NEW ORLEANS PARTY STREET | Darrin Henry
It has become clear during our visit to New Orleans not everyone approves of the nightlife hotspot, Bourbon Street, which blazes a neon trail of bars and strip clubs right through the middle of the famous French Quarter. ‘Too commercialised’; ‘too tacky’ seemed to be the objections. “Unnecessary,” a tourist (American) and fellow photographer I met, told me.
Me, I’m loving it. Just going bar to bar, sampling the huge variety of talented live bands with no cover charge is fantastic.
Making An Early Start
Bourbon Street is an after dark playground designed for adults, which comes alive especially on the weekends. It’s a mini version of Vegas; plenty of glitter and sparkle but with street front bars and live music instead of casinos. It’s clearly a fun weekend getaway for many, a chance to blow off steam, have a drink and let your hair down. The 1.2km, traffic free street runs the length of the historic French Quarter. Grouped more to the Canal Street end are the strip clubs and although the exterior advertising promised risqué entertainment inside we did little more than smile at the signage when we strolled by earlier to reach the restaurants and bars.
The live music in the bars seemed to start around three in the afternoon. To be honest, at that time of day in the intense summer heat it sounded a bit out of place amongst the historic French and Spanish architecture and throngs of tourists with cameras.
But now, later in the evening we’ve returned and Bourbon Street has completed its transformation into a noisy, music and alcohol fuelled, fun zone. Tall exotically shaped cocktail beakers are the order of the day as revellers shuttle from bar to bar, sipping coloured daiquiris and margaritas at $12 a pop. The famous Bourbon Street, ‘Huge Ass Beers’ are also on show. The music spilling onto the street varies from blues to jazz and from heavy rock to R&B with a good sprinkling of pop music thrown in as well. Even a solitary country band is competing for attention.
Let The Good Times Roll
It’s party time in New Orleans. We’ve already passed a bridal party posing for photographs on Canal Street on our way in, and tonight there are also a few hen parties squealing their way through the street, making sure their ‘good time mission’ gets noticed.
Beaded necklaces are being thrown by hopeful young men from the top balconies to ladies egging them on from below, but unlike the Mardi Gras tradition in this street, everyone has remained suitably covered. The only flashing going on comes from the mobile phones and cameras, mostly snapping drunken selfies.
Even lumbered with our tripod and the ‘big’ camera, we still fit right in; no one seems to mind. In fact, there are plenty of revellers eager to pose for a picture with little prompting. Everyone is in a good mood.
We shuffle along with the crowd, dipping our head through the open doorways to sample the music from the different bars and check out the atmosphere. Everywhere is jumping although nothing is quite jumping out at us.
Fill My Cup Put Some Liquor In It…
But Funky Club 544 is next and even though it is a little crowded, the music has us hooked immediately.
A four person vocal group are up on the tiny stage, with just as many musicians crammed in the space left over. On first inspection it looks too crowded up there amid the cables, mic stands and guitars, but the music is something else. The group, which includes female singer Vegas Cola in their line up, are belting out early Jackson Five classics and it sounds awesome. They change gears with the music genres after each song; Motown classics mixed with 80’s pop and then bang up to date with current chart stuff. When the band launches into Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk,’ the crowded dance floor goes crazy and we’re all singing along.
My next experience turns out to be more creepy than crazy – going to the men’s. I follow the signs and make my way to a small room out back; go in through the door, then barely two steps and the urinals are right there. But also in the tiny space is a kind of speech-making podium and behind it sits a guy on a bar stool handing out paper towels to people after they’ve washed their hands. As if this isn’t awkward enough in such close quarters he is also making buddy-buddy conversation with everyone as we go about our ‘business.’ This weirds me out and I’m glad to get back to the bar where the band are bumping their way through Bob Marley’s, ‘Could You Be Loved.’
This Is How We Make Our Livin’ Folks
Funky Club 544 is great, but we force ourselves to move on to explore further. Right away we discover another awesome band (in a bar I failed to get the name of) with female lead singer, Tracey Anne-Jolie Edwards, who are thumping out classic rock numbers. Tracey’s energy is electric and has the room singing along to her incredible vocals. Joan Jett’s, ‘I Love Rock and Roll,’ and ACDC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ go down a storm.
I’m a bit conscious of having the camera in the crowded bars, but people are giving me space when they see me coming and the bands I notice love the attention. Even so, I’m wary of drinks sloshing all over the place. But we always managed to find a good, safe spot in each bar, avoiding the dance floor mayhem.
We notice the bands all announce halfway through and at the end of their shows that they rely on tips for their payment. Then one of the members will make their way through the crowd with a bucket collecting tips. When I say bucket, it’s not some small, silver plated type ice bucket. No. We’re talking big, plastic, no nonsense buckets. Most people (I think) gave something.
Leave The Car Behind
We also can’t miss the enthusiastic ‘shot girls’ who are everywhere, even out on the street, making their rounds with trays of colourful concoctions served in lab test tubes. In Funky 544 they are served mouth to mouth, ie, the girl held the bottom of the tube in her mouth then tipped her head forward while the customer put their mouth over the open end for the shot!
Eventually I put the camera away and just soak up the music and the atmosphere.
What a super night out in New Orleans it’s been. If you’re going I would strongly suggest leaving the car at home and getting a taxi; Uber even! Be prepared for paying $4-6 for a light beer or around $12 for the Huge Ass Beers and frozen cocktails. Be prepared to come home with your ears ringing from the music and throat sore from shouting to be heard. And watch out for the chatty guy in the toilets!
But it’s Bourbon Street; it’s New Orleans and the bands are brilliant.