When planning our trip to NO for the French Quarter Festival, catching Kermit Ruffins was a "must-do" on our list. Because of all of the musical choices on that list our only option was to check him out at Bullet's for his standing Tuesday night gig. I did a good deal of research on the bar, realizing that this wasn't your usual tourist joint or neighborhood. Plus, we were bringing our senior citizen parents with us - so safety was a concern. Throughout our first few days in town we brought up our plans to go to Bullet's to several people - with mixed responses. Our cabbie from the airport seemed to approve, the concierge at the Monteleone never heard of it but looked concerned when we told her the neighborhood, and the young kid at FreeWheelin' said in a funny way, "Oh - that place??"
Undeterred, we jumped in a cab from the French Quarter at 5:40 and told our driver (older guy with a hook for a hand...) that we wanted to go to Bullet's. He was stumped (no pun intended), so I pulled up the address on my phone and used the GPS to guide the way. When we pulled up it surely was a rough neighborhood, but not the worst I've seen - although I wouldn't walk there as a tourist from the FQ, and I certainly wouldn't walk back. I jumped out of the cab and went to the door to take a peek inside to scope it out. It was dimly lit, with a lot of empty tables running up the middle of the floor and spots still available at the bar. Perfect - particularly because my Mom has a hard time standing for long periods of time. I went back and fetched my wife and my folks from the cab, and we headed inside. We paid our $10 each to the doorman (who we later found out was 'Little Bullet') and went inside. Once we got inside we discovered that ALL of the empty tables were "Reserved." Just as we were thinking we wouldn't have a place to sit, one of the bartender/waitresses came out, as friendly and accommodating as could be, and marched my parents right up to the front table to sit with some ladies from CA who were acquaintances with Bullet. She then made sure we had two bar stools right by the table so that we had a place close by. This was greatly appreciated, and let us know that we were going to be well-taken care of.
We settled in and proceeded to order drinks - getting the set-ups of rum and vodka. I love this idea - a pint bottle of booze, a bucket of ice, mixers and a glass for make-it-yourself drinks for $18?? Sign me up! While waiting for Kermit to arrive we made ourselves at home, having nice conversations with the staff, locals, and other tourists that were packing in. Got introduced to Bullet and before you knew it Kermit was taking to the mic.
This is where the night went from something cool to something extraordinary. I love music, and I'm not prone to hyperbole - but this was the best night of music I've ever had in my life. It wasn't like seeing a band in a bar or club, and it sure as hell wasn't like a concert. It was like being invited to the coolest neighborhood block party ever thrown, in a neighborhood where everyone is a great musician and makes delicious barbecue. Right from the start you could tell that Kermit was going to make sure you had a good time, working his way through standards with heaps of personality and deft musicianship. There were several guest performers throughout the night, for the most part seemingly wandering in unannounced to join in the fun. Kermit's little girl was adorable singing a couple of songs, his niece brought some R&B grooves to a couple of tunes, and Nayo Jones shined on a gorgeous rendition of "At Last." Other guests jumped in to play drums, bass, and electric guitar - bringing a ridiculous spirit of improvisation to the night. I was beside myself with happiness - at one point looking at my wife with a disbelieving glance mid-song, shaking my head and asking, "Do you believe this?!?"
Midway through the night I went outside to get some grub from the food trucks parked right outside. Everyone told us we had to get the BBQ from the smoker - and it was great! Two pieces of chicken, ribs and sliced smoked sausage with mac&cheese and potato salad for $10?? Yes, please.
Back to Kermit and the BBQ Swingers, though. Great renditions of "Take the A Train," "Skokiaan," "When I Die," "Treme Song," and many, many more. These guys were amazing, with the keyboard player blowing our socks off with his virtuoso solos and the rhythm section making sure everything kept moving along nicely. Kermit, though, was so much fun to watch. From what I gather these shows at Bullet's are a LOT looser than at other venues, but that added to the party atmosphere. Kermit played his horn, sang his tunes, and kept the crowd entertained for three hours with a huge smile on his face and a wink in his eye. More to the point, it felt like you were partying with Kermit - and he made no secret of the fact that he was partying with you. He made reference several times to how "silly" he got on Tuesday nights, how we shouldn't pay attention to half of the crazy stuff he was going to say, and reminding the packed house after every other song that "WE PARTYIN'!!"
The night was a dizzying sensory overload. The music, the booze, the people, the dancing, the food, the smiles and laughter and feeling that you were somewhere special. It blew me away. I would go back in a heartbeat, and I give it my highest recommendation.