptown parade routes.

This was the right day to get rolling as Rebirth Brass Band hosts a legendary weekly show at the Maple Leaf on Oak St every Tuesday.  Five minutes at the Leaf on any Tuesday will go a long way in explaining what’s special and different about New Orleans.  This particular Tuesday happened to be after Rebirth’s Grammy win and the mayor had authorized the closing of the street for the celebration.  The Maple Leaf is the definitive New Orleans music club – feels like a shack, sounds amazing and in the 99thpercentile of clubs with personality, style and vibe.  I wanted Casey and team fully in the NOLA spirit.  Starting off with great food and segueing straight into Rebirth at the Maple Leaf did exactly that.  To slip further into the experience I enlisted a few ambassadors to join us for dinner at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe – Big Sam (Big Sam’s Funky Nation), Corey ‘Boe Money’ Henry (Galactic) and head chef / owner Jacque himself.

While we sat there, the discussion turned to what makes New Orleans special, Mardi Gras traditions and our crazy shooting plans for the week.  Then food started showing up.  Lots of food.  Deep fried roast beef po-boy (that explodes with gravy and cheese upon contact), oyster salads, shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, crabmeat stuffed shrimp, eggplant with crawfish and jalapeno cornbread…  Jacque’s kitchen knows how to fry the hell out of some seafood in exactly the right way.

It was around this time that we heard music coming from the street.  Sweet, jubilant music.  Brass blasts and the low rumble of a tuba.  News quickly swept through the restaurant that Rebirth was on top of the Maple Leaf, playing to the crowded street below.  We settled the tab, poured beers in go-cups (a great option in NOLA) and went to check out the excitement.

Oak Street is Uptown party central on certain nights and this was one of ’em.  It felt like everyone in town was there –laughing, dancing and sharing in the communal victory of a Grammy win for the city.  Outside accolades for New Orleans are all too rare given that the median skill level for musicians in this city is well over the head of most places in the world. Across the street from the Leaf is Frenchy Gallery, which also doubles as the dressing room for bands at the Maple Leaf.   Frenchy was inside holding court.  Later he’d be stuffed into the back of the maple leaf – dancing and painting up a storm, putting down on canvas a colorful embodiment of what the night felt like

When Rebirth finally hit the stage The Maple Leaf was exploding with people and energy.  The harmonies of the horns, snare and bass drums with thumping tuba amount to a sound that’s best described as ‘funky happiness’.  It’s the easiest music to understand and enjoy on the first listen.  After awhile I cleared out some space and holed up in one of my favorite spots in town – the back patio at The Maple Leaf which feels like a different country altogether – maybe Northern Europe. I sat around a table in the back having a storytelling cutting session with a crew highlighted by my boyDerrick ‘Mr. Smoker’ Freeman (drummer for Kermit Ruffins), Travis Laurendine who was helping me coordinate some shoots for the week, and Trumpet Black.  I had to pull the plug on the night early though as we had a big day starting in just a few short hours.

LIKE ANY GREAT FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE THERE WAS GOING TO BE A BUILD-UP, A PROGRESSION.  THINGS WERE GOING TO GET CRAZIER AS OUR AMBITIOUS PRODUCTION GOT DEEPER INTO MARDI GRAS.  A LOT CRAZIER.