Kenny Klein with Stapler

Kenny Klein with Stapler

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Travelers and the Day of the Dead Parade in NOLA

The night was warm, with a slight breeze coming from the river. Lauren and I arrived a little early at Press and Dauphine, an industrial block of warehouses along the train tracks. A crowd was already gathered there, many with painted faces in the black and white style of the Mexican-inspired holiday. A group of Travelers I vaguely knew were playing banjos and ukuleles, so I got out my fiddle and joined in. They were not the excellent musicians I usually play with: it was more of a chordal screaming match. But we had fun playing just for each other, and it felt good to play music among my friends again.

A lot of friends were there. Musicians I'd played with all last Fall and Winter. There was joy at seeing them again. "How was your Summer? When did you get back? Where are you staying?"
As I stood and sawed the fiddle, the crowd swelled to perhaps three hundred. Many of us had not seen each other since last Spring, and there were warm greetings a hugs on every side of me. I saw many musicians and friends who had just returned, some arriving yesterday or the day before. Some drove in, some hitch-hiked, some came by hopping freight trains. We were all together again tonight. Travelers from all over the U.S. had finally returned to NOLA for the winter season, and this was the first huge Traveler event of our year: the Day of the Dead Parade.

At the head of this swarm of people, the brass band began a dirge, and the huge mass of black-clad bodies collected itself in some fashion and began a slow saunter down Dauphine.

The Day of the Dead Parade through the Bywater is not a parade like you migh see in a small town, or standing outside Macy's in New York, with floats, ordered ranks of drum majorettes, baton twirlers, and a smiling cowboy on a horse: this is a quarter mile of moving chaos. Travelers simply walk in a disordered mass, wearing Day of the Dead make-up, black dresses, suits or tuxes, pushing their bikes, wheeling carts with their dogs inside or their costumed children beaming their elation at the spectacle, holding up poles with decorated heads on them, carrying banjos, ukuleles, accordions and fiddles strapped to their backs, while the brass band plays dirges and leads us through the bleakest streets in NOLA. People stare out their windows, photograph us, and smile as we walk past, a beautiful mob of pierced, mohawked, dreadlocked and shaven-headed revelers.

We felt a little tension, a hint of dread and wariness: last year when we did our end-of-the-season parade, Eris, police raided the group and arrests were made. Some are still fighting charges. Two weeks ago I listened to a concert by local bands to benefit some who are still in jail, or who need money for legal counsel. Lauren and I marched with eyes and ears open, wary of flashing red-and-blue lights. I'm happy to report none were seen.

We walked ten blocks, from the Bywater to the Upper 9th Ward. These areas are seasonal home to many of the Travelers, and this was both a spiritual event, and a celebration of being here, back in the city we love, after being away for the summer, playing our shows across the U.S.A. It was a time to reconnect and, for many, imbibe. ( As I say during shows: "Remember, for every ten dollars you put in the band's tip jar, two dollars will be lovingly donated to the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewing Company! Keep American jobs!!")

The mob ended up in the Upper 9th at some tavern. I didn't stay to drink; marching with my reunited friends was enough, and unlike most of us, Lauren has a job to wake for in the morning. But just marching, in a New Orleans parade, with the musicians I love making music and sharing my life with, was an amazing start to the season. Happy Day of the Dead!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kenny, Fred with Shadow Walkers from Cali. Glad to see your doing well. Your missed out here. Me and Jenna both comment on you often.