Independence Day has arrived and I'm on the move. After a great stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites in the CBD (two blocks down from Canal St.) the room rate has gone up (2x +) so I've decided to upgrade to a larger hotel closer to the Mississippi, the Hilton Riverside located at 2 Poydras St, which I snagged online for a good rate of $129.00.
Off to the dining area for another quick morning breakfast, I noticed that the set up has changed and the waffle iron now has it's own station, with a staff member assigned to make waffles per request until 10:00am. With the arrival of the holiday weekend and the Essence Fest about to take place, the Hampton Inn wanted to make sure that breakfast "ran smoothly" until the weekend was over.
Trying to get a jump start, I quickly pack up my bags and exit the lobby and turn right walking towards Canal St. I make a quick right before then, staying on the CBD side & head straight on Common St. It's not quite 11:00am yet and the streets are relatively quiet (or so I assume). I make a quick check for a landmark and spot Harrah's in the distance, & confirm I'm headed in the right direction.
Crossing the corner of Magazine St. I notice a large crowd gathered in front of the Ruby Slipper Cafe. The line snakes out the door & down the block, with people also milling in the street out front. That must be the place to go for breakfast and I make a mental note to stop in there when I get a chance.
I've now made it as far as S Peters Street and the heat is starting sizzle. The entire time I've been in New Orleans the temperatures have been wonderful, with the humiditiy kept in check and no real hard thunderstorms. I continue walking around Harrah's and start to feel increase in the crowds. By the time I arrive at the Hilton Riverside just before 11:00am it's starting to feel like the holiday!
I check into the hotel via the desk on the 2nd floor and am given a nice room up on the 5th floor overlooking the indoor bar area a couple of floors down below. In the distance I can see a barge moving thru the waters of the Mississippi and take a moment digest the "river" view. Cute clean contemporary furnishing, light colors and a nice updated rug make this hotel option worth the 15 minute walk.
Today's plan is to get involved with everything on the water front, and my first stop is Woldenberg Park on the riverfront for the 1st Essence Family reunion in association with the Essence Music Fest. I slather on my sunscreen, slap on my hat, make a call to my buddy (for confirmation of a meetup down on the river) and step out into the crowds.
It's a little after 12:00pm and I can hear the music in the distance. I enter the riverfront sliding around the back of the Aquarium of the Americas. My sense of direction is thrown off slightly due to all the construction going on and the "pinned in" feeling I get by the green fencing holding the crowd off of what was open space. I look for the circular fountain near the steamboats that my family has taken many a picture around and spot it corraled off by this fencing. Ugghhh.
The crowds are starting to swell and I and bobbing and weaving my way thru this corridor around the aquarium looking for some open space. Eventually land in front of one of the stages set up for the days events and survey the scene. Everyone is in a good mood, bringing their own chairs and settling in for one of several shows. The DJ is playing music and I smile as I see grandmas, grandpas and everyone in between swaying and dancing to the music. Vendors have set up shop and are hawking water, juice, BBQ, Fried Fish, Ices and all kinds of goodies. I make my way past the stage and around to the other side where another stage has been set directly behind the one with the DJ. A blues band is playing and the place is packed. Thousands of people milling around, enjoying the riverfront and the show.
I make my way over to the meeting spot to wait for my buddy, which is under a tree directly across from the "Monument to the Immigrant" a beautiful sculpture dedicated to the park in the 1990's. My buddy arrives and we trek down the riverfront back over to the soundstage and take in a comedian and a concert by lots of acts that included R&B, Blues and a young talented Verizon Contest winner Jared Mahone from Ohio who treated to the crowd to some blues, jazz, pop & independent funky music. Very talented band and we danced on the grass with the river at our backs.
The next act is trying to set up and my buddy and I start walking up river, but due to the green fencing it has us taking a longer walk in the heat than I wanted to. What's a girl from NYC gonna due to circumvent this? Well we just cut thru the back of a fenced off area, down the side of a trailor and low & behold when we emerged we were in the off limits VIP section for artists & hosts at the Essence Family Renuion. Can someone say Jackpot!
With no lanyards displaying passes or a clue of what to do I quickly go into "I belong here mode". Crashing the VIP section was not a part of the plan but since we're here I'm all in. I straighten up my back, cock my fedora to the side and head straight for a tent. The BBQ cook off is about to happen on stage and workers are hustling backstage to give out free samples of shrimp etouffee to the crowd with their outstretched hands across the fencing.
My buddy and I are pointed in the direction of a hospitality tent and after a quick conversation (gatekeeper: "where are your passes"? Me: "I left them in the hotel room". gatekeeper: "who are you with"? Me: "The Band"! ) we are left to mingle, eat & drink in the comfort of the VIP area.
After finding seating on under another tent just behind the stage, I hear security barking to clear the area, but before we could move, we were told to stay. Suddenly people began to clear a path and just like that comedian, actor, talk show host and author Steve Harvey appears in front of me. I whip out my camera, rise from my seat and start filming. Steve looks great and seems to be in a festive mood. He's arrived to emcee the BBQ cook off.
Steve takes the stage and is in his comedic element, using inspiration from the various attendees, he finds humor in all that is unfolding in front of him. He pulls folks on stage to dance, talks about the heat, laughs and compliments people brave enough to sing for a minute or two after he's yanked them on stage and finally gets down to the business of discussing BBQ. After a tasting and much laughter Steve announces two semifinalist (which I picked in my head) the one from Memphis and the hometown favorite from New Orleans. The finals would take place later that day.
After enjoying the festivities in VIP (who knew porto potties could actually have a luxury brand lol) my buddy and I made our way past security and down the riverfront. We laughed about our shenanigans and headed over to the French Market. I wanted one last treat from Meals from the Heart and wanted to introduce my buddy to their menu (since she would be staying on for a couple of weeks).
I had a bowl of the black beans soup over brown rice which was good and filling and my buddy had Crab Cake Passion. After lunch we split up and decided to meet up for the Go Fourth on the River Fireworks display. I walked back thru Woldenberg Park and by this time it was wall to wall people. By now I'm running on fumes and in desperate need of a shower. I crawl back thru the crowd to the Hilton, hit the water and I'm down for the count, getting in some much needed afternoon nap time. I take one last look out the window and can see a Carnival Cruise Ship heading out into the Mississippi pointing towards the Gulf. The city has given me some great scenerary.
I awaken by 7:00pm and shower again (it's a requiement in Nawlins with this heat) and head out by 8:30 to snag a spot on the waterfront to watch the dueling barges and their fireworks display.
Canal is packed with people and slip down N Peters and slip into the park near near Jax Brewery. The fireworks display goes off on cue exactly at 9:00pm and is awesome! Just as it ends another young brass band with a contingent of fans/follwers/tourists begins to play "When the Saints Come Marching In". The crowd closes in around them and people began to dance and wave their towels. Oh, I'm thinking this is gonna be a good one, and my feet start moving. The band switches to a version of a R&B song and people really begin to start grooving and singing along.
I'm sweating again and look for some cool refreshment in the packed riverfront park. I come across a vendor who is packing up but still selling ices. I order a mango flavored concoction that seemed more like a sorbet than an icy. Didn't matter, it was smooth, cold and sweet. Just what the heat doctor ordered.
I'm in search of of a real meal now, and after walking down towards Esplanade Ave and realizing that most of my options are packed with tourists, I turn and head back towards my old "neighborhood" and find a seat at the counter at Daisy Dukes located at 123 Carondelet open 24/7. I order a veggie po boy with a side order of onion rings. Huge portions! Daisy Dukes is busy but I arrive just before the "night rush". Every time the door swings open you can hear the roar of what happening just over Canal St. where Carondelet turns into Bourbon St. From my vantage point at the corner, you could not even see down the street, much less the sidewalk that's how packed it was.
I head down Canal taking the meridian looking around for streetcars, because the sidewalks were just pure chaos, with tons of people vying for space. Oh I wish I could stay another day, but I've got a early morning flight to catch back to JFK for a birthday party I have to attend.
I return to the Hilton Riverside and notice that folks are deep at the bar ordering meals and drinks. If I was thinking I could have done dinner there, but you live and you learn. As always it was a pleasure to be in this historic city and when I get a chance I'll post pictures and review the individual sites I visited. Hope you guys enjoy the report cause I really enjoyed the trip!
Nawlins July 2013 Baaaaaaaaaabbbbbbyyyyyy.