• Interview: Brady Parks of The National Parks

    Utah-based folk-influenced band The National Parks are whisking listeners away with their scenic new album Wildflower. To celebrate the release, the band bring intimate “Campfire Tour” to fans. The 19-date outing will feature acoustic, backyard shows at private residences in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Idaho. The tour kicked off on June 19 in Utah and wraps up on July 25 in Arizona.

    The Travel Addict had the chance to catch up with lead vocalist and guitarist Brady Parks. He talked about the new album and being inspired by nature musically along with quarantining during the pandemic and hidden gems in their home base in Utah. Check out the Travel Addict’s interview with Brady Parks below:

    How are you staying busy at home and where are you quarantining?

    We are in Utah and luckily things aren’t too crazy here. It feels like things are getting more and more back to normal. We have been trying to keep busy by practicing together and working on our music. We are releasing songs now. We have a lot of exciting things in the works. That is keeping our minds off how hard this time can be right now.

    Can you tell us a little about how you came up with The National Parks name for the band?

    I feel like nature has always been a big part of our songs. As a songwriter, I am drawn to it. I find a lot of parallels between nature and symbolism and our life and everything we go through. When we thought of National Parks it does play off my last name but it also fits so well because of the themes consistent in our music, nature and those metaphors. It is a perfect fit. We feel like our music talks a lot about getting outside and exploring the world and cherishing the world around you. It seemed to work well.

    You guys have recorded videos in some of the most picturesque locations in the country or the world really. How did you choose the locations to film?

    We are super lucky to be a band from Utah and surrounded by so much natural beauty. There are so many national parks close by. One place we have always been drawn to as a band is Zion National Park, which is in Southern Utah about four hours from where we live. When we were thinking of doing these music videos with a western theme on one of them we knew we had to go to Southern Utah where there are these amazing red rock cliffs and picturesque scenery. It was the perfect fit for how beautiful it is and also because we are from Utah and we take a lot of pride in that. It was a cool way to incorporate all of that.

    I think a lot of people are planning road trips this summer. If people wanted to visit Utah this summer, are there any hidden gems of destinations you would tell them to visit?

    For sure. I would say hit up the national parks. There are Zion and Bryce and they are amazing. Salt Lake City is super cool. Another gem would be Park City. In the summer, it has amazing Main Street with really great restaurants and a lot of fun things to do in the mountains while you are there too. Come to Utah, it is awesome.

    My favorite songs were between the “Wildflower” song or “Horizons.” Is there a story behind “Waiting for Lightning” song?

    Thank you so much. It means so much for you to say that since we are so close to these songs.

    “Waiting for Lightning,” I remember I was sitting in my room one night and this thought of lightning kept coming to my mind. I was thinking about where we are as a band and the overall emotion of the song is when you do everything you can do and you are just waiting for this amazing thing to happen. I just pictured standing out in this rainstorm and throwing your arms up in the air praying for this lightning strike. I think that is where the song came from. At its core, it is a song about hope and determination for getting to the places you want to get to in life and see those miraculous amazing things happen and knowing they are out there.

    What is the difference between playing festivals in front of a new audience instead of people who know you at a normal show?

    There is a difference for sure. I love both of them. Getting to play in a venue in front of our fans, the energy is crazy because they know every word and it is really exciting. They know what is going to happen in a song and know when to start jumping up and down.

    Playing at a festival, the energy is crazy because people are so excited to be surrounded by music and that is what they are there for. Getting to play a festival for new fans is really exciting for us because that is where we want to be. We want to grow. We want to reach new people. We want new people to hear our music everywhere. Playing festivals in front of new fans is a really cool opportunity to showcase what we are about and play our best show. It is motivation to prove ourselves and people can walk away and remember who we were.

    The band was going to host The Super Bloom Music Festival, which I thought was a great idea in a beautiful location for August. Is it still happening or on hold?

    Unfortunately, we had to put it on hold. It is very sad. It was our very own festival to put on to celebrate this new album and some of our favorite bands from around here. We were super excited for it. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we had to postpone. We are looking for new dates in 2021.

    You guys have also done projects to support the National Parks Conservation Fund. Why is this organization important to you and are there other organizations you are currently supporting?

    We did team up with them and it was a great experience because like we kind of said, I feel like nature and experiencing the natural world is an important part of existing and being human and being able to connect with your surroundings. We are so lucky to have these places, these national parks and if there is anything we can do to preserve them it goes right along with what we believe in for sure.

    What are your favorite songs to perform live?

    I think off the new album we have only had the chance to play “Wildflower” one time before everything got postponed. That was such a great experience. It became a favorite to play live. Besides that, I like to play our song “As We Ran.” The recorded version is big still but a little more folky. When we play it live we have a remixed version that is super energetic and super fun to play. Another older one would be “Monsters of the North”. We love playing that one too. I would pick those three.

    Do you have any destination you are looking forward to going to once this is all over?

    Definitely. Looking forward to getting back on tour. We had a big tour planned to support the album. We were pretty much going to go from coast to coast. I am so excited to get back on the road and play shows in all the states and hopefully out of the country too.

    Do you have any messages to your fans, how are you staying connected to them?

    We have been trying to engage with our fans during this time. We are all in this together. During the quarantine, there were not a lot of people could go do. We tried doing a lot of live streams and contests to bring joy to people’s lives during this hard time. My message is thanks for supporting us. Thanks for listening to our music. We hope everyone is staying safe and we are really excited for you to listen to our new album. We hope that it brings joy to their lives during this time.

    The National Parks photo provided by McKenna Chatterley.

  • Interview: Charlie Daniels

    Charlie Daniels is an icon in country music and I have been a fan since childhood. My Dad and my grandparents took me to see The Charlie Daniels Band growing up in Tennessee many times. As an adult I have seen Charlie several times over the past few years and he still puts on one of the most dynamic shows in the business. 

    I have always been nothing but impressed with Charlie and how he is the truest professional when it comes to music and performing. I was able to cover Charlie’s 80th Birthday Celebration is Nashville at a sold-out show at Bridgestone Arena where generations of fans came together along with an all-star lineup of musicians who wanted to pay tribute to the man and the music. One thing that stood out to me that day is how much Charlie respected the media. He sat in a press conference for over two hours as each guest performer of the night did a Q&A with him and the press. It was amazing to see someone have so much respect for their fellow musicians and the guests attending the party in his honor.

    For Memorial Day, I could not think of a better person to interview than Charlie. He is one of the biggest supporters of Veterans in the United States. He was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service award for his support of military personnel. He has performed for our troops from Guantanamo Bay to Bosnia, Kuwait, South Korea, and repeated trips to Iraq for Stars for Stripes as well as visiting troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Korea.

    Charlie Daniels serves as the Chairman of the Journey Home Project. The Journey Home Project’s mission is to connect donors to veterans’ organizations that do the most good. Cutbacks to veterans’ services from the federal government, combined with an increase in wartime active personnel has put a strain on health care, education and job opportunities for veterans.

    It was an honor to catch up with Charlie and talk about the Journey Home Project, life on the road, Bob Dylan and a new fiction book in the works.

    Are there any favorite off the beaten path travel destinations that you would recommend after touring the past six decades?

    Quite a few of them actually. Of course, I have been traveling for a living for a long time. I haven’t been everywhere but I have been to every state in the union. In fact I have worked in every state in the union. The four corners area of Colorado is one of my very favorites. It is not completely undiscovered but there are parts the public hasn’t gotten around to yet. I like the southern states. I am a southerner. I can come up with some place I really enjoy going to in most of the states in America.

    I want to talk about the Journey Home Project. Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing during the coronavirus crisis?

    Journey Home is an organization put together to help our veterans. We have found during this pandemic the veterans are out of a job like everyone else is. The veteran population is so proud. They have to be really in need to ask for anything. They just don’t like to do it. 

    During this pandemic there are veterans that are literally so broke, they don’t have money to pay their rent. They don’t have money to buy food. A lot of them have kids. It is a bad situation. We are not just doing it during the pandemic, we have been around a few years and been doing it full time. The need is great right now so we are trying to help out as much as we can.

    If people want to help out and donate should they go to the Journey Home Project website?

    Yes, www.journeyhomeproject.org. They can go there and find out who we are and what we do. I don’t think I have ever seen this much real need among the vets in the time we have been doing this. Then you stop and figure I have never seen a time like this for that matter. This is a truly unique time. I have been around this earth for 83 years and never seen anything like it. 

    The whole world is shut down and we are dealing with something we know nothing about. We have to start from scratch with it. There was really nothing else to do but close the country down until we have a handle on it and find out what it was and what can be done about it or what caused it. People are out of work. The government was trying to help with the programs they had going. It took a while to get that out and some people didn’t qualify and it was this and that. All of a sudden you have a bunch of folks including veterans out of work and needing help. We try to be there for them as much as we can.

    What do you miss most about being out on the road?

    Just being out on the road. We are always out this time of year. We started out the 14th of March when we started the tour in Huntsville Alabama and then going down to Lake Charles, Louisiana. We did the show in Huntsville and right after that they started falling like dominoes, people started closing. It was just all of a sudden something we have been doing for many years at this time of year is no longer happening. Masses of people can’t get together for concerts. It is a very strange feeling actually not being on the road during the summer. We are always on the road in the summertime.

    I am ok at home right now. I live in this patch of woods and it is hard to get me out of them when I am at home anyway. It is where I want to be. I have no complaints as far as the quarantining is concerned. I live on a ranch and have plenty of room to get outside to get fresh air.  We are not actually isolated but we don’t have anyone that lives really close to us. We are kind of on our own here and have a lot of privacy. I don’t really have a problem staying home; it is not nearly as bad for me staying at home with the conditions I have. I feel for the people in the big cities that are jammed up in the little apartments and can’t go nowhere. 

    People have idiot governors telling them they will put them in jail for going swimming or something. We don’t have that to put up with that here (in Tennessee.) We have a sensible governor, good Christian guy. He is doing his best to get the state open. In the meantime, he is not being dumb about it. We get along. I don’t really have complaints staying at home. It has not really hurt me that bad to be honest except not being able to work. That is the part that bothers me.

    Have you been able to work on any new music while being at home?

    I am working on a book right now trying to get it finished and put the finishing touches on it. I am working on music too. I haven’t really got full time into the music yet. I have been putting quite a few hours in on the book. It is a fictional book and it is almost finished. I probably have another two days on it. Once I finish it up I will start full time on music.

    I didn’t realize you were a fiction writer.

    Well I have not released that much. I released a book of fictional short stories. Most of my writings, I did some essays. I did an autobiography called Never Look at the Empty Seats and I did an inspirational book called Let’s Make the Day Count, but this is a totally different enterprise. I have been working on it a long time. It is not a new project. I have worked on it for a number of years and it has gone through several different phases. I about have a handle on what I want it to be. As soon as I finish it, I am ready to go to work on some new music.

    You use Twitter a lot. Has it helped stay in contact with your fans during this time?

    Yes, I have been using social media for a long time, several years. It is not new to me. It is not anywhere close to being new to me, but it is still exciting to me. I have certain things I do every day. I put up a bible verse. I put up a prayer. I put up wise little sayings the good Lord helps me put together. I am constantly writing how I feel about things. I do a soapbox every week. It can be on anything. It may be humorous. It may be political. It may be about America. It might be complaining about something or bragging about something, whatever I am feeling about. I deal with a lot of current topics.

    “Devil Went Down to Georgia” just celebrated 40 years. Do you ever get tired of playing it?

    No not at all. It is what people want to hear. What people want to hear is what I get paid to do and my whole career is based on. I never get tired of it. We do a lot of the old songs; it is what people come to hear you for. They don’t come to hear your new stuff. They will tolerate your new stuff. They come to hear the stuff they hear on the radio and you owe it to the people to play the songs for them because that’s what they paid their money for. We always do our hits. We build our show around those and add in our new music as it fits. No, I never get tired of playing them. I love playing the old songs.

    We have lost a lot of amazing musicians. One is Kenny Rogers. I wanted to ask if you had any fond Kenny Rogers memories.

    Kenny and I didn’t travel in the same circles a lot. We worked together. We knew each other. We had done a show or two together. We are not bands that were asked to get packaged together that much. We are not what you ordinarily think of as a package. We are a more raucous type band, a little more on the rowdy side. I love Kenny’s music but we didn’t work together a lot.

    Bob Dylan celebrated a birthday this week. You have talked about how he changed your life. Can you tell us how that happened?

    I’d be happy to. In 1969, Bob came to Nashville to do an album called Nashville Skyline, a lot of people think that was the first album he did here but it was the third one he had done. John Wesley Harding and Blonde on Blonde had been recorded here. I came to town in 1967. My friend Bob Johnston, his producer brought me to town to try to do something in Nashville. Bob Dylan was coming to town to do Nashville Skyline and he had been using the same musicians to play on the album, every album. He like the players he had so he used the same players. 

    When he went to book the sessions for Nashville Skyline, the guitar player they used throughout the years was unavailable. He was already booked on another session. Bob Johnston asked if I would want to play on one of the Dylan sessions until the other guitar player got back. I said I’d be glad to. I was much more excited than that, believe me, that was not my reaction at all. My reaction was wanting to jump through the roof or something. 

    I went in and played and at the end of the session I was packing up my gear to leave and Bob Dylan asked Bob Johnston where I was going. Bob Johnston said I was leaving and he had another guitar player coming in. Bob Dylan said he didn’t want another guitar player, I want him. That was, well you can imagine, it was an incredible big shot in the arm, a recording artist the caliber of Bob Dylan to validate my playing is really hard to even articulate. It meant so much. It saved me a lot of steps because Bob was nice enough throughout the years to put the players names on the back of the album. When you play on a Dylan album your name was on the album. He is the kind of artist where people actually read the lines on the back cover. It was a lot of recognition. It happened instantly basically. It did a lot for me. I don’t even know how much it did for me but it did a lot believe me.

  • Summer Travel 2020

    I am sure like all of you my summer travel plans have changed drastically. Bryan and I had planned a trip to Namibia with friends that I have wanted to do for ten years and now it is not possible. It is definitely going to be a year of alternative plans.

    I have now decided that it is the perfect year to visit places in the United States. I have traveled for years to faraway places all over the world but I have never seen so many of the amazing destinations here at home. I had always put off US travel because I felt like it would be easier to see those places when we were older and when we didn’t want to take all the long international flights.

    There are so many beautiful places to explore in the US so this will be the summer of road trips for me. I do not feel comfortable flying yet so most of my trips will be within 1-2 days driving distance where I can take the proper precautions to social distance. I started my road trip series on May 1 when many of the states started to open up. I drove to New Orleans and also visited family and friends in Tennessee en route. 

    I do not enjoy driving but I found the lack of planning and scheduling was freeing and made the trip less stressful. I feel more in control driving with the coronavirus situation. 

    So far, I have started to make my summer wish list that range from places within an hour from my house like The Ark in Kentucky to a trip out west to see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands at the end of June. 

    Other destinations for the summer include The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama and a trip back to New Orleans to see friends and tour the Whitney Plantation. I am trying to tie stories together on this blog that not only show nice photos but also tell the history of cultures and places. 

    In the late summer and Fall I plan to visit Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. I will also probably make stops at the Biltmore and Dollywood along the way.

    If work does come back, I will most likely still be driving and trying to take more time to get to and from destinations to find interesting places along the way visit and take photos. 

    I have literally worked all the time for the past 20 years so I am really trying to embrace the time off and see friends and family that I have not seen in many years to catch up and slow down. This is definitely not what was planned but I plan to make the best of the situation with Road Trip 2020.

  • Interview: Sunny Ozell

    Sunny Ozell is an Americana vocalist who splits her time between Brooklyn and LA with her husband Sir Patrick Stewart. Her latest album Overnight Lows was released in March and tells personal stories through the heartfelt lyrics that can take the listener on their own reflective journey. Her music is one of my new finds during this time at home.

    Sunny has also been doing a YouTube series exploring Medieval churches across the English countryside. She loves to do research and then visit these locations across Europe in person to experience the rich culture and ancient artwork at the sites. Her videos take the viewer on an adventure to places that they may not be able to visit in person with descriptions that tell the details of past generations with wonderful live performances inside.

    I was very happy to catch up with Sunny at home in LA to discuss the new record, favorite travel destinations and her love of medieval history.

    Where are you actually quarantined?

    We are in Los Angeles.

    At least it is clear blue skies there for the first time in a long while.

    Indeed yes. We have seen some birds in our yard, and mind you we just moved into this house so we are not that familiar with the neighborhood. I have seen some birds I have never seen before which is really fun.

    Has the virus disrupted any of your touring or performance plans?

    My whole summer, yes.

    Have you postponed yet?

    That decision is more on the festivals but I know it is not going to happen. It is such an interesting time. Other touring acts that I know say they had a gig at the 100 Club in London that has already been re-booked for the Fall or early winter of 2021. I don’t know when I am going to preform again.

    I am now questioning if any festivals are going to happen in 2020 at all.

    In the absence of any kind of leadership in the UK and the US, there is not a clear dictate for how this is going to work and this is how we are going to do this. Germany and France have had such a better response to all this.

    I have been listening to your new music. I saw some of your videos highlighting English Medieval churches. What drew you to these churches? You describe them in detail at the start of some of the videos. Are you spiritual or religious? 

    I am not religious. I definitely lean atheist. That said, I believe in the power of people coming together in a common spiritual pursuit. For me, it is not the religious aspect that draws me to these buildings but the human aspect that these buildings in the UK are these wonderful receptacles of centuries of life in that country. 

    I was also drawn to them because I am from Reno, Nevada and the oldest thing we have is maybe 100 years old but in England this church was built before the Norman Conquest. This is a Saxon church from 900 AD and that blows my mind. The amount of human lives that have passed through in 1000 years is incredible. You can mark out these different periods of religious life in the UK. You can see where the Reformation happened. You can see where there was maybe counter-protests like Catholicism and Calvinism and all the -isms of Christianity. There are several time capsules in a single building where you can see various stages of development. 

    Definitely Europe and Asia have so much more history than the US in general. Are there any churches you would recommend, your highlights, your favorites, ones you would say if you are in England you should go visit?

    For me there are two schools of thought. There are the really big glorious churches, the cathedrals and the minsters. While those are all astonishing, they were more exposed to The Reformation, for example the Canterbury Cathedral. There is a lot that survived the Reformation and there is a lot that didn’t. 

    Whereas smaller kind of parish churches may have escaped some of those destructive forces. We lived in a region called West Oxfordshire in that central belt of England. Oxford is where the wool trade was really thriving in the 14th century. 700 years ago, there was a significant amount of wealth in that area. It shows in all the ecclesiastical buildings of that time period. A lot of them are so tucked away in these towns decimated by the Plague or 100 Years War. All of these forces were going on in that time in 13th, 14th, 15th centuries so maybe people moved away from that village and the church just sat there housing all these wonderful relics form the past. 

    There are a couple churches where I love the wall paintings, like a Fresco. In the UK, instead of calling them a Fresco, you call them a Wall Paintings because they are little. They are not a true Italian Fresco where there is a Gesso layer applied. They are more fragile unfortunately. During the Reformation, they would often throw whitewash up over the paintings. During the 17thand 18th centuries, they started picking away at the whitewash and find these unbelievable, vibrant, vivacious Medieval paintings still in place. To me it is almost like treasure hunting. It is so wonderful. It is a legitimate hobby in the UK called Church Crawling where you go look for things. Everyone has their favorites, some people like to go see Memorials, as in tombs. Some people are really into the woodwork. Some people are into the Baptismal Fonts. I love looking for graffiti. I miss it so much.

    You have an album called Overnight Lows. Where did the title come from?

    Interestingly, the title came to me even before I wrote the song. I have been a bit of an insomniac all my life. I liked that it is a double entendre. I loved overnight lows could refer to weather or the dark places we sometimes go to in the night when we can’t sleep. I like the Ray Charles lyric “The night time is the right time.” There is something sexy about it. I was pretty thrilled to land on it.

    Is there a favorite song on the album to perform live?

    That has been a moving target a bit. Surprisingly I really like singing “The Garden,” the kind of power ballad. Usually in a live setting you tend to sing the more upbeat things because people are drinking and out to have a good time. That one is more contemplative but I have found people really listen and that has been fun to be able to hold people’s attention even though it is a more somber experience.

    My two favorites are “Driving Highways” and “Not Afraid”. Are there any stories behind either of those you would like to talk about?

    “Driving Highways,” as I said I am from Reno, Nevada and it is one of the most unpopulated states. It is just big empty roads, you know? I moved to New York City in 2004 and drove the whole way there in a U-Haul and it was a very evocative experience. That kind of experience of taking a step forward not knowing where you are going to go but feeling everything you are leaving behind in the process. That is “Driving Highways.”

    You have traveled all over the world. Are there any special places that you would recommend for people or any special places you would like to go back to?

    Small Italian towns, not the big ones. Florence is absolutely amazing and Venice is amazing but I prefer the small towns. We went to Perugia recently and it was unbelievable, totally unbelievable. Perugia has a museum that has a collection that rivals anything else in Italy. Assisi is absolutely amazing. Verona is amazing outside of Venice. Oh my God, we went to Ravenna recently.

    Italy blows my goddamn mind how rich in history it is. It is just fascinating. It has to be that it is this big peninsula. As a region it has so much coastline so people would be coming and going from a maritime perspective. That has to be why, and Rome of course. Ravenna used to be this coastal town but the coastline has moved with the river that floats through the city deposited all this silt so the city no longer had access to the coastline and declined. At one point it was the capital of the Roman Empire after Rome had fallen. Before the idea of the Roman Empire was over and before the Byzantine Empire became centered in Constantinople, for a small time Ravenna was the imperial seat and there are these buildings still standing from that time period, like 380 or 410 ADS, and they are filled with mosaics and beautiful marble paneling. I am getting emotional thinking how astonishing the historic fabric in Ravenna is. I cannot recommend it enough. Go to Ravenna and have your mind blown.

    I love hearing about places that are not always well-known travel destinations.

    I think you have to be interested in that time period, coming out of the Classical time period into the early Medieval period, but it is just nuts and it is really beautiful.

    After this quarantine, do you have any dream vacation spots?

    Yes, I want to go to Sicily. I am really obsessed with Medieval history if you can’t tell. It is a funny thing. It is almost like collecting. I don’t walk away with any object but it feels like I am collecting knowledge and experience every time I go. We went to Ravenna right before Christmas and it was somewhere I had wanted to go for years. It was so satisfying to finally get there and see it and it will be the same when I get to Sicily.

    What is your one must have quarantine item?

    Booze. Isn’t it insane. We had to actually get another recycling bin. It is not good. I saw this meme on Instagram of a photograph of a massively packed stadium titled Alcoholics Anonymous 2021.

    I have been talking to a lot of chefs and secretly getting their cocktail recipes through questions so I don’t think you are alone. Are there any charities or groups you guys are supporting through the pandemic?

    I lived in New York City for 15 years and a huge part of my time in New York was defined by working in restaurants and that industry has been absolutely decimated. I don’t know what I would have done if my restaurant had to close and I didn’t know when it was going to open again and if it was going to open again. I really like what the New York Hospitality Coalition is doing.

    I know you lived in New York City many years. Are there any favorite New York City activities you love to do?

    You are going to make me all nostalgic. Before I got a car in New York, I would get a Zip Car with a girlfriend and we would drive out to Jacob Riis Beach, which feels like it is at the end of the world, take a cooler and smoke a joint on the beach and swim in a dirty ocean. 

    I loved walking the high line when it first opened; it felt like magic. I basically loved walking around New York. Say you get off the F Train at 4th Street and you walk to Union Square and instead of taking the train again you decide to keep walking to Madison Square and it is so nice out and you keep walking. You get a coffee, maybe you get an ice cream, run into somebody you know. It is such a beautiful city and it is so strange not to be there right now. It feels like I am betraying my chosen city, we might have been in Brooklyn but I had a gig here in LA. 

    This is crazy, I had my record release in LA on March 10th and literally the next day it became clear holy shit we shouldn’t be going to restaurants or anything anymore. My gig was a Tuesday night, and not to toot my own horn, but it was packed. I spent the next solid two weeks taking my temperature everyday and wondering if it was allergies or Coronavirus.

    This is such an unprecedented experience. Everyday is different. I don’t see how it can be over anytime soon with anything short of a magic bullet vaccine with enough for the population of the planet. 

    I am hopeful. I feel like good things might come out of this. People will hopefully more respect for the planet and for the environment. I am hoping there are lessons to be learned out of it.

    We need better social safety nets. We need to take care of each other better.

    Do you have any messages for your fans?

    Just lean into love and read a good book.

    Photo provided by the artist

  • Tulips in City Park

    Planted in mid-January each year, 14,000 tulips bloomed at Big Lake in New Orleans City Park. It is a labor of love as The City Park Horticulture Department plants each bulb by hand and it takes the team of six over 20 hours from start to finish. Some tulips have interesting names including: Apricot Parrot, World’s Favorite, Happy Family, Purple Dream, and Blushing Lady.

    Each year I always love to visit the bloom as it often falls around the time of Mardi Gras. I try to take interesting photos of the beautiful blooms. It is a popular site for families to take photos as the flowers appear and mark the beginning of the Spring season. Springtime is a wonderful time in City Park to be out in nature for some exercise with perfect temperatures and lots of sunshine.

  • Interview: Alon Shaya

    Alon Shaya is an Israeli born chef who now calls New Orleans home. In 2017 after several launching several successful award-winning restaurants in New Orleans, Alon and his wife launched Pomegranate Hospitality Group which includes the restaurants Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver. 

    Shaya has been awarded multiple James Beard awards and has written an acclaimed part memoir part cookbook in 2018 that traces his roots from his childhood in Israel and Philadelphia to the present day with stories and family recipes.

    Alon has been focused on cooking at home and helping feed local frontline workers during the pandemic. I was very happy to catch up with him by phone in New Orleans to discuss food, Israel travel, and his Shaya Barnett Foundation.

    How is the transition to carryout going at Saba?

    We are not currently doing carryout and delivery at Saba anymore. (Update: Saba opened for dinner takeout May 8) We are doing it at Safta in Denver. With the rapid rise of cases in New Orleans and how quickly it is spreading here, it was best to give our team a chance to go home and take care of themselves and be safe and take a mental health break. We didn’t feel like it made sense to keep doing that. We have currently shut that down.

    But it is still going on in Denver?

    In Denver our restaurant is really big with a lot of space so our team can separate while they are working and the deliveries are going really well in Denver. It is still a fraction of the revenues we typically do, but it is a way to feed and nourish the community and keep people home and out of grocery stores. It has been as good as it can be there.

    Are you supporting any other local causes in New Orleans?

    I have been cooking out of my house for medical professionals. I helped with meals for 27 people today at Tulane University Medical Center. i made Hummus and Pita Bread yesterday and we sent out 77 portions of Red Beans and Rice to doctors and nurses. I feel like at my house I can really focus on cooking food and trying to help people has been working out really well.

    Is there a way people can help support that?

    Yes, there is a group of people called the Red Beans Krewe, a Mardi Gras Krewe, they organized a great cause. They have been reaching out to chefs and bakers and people that have been supplying them with food and they are taking the food and distributing it to different hospitals throughout the city. It is a great initiative. It is called Feeding the Front Lines and part of Krewe of Red Beans. I think it is a good grassroots way of helping out the community and giving us something to do. It is what we love to do. It is in my nature to try to heal people’s feelings and emotions through a meal. They have done a good job helping me with that and possibly a lot of different people in New Orleans.

    You have lived in New Orleans for a long time now. What do you love most about the city?

    I love the people here. I love the excitement and life, the cultural aspects and the music. I love the city so much. I love fishing and being outdoors. I feel like New Orleans was always meant to be my home.

    When you opened up your two new restaurants, Saba and Safta, you made it a mission to have a team approach in everything you are doing in the business and bring the team along. Why was this important to you?

    I thought the most important thing we could do as a company is be good to our team and create a safe and comfortable work environment for the people we work with. In some past work experiences, I have seen some horrible business owners do some horrible things to their colleagues and team members and felt like things could be better and should be better. 

    When my wife Emily and I started Pomegranate Hospitality, we created core values of empowerment and respect and communication and equality. We have worked very hard on making sure those core values are important every single day. During this whole Coronavirus outbreak and disaster, we have looked to our core values as a company and that’s helped us to make the best decisions at the time on behalf of our team for their safety and mental health.

    As a company, we have tried to do what we could to take care of them, whether it be paying people extra paid time off or other efforts. We started a team relief fund. We are able to disperse the money we made among all of our team members. We have been cooking family meals for them at the restaurant for them to pick-up and have a meal at home, all the little things we can do to try to make it as easy on everyone as possible is our duty and responsibility. 

    Can you tell us about the Shaya Barnett Foundation?

    I started the Shaya Barnett Foundation a few years ago with my Home Economics teacher from high school Donna Barnett and Seth Schran who was also my instructors in high school. Together we try to help vocational programs in New Orleans. We work with the New Orleans Career Center. In Denver, we work with the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus. I feel my life was saved by Donna and Seth. They helped me to forge a path for my life to believe in myself and realize my potential. I feel like there are a lot of young adults in the same position always trying to find something to inspire them. The Shaya Barnett Foundation will help assist those culinary programs at the New Orleans Career Center and the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus so that hopefully can make a difference in someone’s life like Donna and Seth made in mine.

    I actually took a trip to Israel two years ago around Christmas. I know that is where you are from originally and you have gone back several times. What are your favorite places to visit when you go back?

    I love Tel Aviv so much. I love how vibrant it is. Jaffa is the town where my Mom and Dad and my grandparents lived and where I was born. I have such fond memories of being a kid and going back to Jaffa to visit my grandparents and eat incredible food. I really like spending time in Tel Aviv and Jaffa and hanging out on the beach and eating at the restaurants and cafes and living life out there. It is a magical place.

    They have amazing restaurants in Tel Aviv. I was surprised about the food culture there. You famously used your grandmother’s recipes when you opened Shaya. When you left and started Saba and Safta, how have you re-created the recipes or changed it up? What has been the process to create the menus in those places?

    I don’t feel like I had to change or adjust anything. I try to stay true to my family’s recipes and what I have cooked throughout my career has shaped the way I cook food and think about food. It comes more organically. I work with my chefs and teams at both restaurants and it is very collaborative. We were able to take our whole management team to Israel a year ago. That trip was meant to give everyone a chance to build their own memories and their own stories and taste foods for the first time in Israel. 

    We got to cook with people in their homes. We got to cook with a Bolivian woman and a Druze woman and a Yeminite woman and learn recipes from them. That is the way menus is created through that collaborative organic process of our collective experiences together along with food stemmed from my childhood and my grandmother’s recipes and my Mom’s recipes. Over the years we continue to build on all of that and it all has to do with that collaborative effort with the chefs.

    I was able to go to a Druze village while I was there and had the best bread of my entire life.

    The Druze are incredible cooks and amazing people. We were invited into their homes and shared stories of their families’ recipes. It was a very inspiring experience for all of us.

    You also have a huge influence from Italy. You have gone to Italy and lived in that country for a period of time. What are your favorite destinations in Italy? How do your Israeli roots influence your Italian cooking style?

    I feel like Italian food and Israeli food are based on tradition and history and really great ingredients and vegetables. It felt natural to cook both those cuisines. The olive oils and the eggplants and the goat cheeses and the tomatoes, all the great ingredients you see on Israeli menus, you see all over Italy. All of that combines together inside my brain and from there flavor profiles happen. When I was in Italy, I lived with a family and cured meats and rolled pastas and baked breads. I felt really at home there. 

    I would say that Parma is my go to place because that is where I spent most of my time and developed great relationships with families there that I worked for. Anytime I go to Italy I try to get back to Parma and visit everyone and eat lots of prosciutto and parmesan.

    Well I have to tell you, Domenica’s Lasagna is one of my favorite things in the entire world.

    I learned that recipe from an 83 year old woman in Parma, Lasagna Bolognese.

    I can’t even describe it to others. I just tell them to go and try it. I think it is the mix of the pork and beef together. Thank you for that.

    Now that I am not in Dominica anymore, I make it at home now for my family a lot. They love it.

    I just had Saba for the first time catered. I am in Krewe du Kanaval. You catered the ball. That was my first experience with Saba.

    We were there and watched the Krewe.

    Obviously Mardi Gras is a really special thing for people in New Orleans. Did you have a standout moment this year at Mardi Gras?

    The standout moment at Mardi Gras this year was being in the Krewe du Kanaval and walking the uptown route. That was the first time doing that. I was surrounded by so many of my friends. It was such a beautiful day and we marched from uptown all the way to downtown. It was an incredible experience. Gosh that seems like a whole world away now.

    Do you have an item you can’t live without during quarantine?

    My Dutch Oven at my house. It has gotten a great workout. I think I have cooked in it, washed it, and cooked in it again a hundred times in the last few days. I have a whole gallon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which won’t last me too long in my quarantine. I’m going to go pickup another gallon once I have a chance. I go through a lot of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

    Do you have a dream vacation spot to go to once this is all over?

    I haven’t even thought about it. I have been so busy trying to take care of our team and feed people in the community. I think I just want it to be over. I want to be in New Orleans. I want to be in Denver. I want to be with the people I love. That is the vacation I need. 

    Your book, An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel: A Cookbook, is a combination of autobiographical stories and cookbook all together. It is beautifully crafted. Have you thought about doing another book?

    I have. The right time hasn’t come along to do it. Eventually I will. I have thrown around so many ideas I am not quite sure the direction I will go yet. The moment it hits me I will know it and I will begin working on it.

    Was it hard or emotional to write all the memories, from your childhood through recent times?

    It was definitely an emotional experience and I learned so much about myself and I learned so much more about my family than I ever knew in the past. It was very hard because there were so many feelings built up in all of that. I found it to be very challenging to balance the stories of my life with how people can relate to those stories now in a cookbook. 

    I tried not to sugarcoat anything and be transparent with stories throughout my life and my family’s history. Tina Antolini and I worked together on those narratives and shaping those into chronological order for the book. It was an amazing experience. I laughed and cried so many times throughout the process. I really poured my heart into it. I hope that when people do read the book they can find stories or moments they can relate to and it inspires them to cook the recipes.

    Photo provided by the Chef

  • New Orleans Architecture

    One of the joys I have gotten during this stay at home time in New Orleans has been walking around New Orleans taking pictures of beautiful homes all around the city. Many people would say that the mansions in the Garden District are the most beautiful homes but I love the colorful shotgun houses that dot the streets of the entire city.

    Shotgun homes are characteristically long, narrow houses that are a single room wide and several rooms deep. Popular folklore says that the homes’ design allows a shotgun to fire a bullet through the open front door, straight through each room and out the back door unscathed. 

    Structures of this type originated in West Africa, were then introduced to Haiti, and eventually made their way to New Orleans through Haitian and West African refugees, immigrants, and slaves. They were traditionally lower-class housing but now these homes are sought after by everyone and many have breathtaking remodels inside that highlight the past but also bring in modern elements. 

    These homes often do not provide much privacy as many do not have hallways and they require you to walk through rooms to get from the front to the back of the house. The kitchens are often in the rear of the home. The homes also have high ceilings to promote better air flow in the hot and humid climate.

    In New Orleans, they are often painted vibrant colors and as Marie Kondo would say, “Spark Joy” as you drive through the neighborhoods all over town. In some neighborhoods the color of the homes is controlled through the historic preservation societies and the color scheme must be approved to maintain historical accuracy. Anytime I see this type of home in my travels I think about New Orleans traditions.

  • Interview: Clint Maedgen

    Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a New Orleans icon. Seeing them play live is a must-do activity for any tourist who visits the Crescent City. It is always a pleasure to see this band play live with some of the best jazz musicians in the country. I always catch their sets at every music festival across the country and visit the Hall as much as possible when I am in New Orleans.

    Clint Maedgen is a multi -instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and fine art photographer in New Orleans who has played with Preservation Hall for sixteen years but has also done solo work with recording his original music.

    I was very happy to catch up with Clint in New Orleans to discuss music, fan connections, photography, Cuban travel and life in New Orleans. Please enjoy our in-depth chat below.

    What are you doing to pass your quarantine time?

    You know it is funny. I feel like I have been training for this for ten years. I have a very small room here in New Orleans. I call it my inspiration chamber. I have collaged every square inch of the wall space. I have my piano and all my strange puppet and toy collection I have accrued over the years. I have been running online concerts both for my larger public audience but my private subscription based Patreon audience. 

    Let me tell you, we are having so much fun. I have literally had an online concert every day for the last 25 days. It is really interesting and I feel like I am coming into this amazing flow in my art. I know it is not a popular thing to be excited about what is going on in the world today. The rainbow for me, after spending 16 years of my life, touring endlessly, 120, 140, 160 road days a year lifestyle, to be able to be home and in my space with my things and be able to practice the things I want to and build the show and work on my stop-action, I am really excited about it. I have done nine episodes of my Live at 5 and I just finished my ninth show of my Karaoke Show. I have sung 73 songs in the last nine days for my Patreons. I have covered everything from Dolly Parton to Stevie Wonder to Ray Charles, Will Smith, Duran Duran, The Beatles, everything, Al Green. I just did Gladys Knight and the Pips on my Instagram.

    I am trying to talk to people who are really trying to make some sort of connection to their fans and provide some lightness to the situation because some people are going through some terrible times and I know musicians are too but a lot of people are trying to stay positive and I appreciate that.

    I feel like that has been my path through this whole thing. Despite what is happening with me or otherwise, when I hit that Live button I can’t explain what is happening with me. I didn’t even realize all that was in there. Something just happened and I turned into this TV talk show host and ended up speaking in an English accent and I don’t know where that came from. It is like it has this energy of its own and I am the vessel it goes through. It is exhilarating. I am really excited.

    You talked about your Patreon, why did you start it, when did you start it, and what was the intent? I have heard you refer to it as a Clubhouse.

    It is totally a little clubhouse. I have so much admiration for people like Amanda Palmer and how they interact with their audience and how absolutely devoted their audience is. When you have people behind you and that energy, beyond the money, just the support, just the love, and interactive think tank sort of activity that is happening in my clubhouse and it is so attractive to me. That is what I love, true connection with people. The beautiful thing about Patreon, if they are there in my clubhouse, they really want to be there. It is not a drunk in a bar that happened to walk by when my band is playing and they stuck around for a few songs. Typically, those in my clubhouse know me and what I have done for a long time. It is incredible. I have Pandas in my group that saw me with my Space Rock band in the 90s. The real thing that attracted me to Patreon, to me it is the one platform I have seen, artists, creators, musicians can implement the 1000 True Fan Business Plan.

    1000 True Fans, and the definition of a true fan is someone who will spend 100 dollars on your art per year. If you get 1000 people paying you 100 dollars a year, that is a pretty good living. That is only 1000 people, not 36 trillion streams. To embrace the niche market approach, reduce the numbers in my head, realize this a goal to shoot for and is attainable and all I have to do is show up every day, be true to myself and art and interact as much as I can. There are 1000 people getting on and off the subway even in a pandemic. 1000 is a low number.

    1000 seems very manageable for any artist to have that as a goal.

    I think of that as the rainbow here. I think of all the artists I love and respect and admire in my friend base, the people I have known for 20 years, my favorite singer-songwriters. I truly would have to wonder, without this pause society is experiencing right now, would they have ever had the opportunity to digitize and monetize their product, their art, their expression and put it out in the world to claim some benefit to it and gain their power back and break out of this business model the music industry has thrust on us because it is not for us. If you are not Rihanna or Pharrell or Drake, I don’t see how the current platform is beneficial if you are not a mega platinum star.

    Even they have to tour all year to make the money.

    It is not a friendly business model. It never has been. I could go on that all day long. The first thing I think of is that African American artists invented this music and never got credit for it all. Just from those hurtful days onward, it has been a real mixed bag. Where is the love? Where is the opportunity for artists without being taken advantage of?

    I think this platform provides a way for artists to do that. I have seen more artists use Patreon as a platform over the last six months or year. I think they are starting to control their business a little.

    What a beautiful opportunity. The whole world is sitting at home looking at their phone today. That is the most amazing modern-day gold rush for creators. Their only responsibility is to get online and be their true self and embrace their weird. You realize the more eccentric you are and the more dedicated you are to your true behavior is the true currency here. Being authentic, in this crazy world where no news station makes any sense anymore, people are trying to connect with something that is real. That is the beautiful thing about this platform. You can deal with people that want to be there, and you can be as strange as you want to be. I am picking up the ball and running with it.

    I saw your video for, “Hanging on For My Baby’s Arms.” It was surreal to see the streets of New Orleans empty. Did you write that recently? Is that something you were planning to do? What is the story behind that song?

    It is very interesting how art shifts. When you read a book at age 13, you read it again at age 28 and you get something different from it. “Hanging on For My Baby’s Arms”, I wrote it about three years ago and it has sort of grown into this whole different thing. It is not exact same intent I had three years ago, but with the current state of the world it has become more focused and relevant. I feel like a lot of my music catalog has become more relevant.

    It is amazing how things come full circle. I didn’t know you played guitar. That is what stood out in the video. You play saxophone and all the other instruments and also play guitar too.

    I play a little guitar. I play guitar enough to accompany my songs typically. That is the beautiful thing about music, you can always get better. There is always somebody so much better than you to strive for and reach for. I will be playing guitar the rest of my life and at some point, hopefully can consider myself a true guitar player. I am super proud of that video though. I do feel like I have practiced my songs enough to pull them off, same with piano.

    It’s wonderful and it is a rare opportunity to film with nobody there and see that.

    My good buddy Paul Costello and I were talking, I had gotten word they were going to do a lockdown the next day at 5 PM. We didn’t know how serious that would be. We went and did the video that morning and I am so glad we did. I think it is one of the greatest things I have done. I adore that song. It makes me feel so good singing it.

    I know you have been in Pres Hall for sixteen years. How did you meet them and how did you join the band?

    Sure. Have you seen “The Complicated Life” video we did? That is the greatest little snapshot of my beginning with Preservation Hall. We shot that in 2004 before Katrina. I was delivering food on a bike in the French Quarter for about eight years. I rode for a little restaurant called Fiorella’s on Decatur Street. In addition to working for them as a bicycle delivery person, I ran this variety show every Thursday night out of the back of this chicken restaurant and it was called The New Orleans Bingo Show. 

    We did that residency for three years at the restaurant and that band enjoyed a 12-year life cycle. When we were doing the residency at the restaurant, toward the end of the run, Ben Jaffee from Preservation Hall came and saw the final few shows. He approached me and said he loved the show and asked if I would be interested in collaborating with him and singing some songs with Preservation Hall that were recorded by The Kinks back in the day. He had been listening record The Muswell Hillbillies. What a lot of people might not realize, Ray Davies and his brother were raised in a house with a father who was an avid traditional New Orleans Jazz fan and that particular record of theirs echoes the particular flavor and cadence of New Orleans music. 

    Ben heard that and approached me and we went ahead and did three Kinks songs, we did “Complicated Life”, “Alcohol”, and “Skin and Bones.” “Complicated Life” is the one that stuck. That started my career with Preservation Hall. I started as a guest vocalist. I didn’t start playing saxophone until after the storm. I had been with them for like a year or year and half before that. Ben knew I played sax because he had seen me play with Bingo. None of the other guys knew I played saxophone which was really fun. It was a fun caper to pull. I remember the day I brought that out, we were playing a Lee Friedlander photography opening at The Whitney in New York and that was the first day I played saxophone with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

    I have actually seen you with the Bingo Show. I have shot JazzFest for many years. I definitely have some older photos of the Bingo Show toward the end of it. Do you ever plan to resurrect that?

    It is interesting and we are talking about art and how it changes over the years. I wrote that catalog of music from the viewpoint of being a delivery person in the French Quarter. If you spent any time in the Quarter, if you are delivering food in the Quarter, you are going to spend half your time up and down Bourbon Street in the various strip clubs that are pretty eccentric at best. It is perfect for songwriting and that particular lifestyle was a beautiful run. All these years later, I don’t feel like songs about that particular lifestyle are what I am trying to put out into the universe and I don’t feel like those are the songs I need to be singing in the face of the #MeToo Movement out of respect of the time we are living in. It is really easy to fall into that subject matter when all your friends are dancing on Bourbon Street.

    I think New Orleans is its own universe in many ways.

    I totally agree. My dream is for something like John Cameron Mitchell to perhaps come in and produce Bingo the Musical and perhaps even have a bit of a twist on it and perhaps cast a female in my role. Then that catalog of music would shift yet again. It would be very interesting to me. I am not completely sold on that part of it, but there is definitely an Off-Broadway musical in the Bingo Show. I’d love to see that come to light. I don’t think I am the one that will be singing the songs. I am very keen on casting someone else to do it, so I can keep doing what I am doing now.

    That is definitely an interesting twist on it. I did enjoy it when I saw it. It was super fun.

    I love it. I adore it. I adore the people that took a whole community of 350 people to make it happen, all of our dear friends, all the inside jokes, the joy, the silliness, the love, I love all those aspects of the show. That was the real currency, the connection we all shared and breaking the third wall having the Bingo King embedded into the show. There are aspects of that I am carrying over into my online presence. I feel like that sort of silly, wide open fun energy is coming out in this strange English accent that has come out. Next thing you know I will be walking around with my own applause track. 

    I have been to Cuba three times. I love it. What is your best story or memory of when Preservation Hall went to Cuba?

    That was the most amazing place, that first trip we took there, we were there ten days and it was unlike anything I have ever experienced before or since. We got to witness the beginning of the change when they lifted the embargo. When we got there, so incredibly, so shortly after we were allowed to get there, it was like landing on a different planet, a planet completely unaffected by the West. It was just like breathtaking and beautiful. Eighty five percent of the cars on the street at that time were antiques from 1959 or before. The times we have gone back there you can see how much it is changing. So many memories there. 

    I would say one of the most unforgettable moments was, a lot of what we experience with the Hall filming the documentary was jumping on the bus and driving 30 or 40 minutes in any direction and interacting with communities that were keeping tradition alive for the past 300 years. Like this particular town is known for this particular type of dancing and they have a tiny museum that reflects that. That culture showcased and cherished that way. To walk into these situations. We were walking into a home of a family that has been making string instruments for 250 years or travelling through the night to see a theatrical re-enactment of a dance ritual of slaves back in the day. They would have this fire-lit dance choreographed ceremonies in the fields in the middle of the night and it was so surreal to be there for that. I don’t know if I will ever experience anything like that again. I felt so incredibly honored to get to see that.

    Just like I didn’t know you played guitar, I didn’t know you were a photographer until I did some research. When did you start doing photography? What are your favorite subjects? When did that start? What camera are you using?

    You are making me so happy today. We are talking about all my favorite stuff. I love photography. I have been a gigantic photography fan since I was a kid. I started shooting in the early 90s with a Pentax K1000. My French Quarter doorbell throw pillow series is a favorite thing I have photographed. All those images I shot in the late 90s so most of those doorbells aren’t there anymore. I shot them on slide film on my Pentax. Through the years, about nine years ago now, I found my favorite camera of all time. All my fine art photography that you see, the collage work, the continual strip approach I use, I use a Lomo Wide C camera. That is my favorite tool. I adore that camera.

    Do you develop that yourself?

    I don’t process my film. What I do, I shoot, and I try to do a continual story through 36-46 frames.

    That’s what I love, you put thought into what scenes and items will go together.

    It is so interesting because if I am walking down the street in Lisbon, Portugal and I see the most beautiful tile work I have ever seen and wow I get this amazing tile shot, I am at an impasse because the next image has to be so amazing and everything around here looks amazing so how do I pick what will intersect with this perfect tile I did. That’s why I like to shoot with 2 cameras, I can be frivolous with one and then the other one is really locked down. It is a continual story and I absolutely love it. I love the process of doing it. On the road, I get up early in the morning, I find a coffee shop. I find an antique mall. And I start walking and shooting. It is not uncommon for me to walk 10 miles before sound check on any given day on the road with the Hall.

    I am a photographer but I am also an engineer so I am very methodical and I want the pictures to be perfectly rule of thirds. My photos are ok for editorial work but sometimes I feel like they have a lack for creativity. When I see photographers that have that sense of whimsy and creativity I am in awe of it.

    It is a craft like anything else. You talk about law of thirds and implementing that. Plus, trial and error. I had probably shot 150 rolls with this camera before I realized what I was doing or what it was capable of doing and took some chances that didn’t work out. Between the amazing light meter and exquisite lens and the portability, I feel like I am going to be shooting film with this camera for the rest of my life. I am really in a rhythm with it to get consistent results. I have 27 rolls of newly developed film that I have shot over the last year in a bag by my feet. I am about to dig into my amazing 35mm collection I have shot. I am so excited, all the images you see online, up to this point, I consider it my finest work. I am already taking a glance at what I have and I have a lot of really good stuff to show for the future. I find it exhilarating. What an amazing story of journal to look back on. Like that was Lisbon, that is Tennessee, we must have literally flown from Lisbon and ended up in Tennessee three days later, you can look back on it and re-experience life that way documented in this fine art application.

    That’s what I am trying to do. I have been diving deep into my archives and finding the photos to write the stories I haven’t had time to do. It is a great experience to have those memories and they last forever. I am definitely going to see your exhibit in person next time I go back.

    Thank you so much. What a thrill to be in that gallery. I have been such a huge fan of the Gallery of Fine Photography for 25 years. I remember delivering food on the bike and anytime I had a pause, to see a Joel-Peter Witkin photograph or Ruth Bernhard or Edward Weston, all my favorites they have them in there and now there are six pieces of mine on the wall of one of my favorite museum galleries anywhere. I am so excited about it.

    We have lost a lot of amazing New Orleans musicians the past few months, weeks even. It has been terrible. The one that hit me hard was Ellis Marsalis last week. Do you have any fond memories of him?

    I had the great pleasure of being in the room with Mr. Marsalis countless times over the years. I can remember when he moved from Virginia to take over the music program at UNO. At that time for me, being a young Jazz enthusiast and having high dreams of being a Bee-Bop musician one day, the Marsalis family was, I just can’t even explain how much of an impact that family had on me. I would attribute Branford for being the main catalyst for me being a young musician that I don’t have to be in any kind of box and I can enjoy and pursue all of my interests. Who covered more ground than Branford back in those days? The man has won Grammys for his classical saxophone chops, won Grammys for his next level Bee-Bop chops, but he has also toured the world with Sting, the Grateful Dead, and all the other things he has done. 

    They could have only gotten that wide open approach from having a really strong support system at home. That was totally his parents making it possible for him to pursue any dream he wanted to. I recently saw the clip of them on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and Branford is talking about that very thing just in terms how much his dad instilled in him and gave him the legs to walk through life in an elegant way. They were superstars to me and still are. To lose someone like that is horrible and we are all feeling a great sense of loss and blown everybody out of the water. If it can reach someone like that, it can get to anybody. The rainbow is that I hope people will take this more seriously and take every precaution they can.

    I agree. I was so happy I got to see them all play together last year at JazzFest. It was amazing they all have the musical ability in one family. 

    And Jazz has so much to thank the Marsalis Family for. Would it be where it is today without the Marsalis Family. What they did through the 80s and 90s, to bring a world focus on this music. I don’t know. I look back on it and it blows my mind. It is incredible what they achieved and still achieve every day.

    I agree. We just had Madi Gras, always a special time in New Orleans. What was your favorite Mardi Gras moment this year?

    I stumbled on a brand-new tradition for myself this year. I don’t know how I didn’t figure it out years before. Literally this year with Preservation Hall, we had a private gig at House of Blues on the day of Krewe du Vieux, an early soundcheck at like 3 o’clock. It was going to be a crazy night so there was no way to go home and re-park so I decided to stay down town. I decided to walk down to Press Street because I know that is where they are lining up for the parade. It was the greatest idea I ever had. Walking the parade route from House of Blues all the way to the neighborhood, across Elysian, down to Press street, because everyone is all lined up with nothing to do. All 50 of the friends I ran into, we had nice conversation with no pressure because everybody is just hanging around. I got to walk up to each float take my little pictures, see all my friends and walk the parade route all the way back, see 50 more friends I knew and make it back to House of Blues before the parade even started.

    I did the same thing actually and walked to the beginning of the lineup to take pictures.

    I’ll never do it another way.

    I love all those walking parades. They are really fun.

    I got to see the end of Eris, the secret parade that happens in the Bywater. Obviously, St. Anne’s every year is wonderful and exquisite. I had a really great time at Mardi Gras.

    People have this misconception that Mardi Gras is all about Bourbon Street and drinking and strip clubs and that is not what it is about at all.

    If you want to see people from other places behaving poorly, go to Bourbon Street because the only locals there are the ones working. Nobody else from here would even bother.

    You have toured all over the world with Pres Hall. Do you have a favorite travel location you have seen?

    First off, the most beautiful place I have been in my life and it wasn’t with Pres Hall was Hawaii. Without a doubt. Hawaii is a miracle. It is formed by a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It might as well be another planet. It is so beautiful and exquisite. I can not wait to get back there. I have been to Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.

    Other than that, some of my favorite places I have been with Preservation Hall, I have had the great honor of being with this band so long, we have been so many places. I have been lucky to be on five different trips to entertain the King of Thailand for ten days at a time. Since the late 80’s, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, up until his passing three or four years ago, the band had gone to entertain the King of Thailand probably 23 times since the late 80s. 

    In a bizarre, beautiful, Simpsons proportion sort of situation, the King of Thailand is not just a traditional New Orleans Jazz fan, he played trumpet and saxophone and composed countless music in the vein of traditional New Orleans Jazz. We actually recorded an album with the King of Thailand. It’s unbelievable to get, to see Thailand in general, but to go over there with the royal treatment I will never forget.

    Many People don’t realize how revered the King of Thailand is in Thailand.

    I’ve never been in the room with somebody, when they come into the room, everyone falls to their knee and bows. There could be 150 people. There could be 3,000 people. It doesn’t matter, everybody hits the deck when the King walks in because you can’t be taller than the King. That was unbelievable.

    There are billboards, you can be driving along the countryside and see something in the distance that is huge and you get closer and it is an eight-story tall billboard of the King of Thailand. A lot of times it will be him doing something like painting or a picture of him with a camera around his neck.

    You have recorded with so many legendary musicians. One that struck me was Brandi Carlile because she makes me cry when she plays music.

    She is an angel on Earth. I love Brandi. She is so incredible.

    All of these musicians listed that you recorded with are very different in style and genre. What do you do to prepare for the recording sessions?

    It is interesting, for my particular viewpoint as it pertains to collaborations with the Hall, nine times out of ten, I am the only band member who knows who these people are. I’ll give you a great example, we played Henry Ford Theater in Los Angeles with Robby Krieger. I have bene listening to the Doors since I was eight years old. I know who the heck Robby is. I got to sing “People Are Strange” with Robby and the band. I got to sing “Crystal Ship” with Robby, just him in the green room backstage. 

    It is so surreal to me to be in the room with my heroes and kind of sitting on that. The reason our heroes are in that room is because in some ways the band doesn’t know who the heck they are. I don’t want to blow the cover. Eventually I do. Another great example is, we are really good buddies with Dave Grohl. I rode in the trunk of a car in 1989 to see Mudhoney at Jimmy’s uptown in New Orleans. I know who Nirvana is. I know who Soundgarden is. All those bands, that was my soundtrack for many for part of my life and it is just funny. 

    Have you ever been star struck with them?

    I do really, really well in the room with them. I think it is because I have imaginary conversations with my heroes all the time in my head and ultimately, I am preparing for that moment. When that moment happens, I am great. When it is over, I am blown away crying in the corner. Like I got to hang out with Tom Waits for three days. I can’t even believe this right now. When it is happening, I do great.

  • Keep That Chin Up

    As a photographer my activities have drastically changed during this time of pandemic. I would typically be right in the middle of covering music festival season across America. I would be seeing musicians perform their top hits while getting a farmer’s tan and working to get in shape walking 25 miles a weekend carrying camera gear. 

    As with many others I have had to pivot and stay at home for the months of March and April. On May 1 I started a road trip to my house in New Orleans where I could still social distance but I would be able to walk around outside and take pictures of the city as it remained closed due to the outbreak. The weather has been amazing and I have been able to walk around the different areas of the city every day to photograph the area and artwork that I normally do not have time to shoot. I have explored my neighborhood in the Marigny, the French Quarter, City Park, the Bywater Neighborhood, Uptown, Holy Cross, Mid City and the Ninth Ward.

    When I am in town I am usually here for music festivals so every day is packed with work and editing and so there is no time to just enjoy the city. The past week I have been able to see areas of the city that I have never visited and capture wonderful photos of artwork and architecture. 

    I am very happy I made the journey down to New Orleans and was able to spend time here. I was able to JazzFest in place with WWOZ. I also saw close friends with porch visits and fantastic local food six feet apart which turned out to be so nice to see people in person even without hugs. The hardest part of this quarantine for me has been missing human interaction with many of my friends.

    It was surreal to see the city closed up completely with empty streets. I did not live here during Katrina but I know this city is strong and one of the most resilient in the world and that it will survive and thrive as it starts to re-open this weekend. Keep that Chin Up. This too shall pass!

  • Interview: Big Freedia

    Big Freedia is the Queen Diva of New Orleans bounce. She has been bringing me personal joy for years as I have covered her live performances across the country at music festivals each summer. Every time I see her and her squad I have a smile on my face. Her latest album Louder is the perfect addition to your quarantine playlist.

    Freedia has collaborated with some of the music industry’s biggest hitmakers including Beyonce, Drake and most recently Kesha. She has been spreading her love of all things New Orleans all over the world for years and she hasn’t let the coronavirus pandemic stop her from connecting with her fans. 

    She has been going live on social media every week for a Sunday Gospel Brunch and a Friday Night Shakedown to raise money to benefit her touring crew. As I finished up editing this post this morning I watched the special Mother’s Day Sunday Brunch as Freedia made a New Orleans classic “Turn Up the Heat Sausage PoBoy” and did a beautiful tribute to her mother. Freedia has also recently added a “Whatcha Cookin Wednesday” livestream. 

    Freedia is showing people how to cook traditional New Orleans favorites in these weekly sessions as she cooks live from her house. Personally, I love the honest no frills look at real life during this stay at home time narrated by her family and manager online. These sessions have brought me joy and for some strange reason a sense of relaxation every Sunday as I watch her cook and listen to the gospel music playing in the background. She gets my vote for an immediate series on Food Network! Fans can support Big Freedia and get access to her New Orleans style recipes by joining her Patreon.

    She also recently participated in a collaboration with my childhood favorites New Kids on the Block, Boys to Men, Naughty by Nature and Jordin Sparks for a song called House Party with proceeds from the song going to No Kid Hungry. 

    We were thrilled to catch up with Big Freedia at her home in New Orleans to discuss cooking, music, Mardi Gras, and the secret to a perfect bounce.

    How have you been staying busy in quarantine?

    Well for me it has been a lot of cooking at home, watching movies, going and sitting in my backyard, letting dogs out and playing with my dogs, and staying inside entertaining my fans. I have been doing the Gospel Brunch on Sundays. I have been doing the Friday Night Concert Series to support my crew. 

    During the week, just trying to find creative things to post. I have a Big Freedia “Pipe That” challenge going on to keep the dancers and the dance world occupied. I am also posting different articles and things I have in my archive to help keep fans entertained right now.

    I have attended your brunch every week and love it so much. I love your Booty Poppin’ Potatoes. You have inspired me to cook even though I am not a cook at all. Do you have a favorite recipe or favorite thing you like to cook?

    My favorite thing would be cabbage and cornbread.

    You cook a lot normally, even when we are not in quarantine when you are home. Who are your cooking influences?

    Most definitely I love to cook and try to do it as much as possible. My biggest cooking influence was my Mom who taught me everything about how to cook. Some of the people I follow are people like Emeril Lagasse. I love the Snoop and Martha show. Sometimes I watch some of the cooking channels. I would watch with my Uncle when he was living. I really get inspiration from all the people I see and some of the places I visit. I always want to try different stuff. In my mind, it is like what can I do to flip a meal and make it my own and give its own twist. I am always thinking of creative stuff. I have always loved to eat since I was a kid and I think that’s where it comes from as well.

    A lot of music festivals are combining cooking with celebrity chefs and musicians. Do you have a dream cooking collaboration?

    I think I have fulfilled it with Emeril Lagasse when me and him cooked on Action Bronson show. I did my Booty Poppin’ Potatoes and he did some Frog Legs and a Banana Crème Pie. We ate down and had a great time.

    I know you sang in the church choir growing up. How do you feel singing in the church choir at a young age prepared you for your career now?

    It played a big part, being in the spotlight always performing in the choir and holding notes and going to different ranges in octaves, it helped me a whole lot to train my voice, to not be afraid to sing in front of an audience, and to travel the world and see things growing up. The choir has played a big part in my life, even before I switched over.

    Did you have a favorite Mardi Gras moment this year?

    Yes, being able to hang with my family. I hadn’t been able to hang with my family in about four years on the ground because I had always been on the float. Fat Tuesday was a great day for me. One of my cousins passed away not long after Mardi Gras so I was grateful to be able to hang with him and see him for the last time.

    You have performed some of the most famous musicians, Beyonce, Lizzo, Kesha. Have you ever been starstruck?

    Most definitely. For sure. Beyonce, that was a star-striking musician for sure. Drake. All of them. I have been starstruck with just about every musician I have worked with. When you become a musician, you don’t fan out or freak out as much as a normal fan would because you also have a professionalism you have to uphold and you don’t want them looking at you in a weird way. It is a strange balance you can’t freak out like you want. You have to freak out on your own. I freak out on my own when I’m not around them. I have fan moments all the time with all the musicians I come in contact with and meet. Before I was a musician, I was a fan for a lot of these people. I grew up watching and listening to them.

    I love “Chasing Rainbows.” It was the first song I put on my Facebook page when we went into quarantine. I feel like it is a very uplifting song for the time to keep people positive. What was one of your memorable experiences working with Kesha on that song?

    It was awesome. Kesha is just an amazing artist. She is dope all around the board. When we started doing our project together, it was a fun process and we knew it would be special for the world. I was very happy and pleased to do both of my projects with Kesha.

    Do you have any items you can’t live without in quarantine?

    My cigarettes and my flowers honey. Something to keep me sane in this house. 

    You released your memoir, God Save the Queen Diva, a few years ago and it will be coming out on paperback later this summer. Was it emotional to write the book about your career?

    Oh yes. Me and my publicist went riding through my old neighborhoods and going to my old church and talking to some of my old friends, digging in deep going back to my childhood. It was very emotional. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I felt different emotions as we were writing the book. I definitely had some moments reflecting on my childhood with my Mom and all of that.

    Have you thought of writing a second book?

    Yes, I definitely will in the future.

    When will we see you back on TV?

    Hopefully soon after all this corona stuff is over. 

    I love your show. It is always fun to see. It always reminds me of New Orleans, no matter where you are in the world you take New Orleans with you.

    Oh yeah most definitely I tell people that all the time, I bring New Orleans with me and we have a New Orleans party.

    One of my closest friends wanted to ask how to make New York more like New Orleans?

    You just have to bring New Orleans with you and spread the love.

    I know you travel a lot. You are always on the road performing. Do you have a favorite tour location or travel memory to talk about a specific location?

    New York is one of my favorites outside of New Orleans. Brooklyn Bowl is one of my favorite spots. The food, the crowd is amazing. The venue is amazing. We have had great shows there, really powerful shows. The impact is amazing, always packed or sold out. New York is my second home outside of New Orleans. I think I have a lot of fun there. I have a lot of fun in LA. I have had some great experiences in different countries like Amsterdam and Berlin. Everywhere has its own unique touch and the fans are special in every place I go. Every experience becomes very special because you get to connect with fans all around the world.

    What is your favorite track to perform on the new EP?

    That’s hard. There are so many good ones. Between “Louder” and “Chasing Rainbows” though. I think “Chasing Rainbows” because the story is so deep. It reminds me of myself and what I went through and still going through. “Chasing Rainbows” is definitely my favorite right now.

    For people who aren’t familiar with the song, can you tell people about the backstory. What is “Chasing Rainbows” about?

    “Chasing Rainbows” is about love conquering over fear and hate. Throughout the song, growing up I had to fight for who I am and what I believe in. Standing up to people and the world and also able to see close people I love dearly who I have lost. My Mom being one of them, she was my idol. Everyday is something different you have to do something different to survive in the world. Survival is the prescription for all of that, just trying to get through to the next day. “Chasing Rainbows” kind of goes through all of that in everyday life situations.

    What is the secret to a good Bounce?

    A secret to a good Bounce is to practice at home in the mirror to see how your body moves, the way your ass moves, the way you twerk, and you can critique yourself in the mirror. You want to practice on a full-length mirror at home and have your little booty shirts on and have fun, a judgement free zone.