That Dr. John gig happened on my first visit to New Orleans, after years of loving Louisiana music from afar in Connecticut. In my first Big Easy visit, I passed out in the back of the Maple Leaf at the end of a ReBirth gig, played pool and marveled at the jukebox at now-defunct Muddy Waters, ate a Central Grocery muffuletta on the bank of the Mississippi River, almost never left Ryan's Irish Pub in the Quarter, and seriously damaged my credit card at Tower Records.
That was enough to snare my soul, but the Dr. John gig sealed the deal. Then-15-year-old pianist and singer Davell Crawford opened, sounding years beyond his age and eventually sitting in with Mac on "Wang Dang Doodle." Dr. John went on at midnight, with burning candles lining the edge of the stage. It was so oppressively humid that late sax great Red Tyler passed out on stage from heat exhaustion. Between sets, everyone spilled out onto the neutral ground, drinking beer under a full moon while the magnolias were in full bloom. Taking all this in, I wondered, "Why doesn't everyone live here?" I got back to my bed-and-breakfast at 5:45 a.m.
A lot has changed in the last 12 years. Now I'm married, have two kids, and get up at 5:45 a.m. And New Orleans has been my home since April 1993, almost a third of my life. My family's Southern roots and my love for Southern culture -- along with that transcendent Dr. John show at Tip's -- originally brought me here. Now, for similar reasons, I'm moving to the Lafayette area to work for a new weekly paper, The Independent. This is my final column for Gambit Weekly.
For the last decade, I've felt pretty blessed. In my tenure with Gambit Weekly and my previous job with OffBeat, I met and interviewed some of my musical heroes. I drank Heinekens and interviewed Fats Domino at his Ninth Ward house. Ray Charles sang me his 60s-era Pepsi jingle at the end of a 40-minute interview. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh reminisced about Jerry Garcia. Solomon Burke told me my dad was a pretty cool guy. I got a guitar pick from Jeff Beck. Tommy Ridgley sang at my wedding. I trash-talked with Wynton Marsalis, who kicked my ass in an impromptu basketball pick-up game outside a Massachusetts hotel.
And all the live-music nirvana. A few highlights: Sonny Rollins at Jazz Fest. Little Village at Storyville. Two nights of Bob Dylan at House of Blues. Nicholas Payton at Sweet Lorraine's. Many late nights at the Maple Leaf with Walter "Wolfman" Washington and Jon Cleary. Johnny Adams, wanting to sing a deep ballad, asking Rock 'n' Bowl owner John Blancher to turn down the lights. Dave Bartholemew at the Louisiana Music Factory's fifth anniversary party. Hell, just last week, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers closed a smoking show at UNO Lakefront Arena with a New Orleans nod of "Baby, Please Don't Go."
With all those transcendent moments -- a regular occurrence here -- why am I leaving?
My move is about kin and roots. I have family in New Iberia and Jeanerette, and my oldest son's godparents live in Breaux Bridge. I grew up surrounded by the wonder and serenity of expansive woods, streams and wildlife, and I'd like my children to have the same opportunity. And professionally, The Independent offers what I love about Gambit Weekly: quality alternative journalism.
There's not enough room in this column -- let alone the whole paper -- to thank everyone who's offered their support, friendship and constructive criticism in the last decade. But professionally, one person deserves special props and thanks: Gambit Weekly editor Michael Tisserand. Besides being one of my best friends, no one has taught me more about the craft of writing than Michael, and New Orleans is extremely lucky to have him at the helm of this paper. I've been fortunate enough to do some extensive freelance writing and work with some great editors -- but Michael is in a league of his own.
Personally, my wife Cindy is the light of my life. She's endured my absence in the late nights and early mornings that journalism often requires and never blinked.
And most of all, thank you, the reader. New Orleanians are passionate about their art and culture, and you've always challenged me to live up to your high standards. Whether I accomplished that or not is your call, but I know one thing: I sure had a blast writing for you.