French Quarter becomes a stage for music fest

Published: Apr. 11, 2013 at 1:24 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM CDT
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Street musicians perform for festival go-ers in Jackson Square on the first day of the annual...
Street musicians perform for festival go-ers in Jackson Square on the first day of the annual French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, Thursday, April 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Jazz guitarist Raphael Bas says French Quarter Festival is as close as it gets in the U.S. to the music festival he grew up attending with his family in Bourges, France.

Bas recalls hearing American jazz singer Nina Simone, trumpeter Miles Davis and singer-pianist Jerry Lee Lewis perform with French musicians during the days-long Le Printemps de Bourges, the festival that loosely translated means Springtime of Bourges.

"Growing up in Bourges, I was exposed for over a week every year to a great array and styles of great music, shows and artists, which contributed without a doubt to my love for music and the career path I have taken," said Bas, who made New Orleans his home in 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina struck.

Bas stayed to be a part of the city's rebuilding. He said he found comfort in the four-day French Quarter Festival, which reminded him of his hometown festival.

French Quarter Festival, which turns 30 this year, runs through Sunday and showcases Louisiana food and music on stages strung throughout the historic neighborhood, including Jackson Square, the French Market, along narrow streets and on the Mississippi riverfront. The lineup includes Irma Thomas, trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, Cajun fiddler Amanda Shaw, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and about 250 other acts.

"I look forward to it every year," said Bas, who performs on Saturday with his band, Harmonouche. "Personally, it's one of my favorite festivals, just the feel of it, the little streets, the people, the proximity to the dancers. It's very intimate."

Others performing are New Orleans cabaret and jazz singer Anais St. John, blues guitarist Little Freddie King, singer Charmaine Neville and the Washboard Chaz blues trio.

"It's kind of like a big congregation of all the musicians from around town, and it's a blast," said Christopher Kohl, clarinet player for the Hot Club of New Orleans, which performs Sunday.

The festival is also a money-maker. Last year it attracted an estimated 574,000 people and up to millions of dollars in spending for the city, said Marci Schramm, executive director of the parent group French Quarter Festivals Inc.

"We take a massive, massive scale event, and we put it down in one of the most historic neighborhoods in the country, so the backdrop is just fantastic," she said.

"Restaurants are busy, hotels are busy, business is busy, so there's a lot of excitement not only in the Quarter but in the city," said Cajun chef John Folse.

Schramm said as much attention goes into food at the festival as the music. Only sit-down restaurants are permitted to serve food at the festival, and French Quarter restaurants are given priority, including Muriel's, Galatoire's and Antoine's.

"We call it fine dining in a festival environment," Schramm said.

Folse's Restaurant R'evolution, which opened recently in the French Quarter, will be among more than 60 restaurants serving up fare this year.

The festival is the last big local music event before the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival opens for its two-weekend run on April 26.

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