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Silver Threads: Alternative New Orleans festivals

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

The other day I got to wondering just who comes up with the ideas for all these festivals we’re having in New Orleans. The calendar is full, and the brains behind some of the partying is obvious. Tales of the Cocktail, taking place this week, is a bar industry event to which everybody’s invited, and our town is the logical venue, since pharmacist Antoine Peychaud is said to have mixed the first cocktail ever here some 200 years ago in the form of the famous Sazerac.

However, the New Orleans take on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, seemed a stretch until I gave it some thought. Why not? New Orleans was, after all, Spanish territory for as long as it was French territory.

I’m not a member of the festival ideas committee, but I can offer some suggestions for a few new celebrations:

  • In partnership with the Tennessee Williams Festival, why not begin a streetcar festival? Call it “A Street Car Named St. Charles” and offer free rides with jazz bands performing at some of the stops, with food tents positioned at the Riverbend.
  • How about a “Ferry Tale Festival," showing off historic Algiers Point with dockside parties featuring music and food ?
  • And for locals, and a few tourists who might want to join in the fun, a “Pick Up the Trash Festival” at various city wide locations, to which folks bring their own garbage bags, weed-whackers and rakes. Musicians would perform gratis and there would be cheap refreshments.
  • Again, especially for the locals, a “Remember a Politician in Jail Festival,” at which attendees enjoy music and food and purchase clever and slightly smarmy greeting cards to be mailed to federal prisons.
  • “The Golden Girls do the French Quarter Festival,” led by playwright/director/actor Ricky Graham and the other members of the cast of his hilarious take on the television hit. This festival is mostly for older folks, both locals and visitors, who need help in locating handicapped-accessible, yet lively nightspots.

Other festivals don’t need brains like mine behind them. They get started as money-makers for the city’s different neighborhoods -- the po-boy festival on Oak Street, for example; the fetes held in Audubon and City parks -- and all are aimed at getting tourists to join in fattening the pocketbooks of those who live, work and do business in New Orleans.

When I arrived here 56 years ago, Mardi Gras was perhaps the city’s only really big festival. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any parties to rival it until Jazz Fest began in the ‘70s. Now we have French Quarter Festival, VooDoo and Swamp festivals, Zoo To Do, Decadence, White Linen Night, etc.

And then there are the smaller celebrations -- for Creole Tomatoes, for Greek food and culture at the Orthodox Church, even an event for the waiters who serve in our famous restaurants.

It seems that we hardly need more festivals, but when we do, I’m happy to have been of assistance.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]