Love NOLA: On words, hidden doorways, Sunday nights ... and NOLA's essence
Today's column is for those who live in or have lived in New Orleans. It's a story of one night. If you don't live here, you'll read the words and, perhaps, say "that's cool," or even, "I wish I had been there." But if you do live here, you'll know it's not the words that matter. It's the hidden, shared doorways they open. To illuminate, if only for a moment, the impossible-to-capture essence of our impossible-to-define city.
The story happened a few Sundays ago. At a private concert that Kristin Diable gave in her Bywater home. Kristin is easily in the top five of people writing and singing in New Orleans today. People compare her to a lot of big names, but none of those comparisons do her justice. Me? I'll go with the description a rather bewitched gentleman shared at the end of the night: "That woman is my future ex-wife." Like the city in which she sings, Kristin Diable is the one you'll always remember whenever you take someone else's hand.
The night started as it would anywhere. People came in. Gave their names at a registration table. Got some food. Ladled some spiced punch. Claimed their seats. Mingled. I even think I overheard some networking (what has become of the Bywater?).
But, look closer and you could tell this wasn't just "anywhere." The punch was in a stock pot. And it was black tea mixed with New Orleans rum. Buddha with Beads. There were a pair of chihuahuas running around, drinking and eating freely. One man in particular seemed to take special glee in feeding the pooches his turducken meatballs.
"I prefer to talk to dogs," he said. "It keeps me occupied til everyone gets really drunk. Then I can steal all the booze."
Amidst all of this, Kristin was being, well, a hostess instead of the star attraction, walking around making sure folks had enough to eat, warning them of the hidden dangers of the punch, and lighting tea lights like a swampland Stevie Nicks. The very last thing she did before starting to sing was to take someone's plate and put it in the trash.
"Here, let me get that for you," she said. "You'll want to enjoy the show."
This from the woman who 30 seconds later was the show.
The audience was small (Kristin limits these concerts to 25 people), but you could fill a novel with the characters assembled. In addition to the aforementioned booze-snatcher, there was the man who used his left hand to keep perfect time. On top of his balding head. The woman who asked Kristin to play Lines on the Road ... immediately after she had just played it. And the woman who could be my other future ex-wife what with her remarkable ability to break ice and refill the punch pot without making a sound. I tell ya, that kind of talent don't happen overnight.
As the evening wore on, the line between performer and audience disappeared. Maybe it was the punch, which gradually became more beads and less Buddha. Perhaps it was the bottles of wine folks brought with them (My mother used to always ask what Queen Elizabeth carries in her ever-present purse; if she lived here, we'd know the answer: a bottle of wine!). Mostly it was that a New Orleans night can only hold it together so long before it becomes what it always becomes: one big house party.
Guests were walking right in front of Kristin to go to the bathroom. Some would hold up cups and glasses for refills. Quiet conversations started. Bottles opened. I sat on the floor and played with the dogs.
All while the music, our preferred language 'round here, played. Music about the river, about being reckless and free, about war-torn towns, sister sadie's, true and natural men, and, yes, lines on the road. Music that turned the house into a church, the folding chairs into pews, the guests into worshippers grateful for the god they'd found in this most unholy of cities.
And then it was over. Like the best nights here, it ended quietly. The crowd had just about run out of gas, with just enough to get home. We were on our bikes, our feet, our streets. Peeling off, turning down, dropping off, with Kristin's final refrain from that final song, guiding us home: "Should you be a poet, a dancer or liar; may you be offered more than you are. Drink with the gypsies, kid, but don't fall asleep. Make love with your lovers. For the memories. They're yours to keep."
They are indeed.
You can have your own New Orleans/Kristin Diable/turducken chihuahua moment! She's doing another house concert this Monday, April 29. Go!
Brett Will Taylor is a southern storyteller whose previous column, Love NOLA, appeared weekly on NolaVie. He now shares his stories at Brett Will Taylor: A Storyteller and his Stories. Follow him @bwtshaman.