New Orleans Welcomes IPW with Zydeco, Paddle Wheelers and Beads

A former paddle wheel ship captain shares stories about the river aboard the Natchez in New Orleans.

A former paddle wheel ship captain shares stories about the river aboard the Natchez in New Orleans.

I arrived in New Orleans last night and it did not take long to feel very much at home. I settled into my somewhat ‘rustic’ AirBNB, located in a poor part of the city, and my next stop was the fabulous and legendary Broussard’s Restaurant. Here, in a delightful back garden, a party was beginning.

My hosts were the friendly people from Destination DC, who will be hosting next year’s IPW show. With some tasty appetizers and some schmoozing with travel bloggers from Toronto and Australia, it all began.

Sweet Crude, a Zydeco band, rocked the Orpheum at the opening brunch.

Sweet Crude, a Zydeco band, rocked the Orpheum at the opening brunch.

We dined on shrimp and grits and later, strolled down crowded Bourbon Street to a big party in a club that was filled only with people from the show. It’s always fun having the place and the bar to ourselves—no need to pay a big tab,  and no one but fellow travel peeps to hang out with. I met a friendly woman named Tara up on the balcony looking down at the crowded street, she told me about working for the Seminole Tribe, who own the Hard Rock Hotel chain.

We tossed some beads down and the women standing next to me took particular delight in the men who pulled up their shirts to earn their beads. No women did the same, it remained PG rated last night.

Tara, who works in sales for Hard Rock hotels, up on the balcony.

Tara, who works in sales for Hard Rock hotels, up on the balcony.

I watched an expert DJ spin a little turntable while she played digital music, she somehow affected the sound even though no vinyl was playing. The music grew louder and dancing ensued. I looked down at my phone and saw nine percent and knew it was time to Uber my way back to the tiny house where I was lodging.

This morning I woke up feeling good and joined a throng at a big welcoming brunch at the Orpheum Theater. There was a fantastic and authentic zydeco band playing called Sweet Crude, and then the Preservation Hall Jazz All Stars took a turn. We toured all four floors of the magnificent theater, at one area there were people offering a Tabasco sauce tasting–take a tiny bite of the hot peppers behind the acclaimed sauce and get a spoon to wear around your neck.

Broussards is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans. Here we are in the back garden.

Broussards is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans. Here we are in the back garden.

At 11, we boarded a bus and then embarked on a steamboat river cruise aboard the Natchez, a stern-drive paddlewheeler where one of the original captains spoke about how the English ships brought all the stones used in construction in the holds of their ships. “There are no stones from Baton Rouge down, the only stones you see are the ones that came in those ships, and we paid dearly for them. In Boston they used to throw them overboard.”

The beautiful Orpheum theater had treats, drinks and fun on four levels during the IPW opening brunch.

The beautiful Orpheum theater had treats, drinks and fun on four levels during the IPW opening brunch.

The muddy river has all sorts of interesting diversions—huge military transport ships, docked and used to house people during Hurricane Katrina, I was told by a Port of NOLA employee who lived there for four months in 2005.

We were told that New Orleans is an up and comer for cruise ships, more than one million passengers will visit the port in 2016, more and more cruise lines are adding the Crescent City to their rosters and a new terminal will be built where decrepit docks now sit empty.

New Orleans is Where Hundreds of Travel Writers Are Heading

New Orleans is all about the food!  I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

New Orleans is all about the food! I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

I’m waiting at the airport to fly to New Orleans, where I will attend my first IPW conference.  This is a meeting that’s called ‘Bringing America to the World,  that brings hundreds of foreign travel writers here to show them all of the great attractions, destinations and places in the United States they should write about.  It used to be called Powwow, but like so many native-American terms, this has fallen out of favor, so now it’s just IPW. It’s put on by BrandUSA, the people who promote the US as a travel destination to the whole world.

I’m checking into an AirBNB in the Garden District, about two miles from the convention center. I am happy that I’ve got an invitation to dinner tonight at Broussards, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. They really know how to make you feel welcome.  Tonight’s dinner will be with the tourism people in Washington DC, it will be fun to learn about what’s new there for travelers.

Every other night of the four-day event is filled with parties, swell events and it will be hard to decide which ones to attend. So far, Visit Oregon,  Texas Tourism and San Francisco’s parties look like the highlights.  But it’s New Orleans, so no matter where I go, it will be fun and festive.  The last time I was here, two years ago, we met the owners of Antoine’s the oldest restaurant in the city. The food was fantastic.

I look forward to seeing my travel buddies Janis Turk, Spud Hilton, and Sue McCarthy as well as a bunch of people who I don’t yet know will be there. That’s one of the fun things about working in an industry for a long time–you just know a lot of people and so any event like this becomes a fun catch-up and reunion!

Loud Music Makes People Drink More, Leave Faster

I enjoy reading a newsletter sent out by Terry Braverman, an LA-based speaker and consultant. He provided some fascinating reasons why the music in bars and restaurants is so often do dreadfully loud…it makes economic sense, in a sick kind of way. Here is a snip from his report:

SAY THAT AGAIN?
Restaurants are getting noisier. That, at least, is what the critics say. If the increase in noise levels is as widespread as has been suggested in the media, then the question that we have to ask ourselves is why this should be so. According to some commentators, it is nothing more than the result of a decision by certain influential North American chefs to play the same music in the dining room that they were fond of listening to in the kitchen. However, other commentators see an ulterior motive here, linked to restaurateurs’ attempts to increase their bottom line.

As one critic puts it, “….the Hard Rock Café had the practice down to a science, ever since its founders realized that by playing loud, fast music, patrons talked less, consumed more and left quickly, a technique documented in the International Directory of Company Histories.”

Both laboratory-based research and field studies converge on the conclusion that people drink more when exposed to loud music. So, for example, the participants in one laboratory study reported by McCarron and Tierney drank more of a soft drink, at a faster rate, when loud popular music was playing at 88 dB than when it was played at a more reasonable 72 dB instead.

Another group conducted a more ecologically valid study in a couple of bars, one located in a rural area and the other in an urban environment in France. The volume of the popular music that was normally played in the bars was varied. The 120 customers whose behavior was observed ordered significantly more to drink when the music was played at 88–91 dB than when it was played at its normal level of 72–75 dB.

Noise level Number of drinks consumed Time taken to finish drink (min)
Normal (72 dB)                   2.6                       14.5
High (88 dB)                        3.4                       11.5

Thus, there is good reason to believe that there might be a direct link between the loudness of the background music and the increased profitability for the owners of those establishments who choose to play loud music.

(Reprinted from an article by Charles Spence in Flavour Journal, November 20, 2014; edited by The Weekly Manager)

The Songbirds of the Morning Fight to Keep Their Turf

Every morning there is a cacaphony outside our windows, as the avian wonderland that is South Deerfield begins making itself heard again.  At 4:45, it will be a shrieking madhouse. I wondered about these songbirds and then found a lot to ponder.

It seems that the birds are singing to defend their turf. They are announcing that this is where they are, and it’s their territory.  The tiniest of birds make the most shrill and delicate songs. I listened to many songbirds where they posted clips. I found a very cool website that helps identify songbirds and other backyard avian critters, the ones in Massachusetts.

The motivations for the loud singing are usually that they are male birds, trying to attract mates.  They also are keeping their competition wary, threatening them with their trills that say, ‘don’t try to take away my turf.   Pictured is the bird with one of the nicest bird songs, the cardinal.

The Water Project: Anguish Over the Forgotten Towns of the Quabbin

Emma Ayres takes a bow at the performance on Saturday night of her play, The Water Project, that tells the poignant story of how the Quabbin reservoir was flooded and buried four Massachusetts towns in the 1930s.

Emma Ayres takes a bow at the performance on Saturday night of her play, The Water Project, that tells the poignant story of how the Quabbin reservoir was flooded and buried four Massachusetts towns in the 1930s.

Emma Ayres crafted an impressive staging of her play, The Water Project, that was the highlight of Eggtooth Productions‘ Full Disclosure Festival over the weekend.  The show was performed on the fourth floor of the Arts Block, to a packed house.

The Water Project: Jane Williams and Bo Henderson play farmers who lose their home when the Quabbin was flooded.

The Water Project: Jane Williams and Bo Henderson play farmers who lose their home when the Quabbin was flooded. His perfect farmer’s accent and her state of anger gave the folk opera a real kick in the pants!

 

Centered around the anguish of just one of the hundreds of farm families displaced when Gov James Michael Curly spearheaded the effort to flood the Swift River Valley to create the

Swift River String Band

Swift River String Band, played by the talented Mamma’s Marmalade, were an integral part of the production.

Quabbin Reservoir, the folk opera approached its sad topic from a variety of perspectives.  We meet the family, with mom in perpetual livid rage, and dad just trying to accept but resenting the city folks stealing their water.

Daughter Edith is tormented by the terrible memory of being put on Boston’s T as a kid and having her grandmother disappear, as the frequently recited phrase, “what you don’t see won’t hurt you,” that is heard throughout the play.  An interesting twist is that we meet the grandma as she is living in a Boston-area assisted living apartment, and her caretaker, who she sometimes forgets she knows, implores her to remember her family, who have slipped through the sad curtain of memory loss.

sitting sceneWe meet not only the displaced, but the always grinning face of “progress. ” That would be Gov. Curly’s representative, played by Hope Wen, with his perfectly attired 1930s arm candy,  Gertrude, played by Janet Henderson. They gleefully chant about the great water that the parched city will receive after the reservoir has been created. “Clean Water. Clear Water. Cold Water,”  as the chant goes throughout the show.  The pair never loses their attitude, nor does Ma, who remains as angry as the grinning Wen remains upbeat…after all, a city like Boston needs a lot of water for its parched citizens.

city guy

Janet Henderson played the arm candy 1930s society dame with the governor’s man, played by Hope Wen. Both captured their roles brilliantly.

The trees in the flooded Swift River Valley were cut down by Boston workers, patronage jobs happily dispensed by the urbanites who really ran the show. The displaced country folk of the now gone towns of Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich didn’t even get a shot at the jobs. All of this is revealed in song and dialogue, Ayers manages to fit a whole lot of fascinating facts into her emotional narrative.

The Swift River String Band, played by Mama’s Marmalade of Amherst, have an integral part in the show, providing haunting sound effects behind the painful words, and launching into many different songs and styles as they play what comes out of the radio as the two young girls huddle around the RCA.

Ayres’ dialogue is true throughout the play. She captures the hazy memories of old age perfectly when the grandmother recalls ‘peering into the blue, like those motes that stream down in the light of a swimming pool.’   At the play’s end, as a big dance is held on the eve of the four town’s official demise, farmer Doubleday reflects on the places nobody will remember as he recalls a boat trip across the new reservoir. “No one will remember you, the mountains will be islands, there will be no barns, no people. Only a plaque to show what was once here.

The depth of the material, the accuracy of the history, and the poignancy with which the cast portrayed the sad demise of these once-proud four Massachusetts towns all added up to a terrific night of theater.  I hope to see this production mounted in Boston some time in the future–might as well tell them like it was!

Full Disclosure Festival Brings a Thinking Audience to Greenfield

Linda McInerney selling tickets for her Full Disclosure Festival last night outside the Arts Block.

Linda McInerney selling tickets for her Full Disclosure Festival last night outside the Arts Block.

At the alleyway next to the Arts Block last night, there sat who else but Linda McInerney, with her familiar broad smile, selling tickets for another impressive festival in her adopted hometown of Greenfield.  I knew there would be surprises, and thoughtful presentations, and my mind was open as it always is when I attend one of Linda’s festivals.

Poet Ayisha Stevenson

Poet Ayisha Stevenson

We started out with a poetry reading–but this was incendiary poetry, words with real impact, words that hit hard. Paul Richmond, from Wendell, said it starkly when he read a poem about a contrast, between a little child being scared by ‘Boo!’ and his adult dread of things like Japan’s Fukishima nuclear plant spewing radiation,  and environmental destruction.

“These are the things that scare me,” he said ominously.  But the other poets like Ayisha Stevenson took different routes, her poem explored the inside of her boyfriend’s body in lurid detail. But the poets were just the warm up, as we had much more to see and here.

Then we switched gears, and Hildred Crill, a professor from Stockholm, took the podium with six dancers dancing behind the Arts Block’s two archways behind her. They were interpreting her poetry with their dance, and a sonic atmosphere was created by gentle strums on a guitar. Lori Holmes Clark was the choreographer on this long and dramatic piece, explaining after the show how she worked with Hildred’s nine-page poem across the Atlantic while doing the choreography.

We changed venues at 6:45, it was time for a collaboration between Deerfield beekeeper Don Conlon and musician Terry Jenoure. Drummer Bob Weiner set the tone of bees, buzzing and sonic dissonance using a variety of percussion devices, including a baby rattle that made soft animal sounds when turned over.

Terry Jenoure and drummer Bob Weiner play homage to the bees at the Greenfield Gallery, part of last night's Full Disclosure Festival.

Terry Jenoure and drummer Bob Weiner play homage to the bees at the Greenfield Gallery, part of last night’s Full Disclosure Festival.

Terry sang, and scat sang, mimicking the buzzing of the bees, and then picked up a violin, as she draped herself in a yellow cape with the telltale black stripes. It was mesmerizing and slow, and she brought out honey to share with the audience, enticing them with crackers dipped in the golden product of the bees. Her message: Don’t mistake what’s small for little worth. Amen!

The night had more in store….but first we took a walk up to an empty storefront next to the Garden Cinema to peer into one of several holes in the glass, to a collection of old fashioned photos hanging somewhat mysteriously inside the store window. It was created by artist Amy Johnquest, who showed it to me as her husband John Williamson and I looked on.

The Water Project

The Water Project

We didn’t want to be late for the next act, which turned out to be a full-on production of a very well written play, by Emma Ayers The Water Project.  But that’s coming up next.