Mosquito Supper Club (NewOrleans.me. January 2015).

Mosquito Supper Club chef Melissa Martin grew up learning to cook for herself and five siblings in Houma. “Our supper club is a dream state of our past – that feeling you had at your grandparents house,” she says, explaining the underpinnings of her establishment, a restaurant-cum-dance-hall that brings Acadiana to the streets of New Orleans.

“In Houma I had like all these aunts and uncles, and we all lived next to each other we all ate at my grandmother’s house together every weekend. Then Effie Michot, my partner, is from Lafayette, from a prolific musical family,” Martin continues. “She eats breathes and sleeps Cajun music. It’s a driving force in her life. So my past was always food-centric-but for Effie, her past was more was music-centric. We’ve brought those two elements together with our supper club.”

“A lot of places where you see Cajun music, they’re restaurants,” says Effie Michot, whose father and uncles comprised the Michot Brothers Band, who traveled the world in the 1980s on a quest to reinvigorate Cajun music and language. Their sons, Andre and Louis Michot went on to become the Lost Bayou Ramblers.

“Growing up in Lafayette, a couple times a week I’d be out at some place like Prejeans or Mulate’s, eating and dancing and watching my uncles play. Our dream is not to own a restaurant some day, but to have a dance hall, where we can have dances at and cook and eat.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at NewOrleans.me…

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UNEDITED Book Review: New Orleans Boom & Blackout by Brian Boyles (New Orleans.me. Jan. 2015).

Below is the unedited version of this review, which is quite a bit longer than the one that was published HERE.

Author Brian Boyles has traversed the CBD daily for the last eight years as an employee of Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. He’s also occupied the DJ booth at Handsome Willie’s, the CBD’s “neighborhood bar without a neighborhood,” spinning tunes at almost every Saints football game since the 2009 Championship Season. Both of these occupations—combined with Boyles’s natural curiosity as a journalist and historian—helped position him to become an expert in the social political drama that was the Super Bowl’s last takeover of New Orleans.

In his new book, New Orleans Boom and Blackout, Boyles combs over the 100 days leading up to the Super Bowl, and finds a concentrated amount of important history within. Like Mayor Landrieu and other politicians did at the time, Boyles frames the Super Bowl as the lens through which America will finally get to see the “new New Orleans.” With a dispassionate eye, Boyles documents the many instances en route, when “the contentious ghosts of the recovery emerged to complicate things.”

Within these 100 days—tucked inside the year of the Saints Bountgate scandal Boyles watched and heard and documented: cabbies blocking Canal Street in protest of being forced to make expensive cab upgrades; Ray Nagin begin his eventual indictment; the “War On Music” when the city suddenly got strict about nightclub permits; the expensive airport renovations that preceded the newer expensive airport renovations; the Federal Government hand the NOPD a challenging consent decree; the ACLU sue the city for free speech inside the NFL’s temporarily oppressive Clean Zone; Tom Benson unveil the Pelicans.

“Right now it seems like journalism,” says Boyles, who earned a Bachelor’s in History from Tulane, of his new book. “I was trying to capture something for posterity—and that’s when it becomes history. Every day now, something comes up that makes us want to argue about the direction the city’s going, and about authenticity—I wanted to step back from all that, removed myself from aspects of it that make me sad or make me happy, and figure out how it was all important, and how did it fit into the flow of New Orleans history.”

Some of the information in Boom and Blackout could seem rote to those who paid attention to this recent history the first time around. But Boyles carefully balances the essentials with street-level knowledge, gained from folks like the To Be Continue Brass band, with whom Boyles checks in every few chapters. The TBC have, over the years, been shuffled down Bourbon Street, block by block, until finally they were battling Canal Street and Super Bowl. When the band ran into Mayor Landrieu on a stage they shared during Super Bowl, TBC trombonist Devin Vance claims the mayor blew them off: “We was like ‘Hey, what’s up with Bourbon Street?’ and he just went through the door.”:

“I don’t like how they could fix everything for Super Bowl but they can’t fix the streets in our neighborhood,” said Vance. “They can spend so much money to make the city look pretty for something big like that, but you drive down my streets [and] they got potholes every block. You can spend that much money for somebody who’s gonna be here a couple of days for the Super Bowl?”

“For most people who live here, these events, you either work at them, or else you have to reroute your life to accommodate,” says Boyles of the special geographic proximity from which he absorbed his book’s subject. “But people tailgate outside of my office. Plus, DJing gave me a really good window into the people following the Saint, and the politics around it. The DJ booth at Handsome Willie’s is ground level, so you interact with people the whole time. I always had up to date information from the service industry about what those folks were going through, what they were expecting. ”

DJing those games, Boyles also learned a lot about Southern music tastes. “I went into that gig thinking I’d be playing classic rock and things. But I found out early on that white people like Southern hip-hop as much as anyone else. I knew Cash Money, but I didn’t know Tim Smooth, or the Bunny Hop. There was a cool period where I was learning through getting a lot of requests. But what struck me immediately is that everyone knew the words to “Nolia Clap.”

New Orleans Book and Blackout has been nominated for One Book New Orleans [http://ylcnola.org/display/one-book-one-new-orleans/].

And here is a video, that never gets old or less hilarious, of the lights going out in the New Orleans Superdome the last time we hosted the SuperBowl (the “Blackout” referenced in Boyles’s book title): 

Boyles will host a book release party on Tuesday, January 27, 5pm at Handsome Willy’s, 218 S. Robertson, featuring DK Maxmillion and DJRQAway

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I Dressed Up as a Ninja and Attacked Conventioneers in the French Quarter (VICE. January 2015).

I laid in a hotel bed in New Orleans’s French Quarter, the nightstand beside me littered with liquor bottles, pretending to be stoned. I pulled up the covers, donned my sunglasses, and turned on the TV. Soon, a small group of men walked in: uniformed Marines, there to recruit me into the military.

“No,” I slurred, as planned. One of them pushed me harder. “No way, man, the military’s not for me,” I repeated. Despite their weak reasoning, I softened, and soon I’d promised them all I would join the Marines. They shouted victory, high-fived, then dashed out of the hotel room with the password I’d given them. Soon, another group of hulking, crew-cut young men entered, suggesting that I join the Marines.

This was not a surreal dream. It was my job. These Marines were playing the Go Game.

The Go Game is a sort of cellphone-based scavenger hunt designed to build team skills, mostly among office workers. “Bring us your over-competitive salesperson, your skeptical product manager, and stressed out director,” says the game’s website. “The Go Game will braid you all into a friendship bracelet of professional effectiveness that will be the envy of your professional peers.”

The San Francisco–based company travels to conventions countrywide, and since its inception has hosted games for groups in Canada, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Mexico. A convention Mecca, New Orleans is a top market for the Go Game. It’s also one of the last places anyone wants to be stuck learning to be a better corporate drone.

“We understand—team building can sometimes feel like a forced activity that makes people roll their eyes and wish they’d skipped out to play golf,” the website says. “After ten years and over 10,000 games run, we have refined the art of engaging engineers, marketing teams, lawyers, and everything in between, turning them into Go Game enthusiasts.”

With a new baby at home and in need of a little extra Christmas money, I jumped when the Go Game producers wrote to me recently about a job in New Orleans. Not long after, I found myself dressed as a ninja in the French Quarter.

On that day, I met Finnegan Kelly, the Go Game’s co-founder at, coincidentally, Finnegan’s French Quarter Pub at three in the afternoon. He handed me my cheap, thin ninja costume, and I dressed in the bathroom. Just enough of my face remained visible that anyone who knew me could recognize me immediately—a great possibility in New Orleans, which has the social dynamic of Sesame Street, but with more alcohol. “If it’s OK with you,” I told Finnegan when I came back out, “I’m going to do a shot of Jim Beam before I head onto the street looking like this.”

“Whatever you need to get into character, drunken master.”

As I downed the shot I realized, much to my relief, that I’d overlooked the extra piece to the face mask, which would further obscure my identity. Between that and my dark sunglasses, I felt much safer on the streets.

Finally, Finnegan then handed me a plastic lightsaber. My job was to “try to sort of hide” and wait until a group of participants discovered another lightsaber hidden in a newspaper box. At that point I would jump out and engage them in a duel that I was not allowed to win. As Finnegan explained all this, I tried to keep my mind focused on the new, warm jacket I planned to buy my daughter for Christmas. No way was Santa taking credit for that. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at VICE…

Or watch this Go Game tutorial! 

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Profile on Sweet Crude band (Acadiana Living. January 2015).

2015 will see the release of the much anticipated first album from the French-leaning, seven-member indie pop group, Sweet Crude.

The group’s first EP, Super Vilaine (2012), laid the groundwork for the group’s sound, which features sparse melodic instrumentation – analog keyboards, violin, bass guitar but no six-string – over a thick bed of drums, played simultaneously by four drummers. In this way, Sweet Crude sounds similar to other popular bands of the day, such as Arcade Fire and Imagine Dragons.

“The songwriting has evolved a lot,” says bandleader Sam Craft. “We’ve been incorporating a wider range of elements and gotten darker on some levels – we’ve explored some more sinister timbres. We’ve explored what it would be like to write a three-minute pop song, straight up, no fooling around – still decorated in all the Sweet Crude filigree. We have also been playing with transitional pieces: soundscapes that connect the new songs together.”

One thing that will remain is the band’s penchant for singing many of their lyrics in Louisiana French. “[Our singer] Alexis [Marceaux] grew up hearing traditional Louisiana music all the time with her family, who is from Morgan City. Then my mom’s family is from Opelousas. My great grandfather was monolingual French, so it was something that was heard at family gatherings. It was sort of a curiosity that I was too young to really care about or be passionate about.”

But around 2011, Craft’s curiosity blossomed into a mission to help keep Louisiana French alive. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at Acadiana Living.

Or check this gorgeous live clip for the Sweet Crude song “Super Vilaine”: 

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K. Gates is not Kevin Gates and he is not f***ing his cousin (VICE. Jan 2015).

New Orleans rapper K. Gates (born Kwame Gates) hustled for years before getting his first taste of mainstream success in 2009 with the song “Black and Gold (Who Dat),” the unofficial theme song of the Saints football franchise as they headed to their first and only Super Bowl win.

During that same year, fledgling Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates (born Kevin Gilyard) was on his way back to prison—coincidentally around the same that Baton Rouge’s favorite son Lil Boosie (who rhymed with Kevin Gates on the 2008 single “Get in the Way”) was also incarcerated on drug charges. Following his release from jail in 2011, Kevin Gates signed to Young Money, and then with Atlantic Records in 2013.

Kevin Gates has since gone on to far more national acclaim than K. Gates. He has also become notorious on the internet for owning up to some kinky sexual preferences. Most recently, when he found out the woman he was dating was a cousin of his, he unapologetically announced that he would continue fucking her.

All of this Kevin Gates drama has made New Orleans’s original K. Gates very tough to google. I got in touch with him—now going by the equally ungoogleable stage name the Wave—to talk about how the rise of pervy Kevin Gates has affected his own life and career. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at VICE…

Or check out K. Gates’s Saints football anthem, “Black and Gold”: 

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At World War II Museum, vets confront war memories (The Advocate & WWNO radio. January 2015).

CLICK HERE to read a shortened version of this story from the New Orleans Advocate. 

CLICK HERE for the best version, the audio version of the radio piece I wrote, recorded and edited. 

Here is a transcript of the radio piece…

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is many things to many people. For the hundreds of school kids and other visitors who pass through, the museum is where they learn about an incomprehensible scene from world history. And for the World War II veterans who volunteer each day, the museum is where they confront war memories in a variety of different ways.

Thomas Blakey, a 94-year-old World War II veteran, volunteers at the museum every single day. Blakey began here 15 years ago, on the third floor, telling the crowds about Normandy. Now he sits at a table just inside the entrance — a living exhibit, telling stories and answering questions.

I wait for him to finish talking to a group of young people, who hang on his words: “Anything what you wanna do, you can do… you gotta want to… don’t forget it! Thank you for coming…”

Blakey looks at me skeptically when I sit down beside him for our interview, and I immediately validate skepticism by asking, “So, you used to be a paratrooper?”

“No I AM a paratrooper! Yes. I’m never NOT a paratrooper! Yes.”

After he tells me the tail of parachuting into a horrifying Nazi prison camp, Blakey scoffs when I ask him if being here ever churns up bad memories. CLICK HERE to read and hear the rest of the piece at WWNO’s website…

Or check out this video interview with Thomas Blakey, who passed away weeks after I interviewed him: 

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Interview with new Auxiliary Bishop: NOLA native named by the Pope (Louisiana Weekly. January 2015).

From his post in Rome, Pope Francis himself recently appointed New Orleans native Fernand Cheri III to serve as the auxiliary bishop to local Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

“It was a complete surprise. A shock, really,” says Bishop-elect Cheri, his smile clearly audible over the phone. “I’d stepped into my office on a Saturday morning to a call saying Pope Francis wanted me for archbishop of New Orleans. I made him spell my name again and everything. They gave me the weekend to think about it, and they wouldn’t let me tell anybody, so it was quite awkward.”

CHERI

Cheri’s new vaunted role consists of assisting the bishop. “It’s largely an administrative role,” Cheri says, “interacting with priest personnel, or just being at high school graduations, and programs for different churches—being present for the activities the Archbishop is not able to do.”

Away from New Orleans for 22 years—minus his many trips to help out and to collect his own soggy belongings after Katrina—Cheri is especially glad to be back among his people. “One of things I feel blessed about… I love the way in which New Orleans’ Black community is a family in many, many ways, and many of the churches reflect that. Everyone feels like a cousin or an in-law. People just aren’t as hospitable and welcoming elsewhere with that spirit.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of the interview at Louisiana Weekly…

Or check out this 16-minute recent press conference with Cheri: 

Cheri is particularly suited for a return to his hometown given his passion for archiving music, particularly Black Catholic religious recordings, sheet music and books. Unfortunately much of his valuable audio was stored in New Orleans before and after the flood. “My collection is very extensive,” he says. “I lost 2,300 recordings in Katrina. It breaks my heart to think what I lost: mostly vinyl and tapes.

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