My goal in New Orleans: soaking up creativity like a sponge

Since arriving in New Orleans Friday, several people have asked us what our goal is for the next six weeks here.

Depending on who it is, I might quip back that my goal is to have no goals — to just be, which is the opposite of hyper-achievement oriented New York.

But that’s not actually true. My biggest goal is to soak up the creativity and energy of New Orleans like a sponge.

So far, we’re doing pretty well.

Among other things:

  • One of several bands we enjoyed Saturday on Royal Street.

    Friday we arrived around noon, just ahead of Doug and Cara’s wedding that night. The reception featured a rather large jazz band called the Boogie Men that had more horns at the ready than a music store, then the bride and groom led an entourage down to live music venue dba for an afterparty. We called it a night around 2:30 a.m., but they were still going strong.

  • Saturday was a day of grazing, both food and music. We took in the Roadfood Festival in the French Quarter, where we’d each buy a nibble of something good, then stop to watch the nearest band performing in the street, then get another couple nibbles and watch another band on the courthouse steps.
  • Wow, can this clarinet player blow! She's amazing, and a good story teller.

    After we were stuffed, we took in some art — including having a chance conversation with artist Jamie Hayes, who was painting in a gallery on Royal Street, and meeting Ritchie Jordan, a former NYC chef who moved with his wife to NOLA after Katrina and has become an artist selling his works in Jackson Square.

  • Sunday night after dinner, our group strolled past Jackson Square, where a busker Peter Bennett was playing glasses filled with water — complex tunes like Danny Boy and Yesterday.



One of the things I love about this city is how much creativity is part of life. You might have a brass band lead a parade when you get married, then again when you die. Musicians and artists and poets aren’t just set off in institutions like museums and concert halls, they’re outside where you’ll encounter them just walking about. Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall once told me he was in college when he realized everyone doesn’t have a costume room — just the good people of New Orleans, who take pride in their carnival costumes.


We were walking down Royal Street when these colorful paintings caught my eye in a gallery window. The part of the gallery where they were hanging was closed, but when we asked if we could see them, we not only got access to the art but the artist himself making a new painting. Here's Jamie Hayes.

We have some of the same in New York. The caliber of musicians who busk on subway platforms is sometimes breathtaking, and one of our favorite artists sold her paintings on the street on Broadway for years.


I can’t yet put my finger on what’s different. Maybe it’s that New Yorkers often seem like the creativity they pass on their way from A to B is a distraction or inconvenience, where here, it feels celebrated.

Our lunch waiter on Monday was just wrapping up the midday rush when he called out to some other restaurant staffers that he needed to go give the sax player a dollar. Here’s a guy hustling for tips who values street musicians enough to share one of the dollars he just earned.

I’ll be stewing in more of that creativity until mid May and trying to figure out why it feels so danged good. Or maybe it’s just enough that it does?


Categories: career, creativity

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Looks like a great time 🙂

  2. Part of what makes NOLA such a complicated place is that there is a joy in celebrating life and creativity in all its forms, and an innate ability to ignore the bad during the many celebrations! It’s not a ‘get ahead’ city, often, it’s a ‘getting by’ city, and that is just fine for most of the residents. They value other things and make do with what is available.

    There’s a sense that everyone knows life is whizzing by, and they’re just gonna stroll down the street, open container in hand and enjoy friends, family, food and music. Sounds good right? Not everyone even ‘gets by’ though. (ergo the high crime?)

    What gets difficult, is there isn’t always a trajectory, so sometimes life in NOLA seems aimless (and attractive) for outsiders or even natives who imagine there might be more elsewhere. Most of the time, they realize, life is rich and unpredictable and the ups and downs are just part of the ride and sometimes made better with food, music, booze and costumes!

    Unfortunately, the delineation between the haves and have-nots is too apparent once examined closely. The public schools are in a condition reminiscent of Detroit, and the opportunities for those not lucky enough to have good upbringing, ‘old money’ are sorely lacking.

    There are historical reasons for the imbalances, crime and corruption, and sometimes the natives are at a loss for how to change things (or distracted?). Maybe the influx of ‘outsiders’ is good, hopefully, it won’t water down the essence of the ‘real’ New Orleans.

    I would live there, but for certain painful, personal memories as well as the ease for (me) falling into the “Big Easy” that includes too many opportunities (good and bad) for debauchery!

    • Lenny,

      Our friends Robin and Andreas (who live in Brooklyn and recently bought a house down here in NOLA) said something related today: more people in New Orleans place their enjoyment of livin’ above their vocations; compared to New York, more people work to live rather than the other way around.

      We’re just scratching the tip of the rumberg now. It’s going to be an interesting ride….


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