Anyone familiar with New Orleans is likely familiar with beignets- those little delightful squares of fried dough rolled in powdered sugar. They’re so simple, yet so delectable, and they make a perfect accompaniment to good strong New Orleans coffee with chicory, or cafe-au-lait. Most tourists who look for them end up at the Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, as it is the world-famous place for beignets. But a nearly-as-old competitor, Morning Call has returned to New Orleans after being away since 1973, having opened in the old Casino at City Park. For those familiar with the Cafe du Monde, there are a number of differences, most of them positive. While the Morning Call is in a fairly dark, wooded area of the park and hard to find, it is almost never as crowded as the Cafe du Monde, and parking, on the street in front, is ample and free. The prices for the beignets are cheaper as well, and Morning Call does not put the powdered sugar on your beignets, letting you decide how much to put on them yourself. The cafe is cash only, but there is an ATM if you were unprepared, and like its competitor, Morning Call is open 24 hours a day. Rather than a lot of tourists, this place seems to attract more locals, other than the occasional group at the end of a voodoo or haunted New Orleans tour. Altogether, Morning Call is a great option for your beignet fix, without all the crowds and inconvenience.
Morning Call City Park
56 Dreyfous Dr
New Orleans, LA 70119
Normally, when I drive into New Orleans, my first order of business is to hit a restaurant and get something to eat, but on this particular Saturday, Darren Towns, my bass-drumming partner from the TBC Brass Band had told me that the band had a gig in the French Quarter at 5 PM, so I came straight off the Causeway and headed into the Treme neighborhood, because there’s always free parking available near the Treme Coffeehouse, and when the weather is fairly pleasant and warm, as this day was, the walk is not difficult and rather enjoyable. Unfortunately, I arrived at the museum where the parade was to start a little late, and the band and revelers had already left. I actually had already run into them as I was passing Jackson Square, but I didn’t recognize them because the tuba player was playing a green tuba, and I had never seen Bunny from the TBC with a green tuba. Finding everything dead around the Pharmacy Museum, I decided that the band I had seen must have been TBC after all, so following the distant sounds I heard, I caught back up with them on Royal Street. My eye caught Darren’s and he smiled, and tourists in the quarter were lining the street and filming. The occasion was actually just a private wedding, but quite a crowd was assembling all the same. We headed around the Supreme Court of Louisiana building and finally ended up at K Paul’s Restaurant, where the whole thing came to an end. It was a great way to start a weekend in New Orleans, and Bunny and Darren decided to meet me at Frankie and Johnny’s uptown for some seafood.
As I was walking down Bourbon Street near the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, I finally came upon what I had been looking for all afternoon, a brass band, although it wasn’t one I had heard of, but rather a new band called the Legacy Brass Band. One of the signs that New Orleans’ brass band scene is healthy is the constant appearance of new brass bands in the city, and the relative youth of the members. The Legacy proved to be a good-sounding band with good arrangements, and the ability to attract a crowd. I was impressed with the slogan on the back of their shirts, “Music Is Not A Crime”, a reference to the city’s recent crackdowns on live music that have made brass band appearances rarer outside of night clubs or second-line parades. Far sadder was a handwritten eulogy on the bass drummer’s drumhead, in memory of someone named Big Whoop who presumably was killed, an all-too-often occurrence in New Orleans. The good news is that brass bands and the opportunity to become musicians are significant lures to young men and significant deterrents to crime and violence.
With no second-line, I spent the afternoon browsing in the French Market, and walking around the French Quarter. I was vaguely hoping to run into a brass band somewhere, but the city government has been discouraging that of late. A band had been playing in Jackson Square, but they had taken a break and left their instruments piled up on a park bench while they relaxed on the steps of the Cabildo nearby. The other spot where brass bands used to be common was at the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal next to the Foot Locker, which had been a sort of proving ground for new young bands, but the city has fenced the whole area off, on the pretext that bricks have been falling from the nearby building, so bands can no longer play there. In reality, the city had suppressed the brass bands there before the area was fenced off. So I did some shopping at a couple of book stores, and then started walking back east toward where I had parked my car on elysian Fields.
New Orleans hip-hop artist and activist Truth Universal may not be one of New Orleans’ most popular rap artists, but he is certainly one of the best. He appeared at the Recording Academy celebration in conjunction with cultural guardian and percussionist Luther Gray and with notable New Orleans DJ E.F. Cuttin. His amazing show opened with a libation ceremony for the ancestors, including poet Amiri Baraka who died recently.
Robin Barnes is a relatively new neo-soul singer in New Orleans, backed by an excellent band known as the Soul Heirs. Her performance at the Recording Academy event on January 13 at the U.S. Mint was especially impressive, as was the musicianship of her band members.
Immediately after Black Water Bride, Valcour Records’ artists Bonsoir Catin appeared. They are an all-female band playing traditional Acadian music from Lafayette, Louisiana, and like all Valcour artists, they are really good.
The service region for the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy also includes Shreveport, which is a city with a recording past and which seems to be experiencing something of a musical rebirth since the opening of Brian and Brady Blade’s Blade Studios. Black Water Bride is one of Shreveport’s hot up-and-coming new bands, blending elements of country, rock, soul and other Louisiana music styles, and they were a natural opening act for our Recording Academy party at the Old Mint.
The Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy (formerly NARAS) is a large, regional chapter that includes the city of New Orleans, so one a year our chapter board meeting is held in New Orleans. This year, after the meeting on January 13, we held a Membership Celebration at the Old U. S. Mint in the French Quarter, which featured food, drink and great live music from several bands and artists. Attendees included the chapter’s executive director Jon Hornyak, chapter president and legendary Memphis producer Boo Mitchell, chapter trustee and Memphis artist Susan Marshall, board member and producer Scott Bomar and folk artist/board member Shannon McNally.