And once again here we are at the final weekend of that annual plethora of musical and culinary riches we know as Jazz Fest. We locals seem to think the organization has put forth the Thursday staging just to work us into a frenzy in preparation for the sprint to Sunday evening where the Nevilles, the Radiators, Benny Grunch, B.B. King, and Chief Dollis all conspire to assure we won’t be able to enjoy all of them and to leave us begging for more encores than the law allows.
I often think about other centerpiece festivals in other towns when the last note is played or the last funnel cake is served. That’s it. It’s over until next year. Bye-bye folks. Drive home safely.
Here, it just keeps on going. The party doesn’t just go on –– it goes on with great events and short time periods in between. It’s sort of like waiting for a streetcar: Another one is coming up in just a few moments (unless some fool has tried to beat the very large piece of rolling metal with a much smaller piece of rolling metal across the neutral ground).
Even as the weather morphs into its seasonal swings from pleasant morning temperatures to it’s-pretty-hot-and-humid-already, we are poised and in training for the next significant activity.
It used to be that summertime events were fairly scarce. A long time ago someone had the bright idea to stage a series of summer festivals all under one banner, but it never really worked. I’m not certain why, unless it seemed to New Orleanians that the effort was too forced, too artificial, too inauthentic.
Many communities, in an attempt to move folks to enjoy themselves in hot months, stage such events as were tried here. They go by names such as Summer in the City, Summer Pops and Summer Theatre Festival. All good efforts and fun activities, I’m sure.
But the “real” factor seems to be missing –– and we like real. Don’t believe me? Just look around, or read the morning newspaper. Sometimes we are so real, we can’t stand it.
Anyway, after the Jazz Fest, for those of us who love good drinking and fine eating (and who among you are not in that number?), we are rolling right into World Cocktail Day.
I noted the event in an earlier column but just wanted to remind you that on Thursday, May 13, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. some amazing mixologists from all over America and many talented professionals will stage a great event at The Museum of the American Cocktail in the Riverwalk, highlighting the enjoyment of properly mixed drinks.
You will have the opportunity to do a lot of sampling (why else would we be mentioning it?), coupled with some fine cuisine from a few of New Orleans great restaurants. And it’s a celebration, so why not participate? Tickets are $50 per person, pre-registration, which can be accomplished at www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org.
Next up is the 19th edition of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. This one has grown from modest beginnings in the early ‘90s to today’s multi-venue, four-day feast of great food, fine wines and elbow-rubbing with superstars from the fermented world.
Beginning on Wednesday, May 26, more than 35 New Orleans restaurants will match their chefs with talented winemakers, placing in front of you truly yummy dining experiences. From there, over the next three days, you will never be far from stemware.
On the evening of Thursday, May 25, is the signature event of NOWFE (pronounced “NOW-fee,” just in case you are still saying “NO-fee,” in which case we will be checking your pronunciation of “New Orleans,” “Burgundy,” and “Calliope”), the Royal Street Stroll. This usually turns out to be more of a lurch than a gentle amble down our most famous shopping street.
The afternoon preceding the stroll is a high-end wine-tasting dubbed Vinola. This relatively new event features only wines in excess of $75 retail cost and is well worth the seemingly high entry fee of $150. It’s a classy happening. This year the staging area for Vinola is Harrah’s Theatre, so maybe on the way in you’ll have a bit of luck at the tables and actually get Harrah’s to pay for your ticket. It’s not my style, but I’m tossing it out there for you. Hey, stranger things have happened.
Following Vinola is an auction offering great bottles of wines, travel experiences and special dining opportunities. All proceeds go to the NOWFE charities, so you’ll do well and feel good.
Friday at NOWFE is the main seminar day. You can meet the folks in the industry who make things happen, and they can tell you why this plot of land produces such excellent grape juice while this one right over here doesn’t do much.
Many of the seminars are focused on pairing the taste of food with the taste of wine, always an interesting topic. There are so many topics covered that the seminar schedule seeps into Saturday with a few sessions in the morning prior to the Grand Tasting break.
Grand Tastings are aptly named. NOWFE has settled onto the main floor of the Superdome, having exhausted over the years every other large space in town from hotel ballrooms to the Convention Center. If it gets any bigger than this, NOWFE may have to rent the entire city of Houston. Bad idea.
The Grand Tastings are staged Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Different restaurants participate from one day to the next, and there are different stage presentations each day, but overall, you really can’t cover the spectrum of wines in just one day. To fully appreciate the breadth of product, you fully need both days.
Anyway, the festival proves every year that New Orleans is an important culinary destination, with much larger cities, such as Dallas, Atlanta and the aforementioned Houston, not staging anything like this on this scale.
Full details for the event, along with ticket information, are at www.nowfe.com. Many individual events are limited in attendance, and even now, many of the wine dinners are no longer available, so go there now and don’t regret missing something you really want to do because you waited too long.
A newer entry into the what-do-we-do-around-here-now sweepstakes is Tales of the Cocktail. This is an event that a lot of you have heard of and talk about participating in but never really get around to joining in. This is the year you will be changing that.
Tales of the Cocktail is eight years old this year and has taken its rightful place among the great cocktail celebrations in the world. In my travels across America, I get more questions about this event than anything else on the New Orleans calendar. Of course, when you hang out in barrooms, you don’t expect questions from those crowds about the opera.
Anyway, Tales begins on July 21 and goes through July 25 at venues all over town. With this festival, you have to be super-selective on what events you want to attend: Tales can knock you on your butt. Take my word on this. And I’m a semi-professional.
There are dinners, luncheons, competitions, seminars, tastings, cocktail hour celebrations, brunches and awards banquet. It’s a constant drumbeat of “taste this” and “do you like this?” for five days. Check out the entire schedule at www.talesofthecocktail.com.
Both NOWFE and Tales provide you with the finest opportunity to taste a cross-section of products that entire industries are featuring. You won’t be able to do that just perusing a wine list or sitting at a bar pondering the drinks menu.
These are all educational experiences wrapped in the spirit of New Orleans (sorry, I could not resist just one of those). All of these events say nice things about the type of town we are. And that is a very good thing.