♫ Various Artists, A Celebration Of New Orleans Music
🍺 Yankee & Kraut Maracujizzle Brombizzle
Words & photos (except where Indicated): Vincent Abbate
Something unusual happened this morning. My adopted hometown made CNN.
Cologne is a large German city of over a million. But it’s not London, Paris, Brussels or Berlin. So we don’t often see international camera teams wandering around town. But they were here yesterday, capturing the images that surprised me today at breakfast: thousands of locals in their clown suits, young and old, filling one of the main squares, smiling, singing, swaying, and having a ball.
The occasion was Cologne’s famous Carnival celebration. As in Rio and New Orleans, the people here like to blow off steam in a big way in the days prior to Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. They’ve been doing so for roughly 200 years. I’ve been here for the last 30 of those and confess I have never truly warmed up to the tradition. Sometimes I join in, often I don’t.
The Carnival societies with their meetings and weird Colonial officer-looking uniforms; the swarms of visitors from other towns and cities who come here to make merry, booze it up and piss all over the place; the local anthems, sung in a dialect I will never learn, endlessly singing the praises of the Stadt am Rhing. All of it leaves me feeling like an outsider and a killjoy.
Photo (c) Festkomittee Kölner Karneval
Now if the streets and pubs were full of the sounds heard on A Celebration Of New Orleans Music, well … it might be a different story.
♫ Corey Harris, Greens From The Garden
🍺 Einstök Icelandic Arctic Berry Ale
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
I’ve been doing what I do – this blues writer thing – for roughly a quarter of a century now. The striking, verdant cover of Corey Harris’s Greens From The Garden carries me back to a time when I was still a novice. The album came out in 1999, so I had a few interviews under my belt at that point, but mostly I was flying by the seat of my pants. I met with Corey and the other dreadlocked members of his so-called “5 x 5” at a now defunct blues venue in Frankfurt and recall having a generally relaxed conversation about this groundbreaking record.
He’d completed most of it in a Charlottesville, Virginia studio (Harris has academic ties to the University of Virginia) and added a few live tracks recorded at the famous Funky Butt Club in New Orleans. The singer and guitarist had resided in that city for a time, busking and soaking in its rich musical tradition.
Far from the American South, nipping at the Arctic Circle, lies Akureyri, an Icelandic fishing port that is home to the Einstök brewery and its Arctic Berry Ale. It’s brewed seasonally, for the summer months. So you could say I’m cheating – or perhaps just pining for warmer weather.
If I had to give this Listening Party a motto, it would be “north meets south.”
♫ John Mooney, All I Want
🍺 Welde / Himburgs Braukunstkeller Pepper Pils
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
All I want is …
Nah. Let’s not go there. The list is long and kind of depressing. Let’s talk about John Mooney instead.
John Mooney is a guy who projects both power and sensitivity, both darkness and light. In his playing and singing, you can hear how he went to school on one of the all-time greats, Son House, the former Baptist preacher and blues pioneer who was forever torn between the sacred and the secular. Mooney played alongside House as a teenager in upstate New York after Joe Beard introduced them in 1971. He possesses an uncanny feel for the sort of Delta blues House performed during his lifetime and has come up with a signature guitar tone that soars like a bird on the wing.
But he carried it a step further. He moved to New Orleans as a young man, hooked up with influential musicians like Professor Longhair and Snooks Eaglin and made that city’s famed second line rhythm his own. Mooney makes magic with those two basic ingredients, the Delta and the second line.
I love just about everything’s he done but have a special place in my heart for All I Want. The album’s energy is electric and Mooney’s playing is off the charts.
All I Want was his most current disc when I interviewed John before a club show in Bavaria in 2003. I think I was drinking Pyraser Landbier in half-liter mugs that night. Mmm. Today’s Listening Party pick has little in common with that Bavarian Helles, but it is German: Pepper Pils, which I chose for the simplest of reasons. I’m intrigued by what adding pepper does to beer.
Let’s crack open the bottle and let the music play.
♫ The Wild Magnolias, Life is a Carnival
🍺 Superfreunde Till Death Old School Ale
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
Yeah, so this is the week where, traditionally, hundreds of thousands of locals and out-of-towners would be out drinking, dancing and parading in costume through the streets of Cologne. I don’t know what’s happening right now in Rio or New Orleans, but here in Germany’s fourth largest city, where for many Karneval is the high point of the year, the 2021 celebration is just one more victim of the pandemic. Public gatherings and private parties of any kind are a no-no and even the rules regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages – normally quite liberal – have been tightened to keep people from getting too frisky.
So it’s not surprising to find myself thinking back on a more carefree time – my first trip to the holy city of New Orleans.
That was in spring of the year Y2K. A good friend and I had hatched the plan after a concert in Brussels the previous December. Riding back to Cologne while another friend took care of the driving, we started dreaming out loud of a musical sojourn through the deep south. Four months later we touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, did a quick run through Mississippi up to Memphis and back down again, arriving in New Orleans for the start of JazzFest. We stayed the whole ten days, with a short break on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in between the two big festival weekends.
Before I go any further, let’s crack open a bottle of Superfreunde Till Death Old School Ale and see where it takes us …