Around Christmas, 2008, I was sitting in the Carousel Bar off the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. Someone said, “Look, there’s Dr. John.”
I hopped off my bar stool, which would continue its slow, counterclockwise revolving journey while I was gone, and went out to the lobby to say hi and pay my respects to the Night Tripper. On my return, the couple who I’d been chatting with greeted me with undisguised disdain, tsk-tsking me for having been rude, and not respecting the privacy of the iconic New Orleans musician.
“I, um, know Mac, I explained. “I’ve interviewed him several times for several different broadcast outlets, in New York City, where he and I live.”
While the Carousel Bar is the right place to meet people from all over the States and the world, it was the wrong time to make the assumption the glad-handing guy on the next stool is a boorish rube.
Mac Rebennack was indeed a frequent interviewee as I covered NY music events in the ‘80s and ‘90s in some now-shuttered places like the Lone Star Café and Tramps. It was just such a gathering of New Orleans musicians that had brought him down to NOLA that day as well. A radio disc jockey had passed away some days earlier and there was to be a tribute concert for him that night at a local club.
I was celebrating Christmas with my extended family: sister and brother-in-law and my three nephews, plus their cousin and her mother. My youngest nephew, who had studied architecture, was working on local housing efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and that, plus a desire to boost post-Katrina holiday tourism, was the reason we chose NOLA for our “destination Christmas.”
We went out to dinner that evening at a small restaurant with terrific local food, fortunate to find it open (it was Christmas Eve or Christmas Night, after all; I forget which.) Then, taking Dr. John up on his invitation, the nephews and I found the club and found space at the back bar. Local groups and artists played into the night; it was definitely the right place at the right time. The nephews were not very familiar with Dr. John’s oeuvre; maybe one or two of them recognized “Such a Night” or “Right Place Wrong Time.” I had, in fact, burned CD-roms of best-known New Orleans music, including some of his, as a stocking-stuffer for the family.
At one point in the evening, the nephews came with me to the area beside the stage, where I introduced them to a warm and friendly Mac Rebennack, who once again, was gracious to this rude, boorish guy who kept making these unwanted approaches!
(Thanks, to Dave Benson, for the photo, or to whomever he nicked it from.)