When we decided to go south for our month long road trip last September, we didn’t have much of a plan. Unlike our Route 66 trip in 2014, we weren’t focused on a single direction but we definitely wanted to experience more of the good time nostalgia still alive and well in small-town America. We also agreed upon a few “must see” destinations, all of which revolved around music.
The first of those destinations was New Orleans, Louisiana. When I was younger, The Big Easy was at the top of my travel bucket list, second only to Las Vegas. Thirteen years and three trips to Vegas later, NOLA was just itching to be crossed off. There is no place quite like New Orleans during Mardi Gras but we knew that the inherent mayhem would not allow us to explore the city at our own pace. We were looking forward to a leisurely visit during the Carnival off-season.
We landed on Bourbon Street on a not so Fat Tuesday but it didn’t take us long to become completely immersed in the unique culture that can only be found in the French Quarter. From street performers to masked partiers, New Orleans was everything we expected and more! After a couple of NOLA’s famous Hand Grenades and filling our backpack full of beads, there was no cooler place to be. So many things were going on but the one constant was the sound of blaring horns and raspy voices emanating from nearly every curbside bar and restaurant. We didn’t know it yet, but we were about to begin a journey into the heart of America, a trip back in time to when music had the power to transform entire cultures. We had just entered the Americana Music Triangle.
New Orleans is universally considered the birthplace of jazz music. Its humble roots inspired countless different musical styles and artists, several of whom were native Louisianians. Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton and Louie Prima began their careers in the darkened clubs of New Orleans and contributed to a major cultural shift, which included the rise of mainstream radio and the first notable youth rebellion in the United States. During the 1920’s, jazz culture permeated everything from fashion to literature and served as a bridge to unite black and white Americans.
Today, there are proud reminders of the city’s musical roots everywhere. From Louis Armstrong Park to New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (where we were treated to a delightful rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” by the resident Park Ranger band) visitors from all over can discover the rich history of the Jazz Age. Even if you’re not a jazz fan, New Orleans must visit destination!