Merliton Festival

Markey Park--Bywater

November 04, 2006

This was a breath of fresh air last Saturday. Voodoo was great, but the Merliton Festival in Markey Park in the Bywater was so much smaller and more contained and more obvious in its offerings. Food to my left, wine and beer to my right, stage to my front, and grass everywhere. It wasn't crowded, it was comfortable, and it was a beautiful day wonderful in its slightly chilly way. Thanks to the Bywater Neighborhood Association for putting it on.

I got to the festival as the Soul Rebels set was winding down. The brass band has worked its way into my heart more and more recently. They've been omnipresent as Rebirth hasn't been able to be, and they are so in-your-face about city pride, and I love that. The band got people to chant out "504" and to raise the peace sign because, and I'm paraphrasing their leader, "We're gonna have to work together to rebuild." They work and hype the crowd so well, it's like you wouldn't notice the skill inherent. And they can sell an audience on Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and the Jackson Five's "Give Me One More Chance" just as easily as they can a Violent Femmes song.

Next I went and visited the Joint BBQ booth for some pulled pork. The pork was good, but the sauce and the buttery bun was what made it.

Lo and behold, the only man in New Orleans music who escapes my genre net, Jonathan Freilich, was onstage acting as MC. And why not? He knows the performers, he really cares about the music, and he lives in the Bywater. He even got a pat on the but from Ryan Scully for all his hard work, right as Morning 40 took the stage later.

Next up was Kermit and His BBQ Swingers. Soon as he said, "All aboard," the people cheered, and I knew they were ready. Kermit gave us nothing new, but that's not the point. He's consistent in his performances, and it's obvious from his demanor onstage that all he wants to do with his life is play music, smoke pot, and make love(babies). In other words, he's in it for the music.

After Kermit I started my three Miller Lite and one Bacchanal alcohol excursion. I also, at one point, had some awesome vegitarian Merliton bisque. I'm not vegitarian, but I love bisque.

After Kermit played I started to see more and more people I knew and recognized. Michael Patrick Welch, Karen Misconish, Bailey Smith, Luke Allen, Andy Bizer, Pepper Keenan. Johnny Sketch and The Dirty Notes played next, and though they got the crowd dancing more than Kermit had, they seemed to be phoning it in. I remember them being friggin' exuberant during last year's Jazzfest gig. Not so much Saturday, though they were on point. I'd like to pass on two criticisms not from me about Johnny Sketch: less bass solos and more melodies and coherent songs. As for my taste, I agree, but bass solos might atract fishheads.

As the air got cooler and more people left and the night descended, Happy Talk took the stage. At the beginning the band lost the dancers with their country-flavored songs of longing and woe. So, Luke Allen later in the set threw in some higher tempos and one song that was a straight punk song. I have no idea what it was, but it was great. No other songwriter in the city gets down to gritty, bare-boned realism like Allen. His day has not yet come. I believe more and more people will realize his contributions.

Closing it all out in the darkness of night was the Bywater's boys made good, the Morning 40 Federation. I swear, every time I see them, they're on. How do they stay so full of smiles and rambunctious? The crowd, naturally, was with them from note one, but the true mosh pit didn't form until Scully jumped off the stage into the crowd during "Intuition," probably my new favorite song of theirs. Their set was about twenty minutes longer than their set at Voodoo, so that was cool. More older stuff. The band was beautifully irreverent, debaucherous, and dangerous. Hopefully they don't lose that.


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