By: Greg Mitchell
Little did I imagine when longtime ?60 Minutes? newsman Ed Bradley passed away last fall, that five months later I would be marching in the ?second line? of his jazz funeral in New Orleans.
It happened on Friday at the annual Jazzfest. Bradley, a frequent attendee of the fabled event in the Big Easy, was honored with a typically raucous funeral procession on opening day. Apparently he asked for this in his will.
The second line snaked across the fairground, led by the popular NOLA group Rebirth Brass Band, with Mardi Gras Indians, in flamboyantly beaded and feathered costumes, right behind, and then average festival-goers, such as myself, strolling in the bright sunshine. Photos of Bradley at the Fest ? he was coaxed onstage by Jimmy Buffett to shake a tambourine, quite badly (it is said) ? were hoisted on sticks above the parade.
The procession ended in the middle of the old racetrack where local musical legends and ?ancestors? are honored with large painted markers. Unveiled on Friday, Bradley was shown riding a golf cart ? his favored way to get around the mammoth Fest site.
Then his ?60 Minutes? colleague Steve Krofts said a few words, followed by Jimmy Buffett. Then Rebirth resumed with ?When the Saints Go Marching In.? It was classic New Orleans and a fitting tribute to a journalist who not only loved jazz and other music, but brought some of it to ?60 Minutes? as well.
It?s been a big year for the Baquet family restaurant in New Orleans, Lil Dizzy?s. It received a lunchtime visit from President Bush. It was featured in an E&P cover photo, with brothers Dean Baquet and Terry Baquet posing in the eatery. Dean, of course, is the former Los Angeles Times editor now Washington chief for The New York Times. Terry Baquet is an editor at the Times-Picayune.
And finally, the restaurant was awarded a tough-to-get booth at Jazzfest. Starting Friday, Lil Dizzy?s (currently run by another Baquet brother) served up File Gumbo, Crawfish Bisque and Trout Baquet. I am here to tell you that the trout, served with a little crab on top, was fabulous and well worth every penny ($7).
As for the Fest itself ? it was ?a party? as always (and it continues next weekend). But maybe the organizers have gone a bit overboard on the national promotion in trying to prove that ?Nawlins is back.? Massive crowds choked the racetrack on Saturday, making it impossible for many people, as the day wore on, to get anywhere near much of the music they had come to hear.
But it’s still magical, a place where you might (as I did) come across the great Allen Toussaint, dressed as always in an elegant suit coat, on a pathway, politely explaining that he couldn’t shake hands because they were both filled with food.
The Times-Picayune, which covered the event lavishly and well, was right on target with most of its picks for best food and best semi-obscure acts. Thanks to them, I wisely chose to hear the Pine Leaf Boys, Shannon McNally and Rockie Charles, to name just three. Henry Butler did Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” and “Going to Mardi Gras” for me (or so I might think). Forget “The Star Spangled Banner”– our national anthem ought to be “Tipitina.”
But there?s so much music in the city you can find it almost anywhere. We even enjoyed a fine set by Captain Coconut, a funky group of high school and college students from New York City who played on the balcony of a French Quarter pizza joint.
Actually, despite the Festivities, Nawlins is not really back. For starters: It’s still missing a quarter of a million people. And the ones who remain all seem to have a Katrina horror story to recount.
On Saturday, before the music started, my wife and I were given what the locals call a ?devastation tour,? by a friend who was among the tens of thousands from New Orleans who have had to re-locate to Houston.
Twenty months after the hurricane hit, it is shocking to see the scale of the damage. Consider this: The tour took 2 ? hours and we still didn?t see all of the areas hit hard.
In fact, we spent most of the time well beyond the Ninth Ward, up at the Lakefront and other districts that haven?t received nearly as much attention. The damage in some places is not as shattering as in the wasteland of the Ninth Ward but haunting all the same, because just when you think you have left much of it behind suddenly there?s another house ? mingling among the many rebuilt ones ? with smashed windows and a message spray painted on the door, such as ?Dog Dead Found in Attic 9/13.?
Countless homes, in a sign of hope (and need to satisfy the insurance companies), are now sitting on concrete blocks, which would allow a couple of feet of water in the next flood to pass underneath. It?s as if they are on beachfront property. Maybe they are.
In the Ninth Ward, we took a random turn down one street and, lo and behold, there was Fats Domino?s brightly painted house on the left, emblazoned with a gaudy ?FD? near the roof. It was abandoned by the Fat Man after the flood. A large sign next to it now proclaims that it is being renovated with donated funds, apparently as a historical monument, as indeed it is.
It already looks pretty good, but as we continued down the block we saw that nearly all the homes of Fats’ erstwhile neighbors were in very rough shape, these many months later. It goes well beyond ?Ain?t That a Shame? to ?Ain?t That a Disgrace.?