by Michael Boyink / firstname.lastname@example.org
We weren’t supposed to like New Orleans.
MsBoyink and I were both raised in the conservative mainly-Dutch culture of West Michigan.
Churches on opposing street corners. Television antennas hidden in attics and television screens tucked inside cabinets with doors. So you could hide it when the pastor came calling.
And not much in the way of a social scene. Live music was mostly the church choir on Sunday morning. Our hometown was dry on Sunday. The town next door was dry all the time. Locals would tell visitors about the sidewalks that rolled up right after supper.
But then we found jazz music.
I came to it via a musical journey that started with 80’s hairbands, then went to rock-blues crossover artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, then found blues-jazz artists like Bennie Goodman and the Dutch Swing College Band.
MsBoyink, a fair piano player herself when we first met, also became a fan.
Then we hit the road full time. What traveling jazz fans could avoid New Orleans?
The list of buts was long.
But…the obscene public displays during Mardi Gras.
The buts kept us away. At least the first time. Mardi Gras was firing up and we thought all of Mardi Gras looked like the clips we’d seen on the news.
Not anxious to subject our kids to that, we drove past.
Our third year on the road found us in the area again. This time our list of buts was much shorter. We had talked to other traveling families who had explored New Orleans. We had learned about the diversity of Mardi Gras events – both in location and mood.
We found a nearby state park to park the RV in, and made our way into town.
For three days.
We ate beignets and drank chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde. We stood in Congo Square. We went to a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade. We walked on Basin Street. We peeked into a cemetery. We ate a muffaletta. We toured the St. Louis cathedral. We got a free ukulele lesson on the sidewalk.
And we heard live jazz. On the street. In Preservation Hall. In the clubs lining Frenchmen Street.
The kids weren’t impressed. They aren’t jazz fans. They were bothered by the homeless population around the French Quarter. They thought the marchers in the Mardi Gras parades looked tired and defeated, and the attendees collecting throws like beads and candy were “greedy and first-world minded.”
But MsBoyink and I?
We fell in love with New Orleans.
We returned several times during our travels – enough to refine a “$50 New Orleans date night” formula that included overnight lodging, drinks and live music. We know where to park and where to find the jazz music being played.
The other day I was noodling around with Google Maps, and realized that New Orleans is only a 10 hour drive from Ava.
Maybe a Big Easy roadtrip is in order.
Because we know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Public Radio station WWOZ is located in the French Quarter of New Orleans and specializes in promoting the local music scene. Listen online at wwoz.org.