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Dancing in the streets at French Quarter  Festival
Dancing in the streets at French Quarter Festival

Party Time in the Big Easy

several iconic festivals in August capture the true spirit of New Orleans
Written by Kaylan Geiger
Photographs courtesy of NewOrleansOnline.com

In New Orleans we have four seasons: crab, crawfish, oyster and shrimp. Did you think I was talking about weather? No, in Louisiana’s most famous city, we base our lives on food, and it doesn’t hurt to have some sweet tunes flirting with your ears while you dive into all of the culinary treasures of the Crescent City.

Tucked away at the bottom of the United States map, nestled between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans is known for its laissez-faire — “let them do as they will” — attitude towards life and its pleasures. At the top of our pleasure list, food and music take a seat and dazzle us from morning until morning comes again (because Cairo isn’t the only city that doesn’t sleep).

I was born and raised in the ‘Big Easy,’ as New Orleans is affectionately known, and my upbringing was steeped in the traditions of eating and music appreciation. We are a people fond of our restaurants, music clubs and traditions arising during 300 years as a major port city, where French and Spanish heritage has mixed with African-American, Caribbean, Native American, Irish and Italian communities.

The Mardi Gras Indians parade through New Orleans every year to show off their unique costumes

The Mardi Gras Indians parade through New Orleans every year to show off their unique costumes

We are known for our special brand of hospitality, given with a welcoming smile and a “come again.” Take it from a New Orleanian who has worked for years in the service industry, which refers to anything from bartenders and waiters to tour guides; August brings festivals that spotlight all of the city’s best attributes. While the city may be best known for Bourbon Street — the red light district — and Mardi Gras, little does the world know that the city can’t go a month without having a party.

#NOJS3Cooling Down with COOLinary
Where I come from, food is more than just something you serve on a plate: It is an industry. From the hospitality of the wait staff in the city’s hundreds of restaurants to the spicy, saucy, southern comfort of local favorites like gumbo and po-boys, New Orleans is truly one of the world’s great culinary destinations.

With a tagline such as “A celebration of dining in America’s most delicious city,” how can the COOLinary festival not sound sensational? Sponsored by the New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, COOLinary offers a hot and spicy month of feasting. Throughout August, New Orleans’ most famous dining establishments feature their most prized recipes on a special, reduced-price menu — an excellent opportunity for guests (and locals) of the city to indulge in specialties from blackened catfish to charbroiled oysters. Highlights along this tour de cuisine include Antoine’s Restaurant (the oldest family-run restaurant in the US), the Court of Two Sisters, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Palace Café, Criollo and Galatoire’s Restaurant.

Even if you miss the festival, there is much to see, eat and smell outside of COOLinary. For example, there is no such thing as a visit to New Orleans if you don’t stop by the world famous Café du Monde for a café au lait (chicory coffee with milk) and a stack of just-out-of-the-oven beignets (square pieces of fried dough covered in powdered sugar).

New Orleans revolves around its food, and the different types of cuisines — from Creole to Cajun — tell the history of the city. A perfect example is the stew-like gumbo. Gumbo dates back centuries, with the earliest record of it from the early 1800s. It is often referred to as a depiction of New Orleans’ melting pot society, and the ingredients and methods of preparing it are wide ranging: seafood gumbo, chicken gumbo, okra gumbo, alligator gumbo, duck gumbo and so on.

Blow That Horn, Louis
New Orleans is often heralded as the birthplace of jazz, and it is here jazz will always have a home. The man accredited with putting New Orleans on the jazz map is none other than trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, who at times called himself “Little Arabian Boy.” But it is Armstrong’s more well-known nickname “Satchmo” that inspires August’s music festival Satchmo SummerFest. Some of New Orleans’ finest jazz and brass band musicians come out for a three-day show to pay tribute to the man and his music. Some of this year’s highlights include the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Treme Brass Band and Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers.

An impromptu parade on Bourbon Street

An impromptu parade on Bourbon Street

While Satchmo SummerFest should not be missed, New Orleans will never suffer a shortage of musicians no matter what time of year. Most people come to New Orleans in search of jazz and then discover a host of other genres and explosive sounds in venues scattered throughout the city. From brass bands to Cajun zydeco, the music scene is one of the city’s greatest qualities.

The best of the scene can be found on Frenchmen Street just outside of the French Quarter; this is the home for several bars and music clubs that boast a wide variety of sounds, including but not limited to hip hop, brass band, acoustic rock, jazz and even electronic. You don’t always need to venture to the clubs to hear some great tunes. Part of New Orleans’ charm is hearing street musicians blend their instruments with the sound of the city.


Street cars provide easy transportation and a marvelous view.

Dress Up and Run With It
New Orleans is no fashion capital, but when August rolls around the dress must match the shoes. The city hosts three fashion-inspired and somewhat self-explanatory events: White Linen Night, Dirty Linen Night and the Red Dress Run.

White Linen Night, first held in 1994, plays off the old-time tradition, back before there were automobiles and air conditioners, of wearing white to reflect the heat. Ladies and gentlemen would wear their finest whites to keep cool in the sweltering summer heat of the south. In the Warehouse District and on Julia Street, the heart of New Orleans’ art district, organizers of this annual block party thought reviving white linen would honor the past and provide people with a reason to come together, check out the local galleries and buy some original artwork.

But, of course, something as posh sounding as White Linen Night (although free and welcome to all) would have its critics. Those critics, however, have taste too. On the other side of Canal Street in the French Quarter, Dirty Linen Night takes over Royal Street, known for its older-generation art stores and antique shops. Like its Julia Street rival, this festival shares the goal of supporting local artists, but on this night, however, attendees are encouraged to wear their “soiled” garments rather than their fine, delicate whites.

Need a livelier take on fashion? Pull out your vixen, vivacious red dresses and dress to kill, but don’t fall down in the process, because the Red Dress Run is exactly what it sounds like. It may be called Red Dress Run, but it’s not exclusive to the ladies. Men too don red dresses for this dash through the French Quarter. It’s not just a fun run, though: Sponsored by the New Orleans Hash House Harriers, the event also raises funds for breast cancer research and other charities.

A few words of caution: When you grab your dancing shoes and pick out your white linens and red dresses, just be sure to grab the “loose fit” size because you know you’ll be doing a whole lot of eating.

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