I checked out of the Hyatt Regency since this was the first day of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and I drove up Cedar Springs to Cafe Brazil for breakfast. Then I drove down to the Westin City Center Hotel on Pearl Street to register for the conference, but they had not opened the conference registration yet. So I sat in the lobby networking and talking with labels, and I called the Presidential Trap House people from Oklahoma City who had left posters in the lobby.
Once I did get registered, I learned that the conference had provided a hotel room for me and another hotel room for Wes Phillips, who was driving in from Jackson, Mississippi and had called me from Tallulah, Louisiana. While sitting in the lobby, I ran into Doc and Hood, the rap duo from Oklahoma City that had impressed me so at the Oklahoma Music Conference back in 2006, and I was sorry to learn from them that BJ, the founder of that conference had been killed a couple of months before.
Wes arrived in the early evening, but I got caught by Mike the conference organizer and was corralled into the opening showcase of the music conference, which I wouldn’t have minded except that I was so hungry. The talent was better than average, however, and especially impressive was a little boy from Dallas called Bentley Green, who rapped three songs from his upcoming album, and who had been rapping since he was three years old. I finally left the hotel and drove over to Lower Greenville to Daddy Jack’s, but I was fairly disappointed at the limited menu. I finally chose a broiled lobster tail, and it was very good, but also quite expensive. Then I drove out to Cafe Brazil for coffee and dessert, and then I headed back to the hotel, networking and interacting with the conference attendees.
The hotel was also really neat, sitting on one side of a vast plaza, complete with ice-skating rink, and with the meeting rooms on the opposite side of the plaza. There was no real exhibit hall area, only a few tables set up outside the main ballroom, so people tended to gather and hang out in the lobby, and in the restaurant/bar. I met with the Presidential Trap House label there in the restaurant, and then later the hotel began serving pizzas and sodas in the lobby. There had been some sort of modeling event at a downtown club, but I stayed at the hotel and got to bed around 2 in the morning.
I drove up to Buzzbrews at Central Expressway and Fitzhugh for breakfast, and then headed over to CD Source on Greenville Avenue, where I found a lot of Blue Note CDs in the new arrivals, including one by the pianist Elmo Hope. I also found two Odean Pope Trio recordings there, and then I drove a few blocks over to Half Price Books Records & Music, and there I found a number of African LPs.
Wanting a hamburger, I headed over to Jake’s Hamburgers on Skillman, but there was literally no place to park, so I stopped by Poor Man’s Music & More on the other side of LBJ Freeway, and then drove over to the Galleria.
At Valley View Mall, there were two new record stores, an Xperience Music (which is what the Eargazum chain is becoming), and Nu Era Music and More, which wasn’t on my store list and which I just happened to see as I walked through the mall. From there, I headed out to Oak Cliff and to a store on Cockrell Hill called Da Shop, and then to Rewind Music in the Wynnewood Village. At Top Ten, the owner Mike asked about Gary Bernard, the buyer at Select-O-Hits who he had known for some years, and gave me a cold root beer, and then I headed down to the Eargazum at Southwest Center Mall.
In Grand Prairie, there was a large store called Forever Young Music, and they had a Houston CD I had been looking for called Queen of Hits: The Macy’s Record Story, so I bought that and then drove over to the Irving Mall to leave posters and promos at another Eargazum location.
I had decided to eat at a Texas Land and Cattle Company in Garland near Lake Ray Hubbard, and I didn’t want to fight LBJ expressway traffic at the 6PM time of evening, so I decided to take the new George W. Bush Tollway, little knowing that by the time I reached the end of it in Garland, I would have spent almost $10 and killed nearly an hour. Worse, the tollway abruptly ends at a city street in Garland that doesn’t lead to I-30, so I had to drive down through Rowlett to get to the restaurant. The Dallas Cowboys pre-season game was on the TV screens at the restaurant, and I ordered their signature smoked sirloin, which is unique and very good.
Afterwards, there was supposed to be a jazz group playing at R. L. Griffith’s Blues Palace on Grand in South Dallas, but there wasn’t, and so I drove down to Brooklyn Jazz Cafe again. But the group there had quit playing because of the Barack Obama speech at the Democratic National Convention, which everyone was listening to. I hung around the club for awhile, but ultimately headed back to my hotel.
The Cupboard in West Memphis had started selling breakfast, so I stopped there on my way out of town, and then I continued west on I-40. It was National Truck Drivers Week, and in honor of that, a truckstop in North Little Rock was giving away free lunches, a fact which had created a major traffic jam at Exit 161.
I had miscalculated the start of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and had taken a day off work that I probably hadn’t needed to, but since I had already made my plans, I had gone on Priceline.com and booked a hotel room in Dallas for Wednesday and Thursday nights (they had put me in the Hyatt Regency Reunion), and I reasoned that this would give me a free day in Dallas on Thursday to go around to the record stores with posters and promotional CDs.
Below Little Rock on I-30, I began having a problem with drowsiness, so, at Texarkana, I stopped at a Starbucks, and then I headed on into East Texas, stopping at Greenville to go by a Hastings Music in the hopes of finding CDs by The Southern Sea or Tree With Lights. Unfortunately, they had neither of them there.
I had considered eating dinner at Culpepper Cattle Company in Rockwall, but after checking their menu on my iPhone, I learned they had both remodeled and increased their prices dramatically, so I decided to eat at the Saltgrass Steakhouse there instead, and it was quite good. The sun was beginning to set over Lake Ray Hubbard as I stopped at a Starbucks after dinner, and then I headed on into Dallas.
I headed first to Good Records in Lower Greenville, where I found a couple of Numero Eccentric Soul reissues that I didn’t have, as well as CDs by the Sound In Action Trio and the Papercuts. Then I headed over to South Lamar Street, and stuck my head briefly into Bill’s Records before heading down the street to the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe, where the Dallas Observer had said the Freddie Jones Quartet would be playing. The cafe was large, nearly a block long, and was full of people. Freddie Jones proved to be an excellent trumpeter, and his quartet was exciting, if a little funk-oriented. I am not usually a fan of R & B-influenced jazz, but this group was exciting, particularly the drummer and bass-player. At an intermission, I met the trumpeter, and learned that he was originally from South Memphis-it’s a rather small world after all. During the rest of the night, he used two other drummers, and I tried to buy a Brooklyn Jazz Cafe T-shirt, but the owner had taken the key to the shirt-case with her when she left for the day.
I had worried about finding the Hyatt Regency Hotel, but I had no difficulty finding it once I drove into the Reunion area, and once I got checked in, the pool was closed, so I headed up to my room.
I had never driven across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and the thought of a 26-mile-long bridge didn’t really appeal to me, but I wanted to try the Broken Egg Cafe in Mandeville, so after I checked out of the Westin Canal Place hotel, I drove into Metairie, and then onto the bridge. I couldn’t recall having ever been on a bridge where the other side wasn’t visible as I headed across, but gradually, the north shore of the lake began to appear, misty and foggy at first and then clearer. Mandeville was old, shaded with oaks and dotted with historic homes, and it reminded me somewhat of Bay St. Louis as I remembered it before Hurricane Katrina. It was a Sunday morning, and very quiet, but there was a crowd of cars and motorcycles around the Broken Egg Cafe, and I had a brief wait for a table. The breakfast was very good indeed, and then I headed out for Memphis, taking I-12 west to Hammond, and then I-55 north. In Jackson, I stopped for coffee at a Starbucks, and then headed all the way on into Memphis.
It had rained all night, but the rain had ended, so I rode the riverfront streetcar down to the French Market, and then walked over to the Clover Grill on Bourbon Street for a breakfast. The place was really crowded, and I had to sit at the bar, but the breakfast was really good.
Back in the French Market, large crowds of tourists were shopping at the various vendor tables, and I found a Tommy Ridgeley CD there. Back on Decatur Street, I stopped at a praline shop and bought my mother a box of pralines (they also had peanut-butter dipped oreos, which were fabulous), and then I walked further up Decatur, but the clouds to the west were black and threatening, and soon, a blast of wind came sweeping down the street, blowing leaves and trash with it, and then the bottom fell out, with rain coming down in buckets. I ducked into the Cafe du Monde for a minute, but there were no empty tables of course, and the rain showed no signs of stopping. I finally grew tired of waiting, and decided to run across Jackson Square to the Jax Brewery, which left me drenched to the bone, and I hadn’t realized that the Jackson Brewery Mall had no awnings over the sidewalk, so even there, I was getting soaked.
I finally made it back to the hotel and conference, and then decided to take my car out of the parking garage and drive to Domilise’s for lunch, since it would be the last day I could. In the Uptown neighborhood, it wasn’t raining, but finding a place to park on Annunciation was difficult, and I soon found it was all because of Domilise’s. There was literally a line out the door as I walked up to the entrance, but once I got inside, things were moving with military precision, as loaves of french bread were cut, shrimp and oysters were fried, roast beef was sliced, condiments were added. The interior of the cafe probably hadn’t changed since the 70’s, with advertisements for Dixie Beer and Jax Beer (Jax had closed in 1972 I think), and they still served the mandatory Barq’s root beer in the brown bottles so familiar to me from childhood summers in Gulfport. (Back then, every grocery or po-boy joint I recall had the familiar blue-and-orange sign with the unassuming slogan “Drink Barq’s-It’sGood.”) Domilise’s po-boys truly were the ultimate, even if the menu prices were starting to reflect their fame a little bit.
After lunch, I drove back to the hotel for the last networking conference opportunities, and then headed out to an event at Tipitina’s that was supposed to feature brass bands, or so I thought. Actually the event turned out to be a festival of high school bands, and as I sat in Professor Longhair Park across the street from the club, the police blocked off the street and neighborhood kids started showing up, with drumsticks in hand, praticing on lightpoles and brick walls, a phenomenon I haven’t seen anywhere else. The bands that came were from Warren Easton, McDonough 35, and St. Augustine high schools, all Black, inner-city bands, but a good crowd of whites and Blacks showed up to support them, and apparently the event was to celebrate the arrival of new instruments that had been given them by the Tipitina’s Foundation. Altogether it was an enjoyable event, but about midway through it, it began to rain, scattered drops at first, then more steady, and finally heavy enough that I retreated to my car and headed back toward the French Quarter. However, I needed gasoline, and finding an Exxon in New Orleans proved to be difficult. I finally found one open across from Lee Circle, just across from a brilliant, rainbow-colored hotel called Le Cirque, which I photographed.
Then, parking in the outdoor lot across from my hotel, I walked to Landry’s Seafood House and ate redfish pontchartrain for dinner. Next door at Peaches Records & Tapes, there had been a rap showcase for the Cutting Edge music conference, but it had already broken up when I got there. I really had wanted to hear a brass band performance, but, aside from the Rebirth playing at Tipitina’s, which I figured would be expensive, there didn’t seem to be much going on. I decided against going to the Cafe du Monde, and headed back to the room instead. New Orleans was playing the Houston Texans at the Superdome, and there was a volley of gunshots outside of the hotel which sent security scrambling, but nobody could ever figure out who was shooting or why. It must not have been very serious, because the police never came.
I had seen a breakfast restaurant called Petunias the day before while walking around the French Quarter, so I walked over to it for breakfast, and received an omelet so big that I couldn’t finish it. The weather was looking rather grey and rainy, but it wasn’t raining yet anyway, and I walked back to the hotel to speak at my conference panel. Some label reps wanted to go to lunch with me, and I had intended to take them to Domilise’s Po-Boys, but I also wanted to ride the steamboat on the Mississippi River, and the last departure was at 2:30 PM, so we opted for John’s Po-Boys instead, and they were good, if a little expensive. Then I ran across to the ticket office for the steamboat tour. The trip offered a unique view of the city from the river, which, at New Orleans is 10 feet above sea level, and nearly 100 feet deep at places, so we were looking down on roofs on the other side of the levees. Vast areas of the 9th Ward had been abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, and there were a number of burnt-out buildings. We headed down past Algiers Point, and then back up to the twin bridges between downtown and the West Bank, and finally back to the landing. It had begun to rain during our journey, and it continued after I got back on land. I went back to the conference to do some more networking, and there I ran into Rico Brooks, the former road manager for Boys In The Hood from Atlanta, who took me out to dinner at Morton’s of Chicago. Afterwards, the rain had stopped, so we walked down to the Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets. Once again, to my surprise, there were no brass bands in Jackson Square, or seemingly, anywhere in the Quarter.
Yet another breakfast spot that I had read about in a New Orleans novel was the Camellia Grill out in Uptown on Carrollton Avenue, so I decided to catch the St. Charles streetcar and ride out there. The nearest stop was on the downtown side of Canal, so I walked down Camp Street past a restaurant called Mother Clucker’s (only in New Orleans!) and got on the streetcar for $1.50. The view through the Garden District was beautiful, with many stately old mansions and the occasional restaurant, and the weather was cool and bright. I got off at Carrollton Avenue, and had only about a half-block walk to the restaurant, which was an old white building with Greek columns out in front. Inside, however, the place was very crowded, with counter seating and a few tables, as well as a line of people waiting for tables. It had only recently reopened from Katrina, but it was still a local landmark, as I heard people greeting each other with the customary “Where y’at?” and saw a group of uniformed Catholic schoolgirls out on the steps who apparently had stopped by for breakfast on their way to classes. I had read that the restaurant had been reopened under new management, but the breakfasts were really good (and cheap), if a little frantic since space is at a premium in the tiny establishment.
Next door, a seafood restaurant and sports bar was in the process of opening for the day, with an employee sweeping the sidewalk out in front and more “where y’at’s” exchanged between him and some neighborhood folks on the sidewalk. The weather was beginning to heat up as I rode the streetcar back to Canal Street, and when I arrived at the hotel, registration had begun at the conference.
I met some people and networked for awhile, and then decided to go to Domilise’s Po-Boys for lunch, so I walked to the foot of Canal and caught the Tchoupitoulas bus headed Uptown. When I got to the right area, I got off and walked a block from Tchoupitoulas to Annunciation Street, which was a street of old 19th-century cottages with the latticework and front porches, battered, but still standing, As soon as I turned the corner onto Annunciation, I could hear the rat-a-tat of drum sticks, and, sitting on the porch of the last house before the big building on the corner, was a small boy, maybe about 11 or 12 years old who was practicing his sticking with a practice pad on his knees. The corner building had no signs visible at first, but around the corner on the sidestreet was a small sign that read “Domilise’s.” Unfortunately, the restaurant was obviously closed, and a small sign in the door stated that they didn’t open on Thursdays or Sundays. Somewhat disappointed, I asked the boy if he knew of any other good po-boy spots in the neighborhood. “Just them on the corner, ” he replied, so I walked back over to the shopping center on Tchoupitoulas, and while I didn’t find any poboys, I did find a PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bar, where I was able to cool my disappointment with a chocolate granita.
It took an hour for the bus to come back through headed back to the French Quarter, and I made my way back to the hotel. Then, walking into the quarter, I had hoped to take one of the boat rides out on the Mississippi River, but I soon found that their last runs were at 2:30 in the afternoon. As I walked along the Riverwalk, I noticed the men in boats along the rocks at the river’s edge, frantically spraying water and detergent, trying to clean the results of an oil spill some weeks back that had resulted from a collision between an oil tanker and a tugboat. The acrid smell of oil (and probably solvents as well) was covering the whole Wollenberg Park area, but I walked up to the Spanish Plaza at the foot of Canal Street, and into the Riverwalk Mall. The mall, which had been an exhibit building during the 1984 World’s Fair, had lots of shops, but not much in the way of restaurants. Many former eating places were closed and abandoned, so I walked back into the Quarter, and made my way to the Redfish Grill, which was owned by one of the famous Brennan family of restauranteurs. The place was a little pricey, but not excessively so, and the seafood was incredibly good.
Back at the hotel, the lobby was filled with members of the Houston Texans football team, who were in town for a pre-season game with the Saints at the Superdome. People from the Cutting Edge conference were asking some of them if they were attending the music conference, and they kept having to explain that they were football players. Around 10 PM, I walked back east to Jackson Square and made my way to the Cafe du Monde, where I enjoyed some beignets and cafe au lait. Then I headed back to the hotel, hung out for awhile, and ultimately went to bed.
I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.
After eating breakfast at the hotel, I checked out and drove out to Columbia, Tennessee to the Sound Shop store there, and then over to Murfreesboro to Century 21 to leave some Haystak promotional items there. Back in Nashville, I had visited the Cat’s Music on Gallatin Road the day before, but nothing else had been open, so I ran by Platinum Bound Records’ new location in Antioch, then over to Key 2 Music, Soundstream Records and Tapes and finally New Life Music and More. I decided not to go to Clarksville, as it was getting late in the day, and after stopping at Cat’s Music in Dickson, I headed out for Memphis on I-40.
My parents had told me that The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge served a delicious breakfast, so I checked out of my hotel in Knoxville and drove out to the restaurant, but I had not expected the traffic jams on the Parkway between Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, and by the time I got to The Old Mill, they had quit serving breakfast. Actually, finding breakfast turned out to be quite difficult, as many restaurants in the area quit serving breakfast at 11 AM. I finally found a pancake house where I had to wait an hour for a table, but the food was quite good, and then I drove back up to I-40 and headed toward Nashville. At Cookeville, I went off the interstate to try to leave some Haystak posters at Compact Discoveries, but they were closed on Sundays. The Sam Goody in Lebanon was open, however, so I left some posters there and then drove on into Nashville, where I checked into the Hilton Suites in Brentwood. I had been disappointed that I didn’t eat dinner at Calhoun’s in Knoxville, so I drove to the Calhoun’s in Nashville and ate dinner there. Then I thought about going to Cafe Coco, but decided against it, and drove over to Bongo Java instead, which was near the Belmont University campus. With no jazz clubs happening, there wasn’t much to do, so I drove back to the hotel and went to bed.