The Bywater Mirliton Festival has been one of my favorites of the little fests that dot this town during the nine-month festival season. Itâ€™s hard to believe itâ€™s been going on for twenty years. Yet, they are still tweaking the set up and moving the stage to the far end of the playground really opened up more space to walk around and check out the food and vendors.
We arrived in time to hear Guitar Lightning Lee. (A note to the organizers- in a town where people carry cheat sheets to festivals large and small, itâ€™s imperative to announce the time each band is playing in advance. I have heard great things about Hurray For the Riff Raff, but missed them by a half hour since no one seemed to know the schedule.) Guitar Lightning Lee plays generic blues that couldnâ€™t hold my attention. So we circulated and I got to finally see Christopher Porche Westâ€™s new book of Mardi Gras Indian photos. This is a book you must have in your collection.
R. Scully and His Rough Seven were up next and the adjective in his bandâ€™s name sums up the sound. With lead guitarist Rob Cambre injecting rock â€˜nâ€™ roll pyrotechnic effects into the bandâ€™s take-no-prisoners approach, they totally rocked out. For some reason, no one got up and danced except a few Bywater hipsters who appeared to be so out of shape (especially given that they all appeared to be under 30) that they couldnâ€™t manage to stay vertical for a 40-minute set.
The same fate awaited Luke Allenâ€™s Happy Talk Band. No one danced and the seated crowd was far enough away that when some crazy MF approached the stage to heckle the band at the end of the set, the band members themselves dropped their instruments, jumped off the stage and chased the guy down. At first I thought it was part of the act, but they were seriously insulted and replied in kind. Lukeâ€™s songs are best heard in a dark bar, late at night and his voice was hurting. But thatâ€™s still no reason to approach the stage with coarse invective.
photo credit- Kim Welsh
Despite the well-noted racial mix of the Bywater neighborhood, the crowd at the festival was 100% white with the exception of the aforementioned Guitar Lightning Lee. So I was curious what would happen when DJ Jubilee, a New Orleans hip-hop legend, took the stage. With three black divas in matching afro wigs egging the crowd on, he finally got people up and shaking it.
The Men's Chorus- photo credit- Kim Welsh
Closing the afternoon with the Valparaiso Menâ€™s Chorus was an inspired choice. A huge chorus, loaded with familiar faces from the tight knit downtown scene, sang bawdy sea shanties supported by Alex McMurray on guitar and lead vocals, Matt Perrine on sousaphone, Carlo Nuccio on drums, Greg Schatz on accordion and Rick Trolsen on trombone. Too bad the chorus was not miked better. It was very hard to actually hear them even as the crowd pushed towards the front of the stage. Yet, the music was inspiring as the sun set on a blissed out Bywater crowd.