Cab Rides: Music writer Keith Spera
Take a Cab Ride with us! NolaVie gets up-close and personal with local notables in this new series of back-seat video interviews sponsored by TaxiCabApp. Ride along and eavesdrop as New Orleanians talk about the city they love and reveal its secrets. For our first set of Cab Rides, we rode shotgun with personalities drawn from the city’s music scene. First up is Keith Spera, who covers all things music in New Orleans for The Times-Picayune and Nola.com. His trip with us from his Lakeview home to Morning Call in City Park, he says, was “the most entertaining cab ride of my life.”
Excerpts from Keith Spera’s Cab Ride:
Q: Why are we going to Morning Call?
A: I’m acquainted with the occasional beignet, but I like the fact that it is just this just this quintessentially New Orleans place inside of City Park. You know, you don’t expect to find a 24-hour beignet and coffee place in the middle of this park, especially at night in the dark with the trees and it’s kind of spooky, and then there’s this little oasis.
What’s the one music place in New Orleans you can’t tell us the name of, because then everyone would know about it?
There’s a secret place I like to go to called Preservation Hall ...
No, really, the places that are good to go to, people know about. There are so many new places in the city now. The city has really undergone a renaissance in the last five or 10 years, certainly since Hurricane Katrina. You’ve got a Freret Street scene that wasn’t there before; you’ve got a St. Claude Avenue scene. Frenchmen Street is crazy. I mean, it’s so beefed up and important now. There are so many clubs and it’s so dense … It's really kind of a golden era for new Orleans music clubs.
Where do you go to find the real New Orleans sound?
You know, there’s some debate as to what that actually means. In fact, Kristin Diable, the singer songwriter, recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Times-Picayune about that question, because some people don’t consider what she does New Orleans music. She’s from Baton Rouge originally, lives here now, but doesn’t do a lot of horns, doesn’t do second-line rhythms. But her music is very much inspired by New Orleans. So I hesitate to put any kind of label on anything that is New Orleans music ….
If you want to have a great New Orleans music experience, you can certainly go to the Maple Leaf just about any night of the week; you can go to dba almost any night of the week. And you know, Preservation Hall has gotten so much creative in what they do. It's not just what you refer to as the traditional New Orleans music. They do these really interesting midnight shows now, and they’ve expanded what they do quite a bit.
How do street performers rate in the mix?
There’s a duo, I forget their name, that sets up on Royal Street. It’s a guitar and a violin and they do guitar/violin versions of pop songs. They always draw a big crowd and I think they make more money than I do.
Joey Cook who was on American Idol for a long time … she was busking in the French Quarter for awhile. Hooray for the Riff Raff, those guys started out busking in the French Quarter and now they have a national record deal and are touring the country. So, yeah, there are some hidden gems out there.
At NolaVie, we talk about culture that bubbles up from the street. What about music in that context?
New Orleans music is such a part of people's everyday existence. It comes naturally to play music here – except for me; it does not come naturally to me. But it’s just ingrained in the culture here, and when you do it for the passion and love of it, that’s when you get the best stuff.
It’s always fun when people tell interesting stories. John Fogarty, in talking to him in 2014 at the Jazz Fest, told me about this dream he had about Allen Toussaint. Billy Joel, great -- a candid, talkative guy who loves New Orleans, loves coming here, loves Fats Domino and the piano tradition here. Keith Urban, I spoke to him for this year’s Jazz Fest, is a very intelligent guy, very insightful about what he does and why. Nine times out of 10 these are smart, driven people who are very good at expressing themselves.
No. 1 on your smartphone playlist?
I don't tend to listen to music on my phone. I'm old-fashioned that way. I don’t like to be cut off from the world around me with things in my ears.
Your 6-hour Friday-night best of NOLA music tour?
You can start off hearing John Boutte singing at dba. He's very much a New Orleans voice. Grab a bite at Tipitina’s, then later on go to the Maple Leaf to see the night play itself out. Hank Staples, the owner, is a great New Orleans character. If he’s around holding court, it’s well worth hearing his take on life. He’ll be the guy without sleeves. Then any number of the treally late-night places. Snake and Jake if you want to get in a little trouble. Morning Call perhaps for some coffee and a little late-night snack.
Is New Orleans a good place for kids?
It’s a good place to show kids that the world is a colorful and vibrant place. My kids play Mardi Gras all the time. I think the possibilities for kids in this town have gotten so much better over the past 10 years. Living near City Park, we consider this a great resource.
What's your bedtime these days?
A lot earlier than it used to be. We used to make dinner and eat at 10 and then go aout and roll back in at 2. Now we eat dinner at 6 and the kids are in bed by 8, hopefully, and we crash at 10:30.
Where do you take your kids to hear music?
Sophie, my 7-year-old, has been with me to Preservation Hall. They used to do a late show on Sunday morning. She comes to Jazz Fest. She’s been to Voodoo Fest, only not since she has been able to understand what the people are saying onstage.
How has music changed in New Orleans in your 20 years on the beat?
The bigger picture of music has changed a lot, in the way that people consume music, the way people buy it or don’t. But New Orleans has always been its own self-sustaining environment for music. There are people that make a living here without ever playing outside of New Orleans all that much. But on the flip side, there are bands that have national ambitions and have succeeded in those. You’ve had Hooray for the Riff Raff emerge, Trombone Shorty, Kristin Diable. There’s always this crop of new bands coming up that are doing fun, creative things. These ar bands that didn’t exist 10 years ago and they’re all doing good, vital work.
Cab Rides is made possible by the generous sponsorship of TaxiCabApp, a smartphone app that connects riders with nearby taxis. Video production is by Jason Rhein and Blake Bertuccelli, and the guy at the wheel is Ethiopian taxi master Ammanuel Haddis.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]