New Orleanians

How New Orleans gets creative during a quarantine

As we push through our “new normal,” many of us have found creative ways to cope with social distancing and the world around us.

Alphorn on the Roof

Mark McGrain a trombonist, composer and arranger, who currently backs guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington and played with singer John Boutte in the past, is spending his time during the statewide stay-at-home order straightening out and testing musical equipment and instruments like his alphorn.

McGrain has occasionally climbed on the roof of his porch to play for neighbors in the Faubourg Marigny in New Orleans like he did Tuesday, March 31, 2020. McGrain got the alphorn that was originally destined for the Boston Symphony orchestra that ordered three from Switzerland. But this horn didn’t match the other two sonically so they built a fourth one and McGrain acquired this one. McGrain says the alphorn is like playing a trombone in 6th position in the key F. The alphorn, named after the Swiss Alps, is 14 feet long and is made from a spruce tree that grows on the side of mountain and naturally bends as reaches toward the sun. McGrain also plays in a trio called Plunge with bassist James Singleton and tenor saxophonist Tom Fitzpatrick.

Merry Antoinette and her Elvi

Caroline Parrone, right, of the Merry Antoinettes Walking Krewe / Pleasure Club and her husband, Ben Maddocks, with the Krewe of Rolling Elvi are both working as essential employees during the coronavirus pandemic but are also using their free time to help out by making masks for people who have to work.

‘Banish any negative energy”

Sister Imma Gitaround of the Big Easy Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence would normally be out parading in drag as a nun on Easter Sunday in the French Quarter and other parades throughout the year promoting safe sex. Gitaround stays at home when not working as essential employee or volunteering with a local food pantry for LGBTQ community and hospitality workers during the coronavirus pandemic, in conjunction with Betty’s Bar, Ambush magazine, and the city council and mayor’s office. Sister Getaround sees similarities to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the earlier days of HIV/AIDS epidemic when people wore masks around people with HIV and were afraid to touch them. The local chapter has worked with NOAIDS, the Tipitina Foundation, the Food Pantry at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, which feeds over 800 families in New Orleans, and many others. The LGBTQ group was founded 41 years ago on Easter 1979, in San Francisco, CA, and now has over 30 chapters across the world. The group says “we are the clowns of our community” and states its goals are to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt and banish any negative energy.”

From second lines to supper clubs

Pableaux Johnson is a James Beard nominated writer, as well as a photographer, designer, and chef that you’d normally see every Sunday taking pictures at second lines of different social and pleasure clubs in New Orleans, or out on the road with Red Beans Road Show, a restaurant pop-up, presented by Camellia Brand Red Beans.

But with no second lines any time soon, Johnson is staying close to home working out of a nearby commercial kitchen at the Mosquito Supper Club chopping onions and cooking red beans to help out-of-work restaurant and hospitality workers. Johnson says cooking helps keeps his brain in a good place in this time when life has been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The work is eye-watering from the chopping and caramelizing of 35 pounds of onions at time, but the effort is worth it as Johnson is making enough for 600 meals over the course of few weeks. Johnson started cooking Monday meals including red beans at his home for friends and fellow chefs and has been named as one 100 Best Home Cooks of All Time by Conde Nast’s Epicurious website. Working with Camellia Brand Red Beans, Johnson took his dinners on the road with Red Beans Road Show to restaurants around the United States.

The Mosquito Supper Club is a normally a Cajun restaurant in the Milan neighborhood in Uptown run by chef Melissa Martin, who just released a cookbook entitled “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou.”

Rollin’ Home

Rollin’ Joe Henry, President of Original Pigeon Town Steppers Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and a member of the Greater New Orleans Wheelchair Athletic Association “Rollin’ Pelicans” would normally be out playing or parading on Easter Sunday or during Jazz Fest. But he is staying at home with family in the 17th ward in Hollygrove and Pigeon Town neighborhoods of New Orleans. The last time the club didn’t parade was after Katrina and Rollin’ Joe hopes the first second line after the pandemic will be similar to the Renew Allstar second line where over thirty S&P clubs and multiple brass bands paraded in January 2006 many months after the federal levee failures from Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. The Steppers were founded in 1994 as part of a resurgence of Social and Pleasure Clubs in the 1980s and 1990s coinciding with the resurgence of brass bands like the Rebirth Brass Band and the Hot 8 Brass Band. The S&P clubs owe their origins to benevolent aid organizations from the 1800s that would offer insurance, legal assistance, and pay for funerals including ‘jazz funerals’ for African-Americans and other minority groups. The societies nearly fizzled out after desegregation and competition with traditional insurance companies in the 1970s. The elaborate costumes are said to have come from competition among benevolent societies to see who could send off their members in the best style possible during a traditional ‘jazz’ funeral that actually predates jazz music.