The next time someone asks me what it means to live in New Orleans, I’m going to tell them about last Wednesday night.
Things got underway around 6 at Harvest the Music in Lafayette Square. Dr. John was on the stage, Abita was in the kegs, and softshell crab po-boys were on the menu. Each and every one, the stuff of New Orleans legend. Time-tested legend. Spirit-lifting legend. And, when it’s Dr. John closing out his set with “Such a Night,” downright transcendent legend.
Such a night, indeed. Such a New Orleans night.
By about 8:15, I was dusting the dirt off my shoes, hopping on my bike and heading to the House of Blues Foundation Room with my friend, Dwayne, to hear the force that is Mykia Jovan.
Now I know y’all know all about Dr. John. But let me tell you about Mykia. She is fierce. She is raw. She has style. And, man, does she have a voice. One that can sing Lady Gaga just as easily as Billie Holiday.One that pulls you in close when she unveils, as she did Wednesday for the first time, the intimacy of her own compositions. Dr. John’s transcendence stems from a journey known. Mykia’s comes from that indescribable, unimaginable gift of witnessing the birth. Of an artist. Who will grow to become a legend.
By the time Dwayne and I left the Foundation Room around 12:30 a.m., we were flying high from Dr. John, Mykia and, OK, the martinis.
Such a night.
About 15 minutes later, I was home, listening to Mama Roux, when I got a text from Dwayne: “Someone just stole my bike.”
You see, as Dwayne was biking down Rampart Street, he hit one of the many holes in the ground and tumbled off his bike. Hard.
A stranger came up to him and asked if he was OK. When he said “yes,” the guy picked up Dwayne’s bike, hopped on. And rode away.
Now bleeding and on foot, Dwayne headed into the Treme via St. Philip Street. Where someone pointed a gun and ordered him to drop his wallet and phone (it was the second nighttime armed robbery in Treme in four days).
Yup. Such a New Orleans night.
Our city has the world’s best music. And the world’s highest murder rate (which Dwayne, thankfully, did not join). It is exhilarating to live here. And dangerous.
And yet we do. Live here. It doesn’t even occur to most of us to live anywhere else.
Leave New Orleans? Why? How?
There’s just something about this place that enchants us, that holds us. But what is it?
I think part of it is that, to live in New Orleans is to live an unvarnished life. Even when we are behind masks, we don’t disguise who we are. It’s all part of the big reveal. And it happens each and every moment of each and every day.
As a friend said, “We don’t need to watch any so-called ‘real’ housewives on TV. That’s scripted reality. New Orleans? This is real reality.”
Well, true dat. But, there’s something else. Something behind the reality. Something that brings it to life. Leave it to a native New Orleanian to explain it to me.
His name is Chad and he’s one of my favorite people in this city chock-full of favorite people. He came over the other night to grill some steaks. After dinner, we opened another bottle of wine and went out to sit on the stoop. I told him about last Wednesday night and repeated the question I’d asked myself for a week: “What is it that keeps us here?”
“It’s because New Orleans still has a heart,” Chad said in an instant. “Go to any other city in America today and there’s no heart. This city’s heartbeat is still here.”
I had my answer.
Why do we chosen ones live here? Why does everyone else want to live here? Because this city has heart.
Like any heart, it can break with pain. It can jump with joy. But it will, always and forever, beat.
Which is all that this city needs, all that we need, to stay alive.
Be sure to catch Mykia Jovan every Sunday at the Blue Nile from 7-10 p.m.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.