Writing a column every week about New Orleans music means you get to have a lot of interesting and potentially bizarre experiences dealing with the exotic fauna known as New Orleans musicians. Perhaps one of the standout experiences I've had was right before Voodoo 2008, when I spent weeks begging Lil Wayne's publicist to come through with the promised phone call. ("He's going to text you... OK, he's going to text you tomorrow.") Now, after a little more than three years writing a music column for Gambit and many more as an occasional freelancer, this column will be my last. Though that doesn't mean Weezy doesn't still owe me a phone call.
Happily, it wasn't all waiting by the phone for famous rappers. Picking up a large share of the music writing for Gambit directly after Katrina meant I had a unique opportunity to watch New Orleans' music scene struggle, evolve and begin to bounce back after the levee failures scattered musicians around the country. During the first Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest after Katrina, I learned more about gospel choirs and marching bands than I might ever have. I got to report on how those groups worked tirelessly to be able to represent on the parade routes and in the festival tents, even when their instruments had been destroyed or their congregants had to drive long hours from Atlanta, Houston or Baton Rouge to rehearse — a battle as much about keeping their community strong in the face of tragedy as it was about making it to gigs.
I interviewed Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello about their heartbreaking post-Katrina collaboration, River in Reverse. (I got to say, "Hello, Mr. Costello? This is Alison," on the phone. He didn't laugh.) I was on the receiving end of a storm of relatively righteous post-hurricane bitterness and conspiracy theorizing from Cyril Neville when he was planning to never return to New Orleans, and from Dr. John when he was in the middle of making the barbed City That Care Forgot album.
Under the direction of new editorial staff like Will Coviello and later Kevin Allman, I also somehow managed to write (cover stories, yet!) about peculiar and fascinating topics that, to my knowledge, hadn't been dealt with by local media at all. I had cappuccinos with a gang of cross-dressing gay rappers. I bothered metal rocker Phil Anselmo and a host of other headbangers for interviews over Super Bowl weekend. I heard more salacious stories about Bourbon Street in the 1970s than we had room to print as I took a walk down the booze-and-bead-sodden memory lane of Big Daddy's strip club. But Lil Wayne never called, and (after I was done weeping into my pillow) I had to write my own A-to-Z account of the capricious artist.
I got to be a part of New Orleans' alt-weekly becoming steadily cooler and more "alt." I even won a Press Club award for it, and as a freelancer, I never had to be part of the annual Gambit staff Halloween costume day.
As a last thought, I'd like to share with all readers the advice given to me solemnly (many times) by former Gambit music editor Alex Rawls, whose column space I had the task of filling when he went on to edit Offbeat magazine after Hurricane Katrina: "As your editor, I advise you to have another beer." Wise words, indeed.