Jul 9, 2014

A night at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl

If you read my last blog post, you’ll recall my friends and I made the snap decision to skip a day at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Music Festival earlier this spring for a day drinking tour of the French Quarter instead.  However, that does not mean we were without options for seeing some great live music in the Big Easy. 

In fact, one huge reason we chose to go to New Orleans during the week between Jazz Fest weekends was to catch many great local and regional artists in much smaller venue.  During what many call “Jazz Fest After Dark,” most of New Orleans’ bars and night clubs known for live music are booked solid, as many acts scheduled for Jazz Fest try to squeeze in an extra gig or two on festival nights (the music stops at 7 p.m. on festival days) and during the week in between.  

So, when we opted for day drinking on our Sunday arrival day, we put Plan B into action.  And that’s how – after one evening nap and a quick cab ride later – my friends and I wound up at perhaps the most eccentric live music venue in the big Easy – the New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Bowl

You guessed it, part bowling alley, part live music venue, and genuine New Orleans institution, the Rock ‘n’ Bowl stands out on Carrolton Avenue in between the end of the St. Charles streetcar line and I-10.  Seriously with all the lighting at night, you can’t miss it. 

We have arrived!

Originally known as the “Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl,” the “Mid-City Lanes” portion was dropped after moving from its original location post-Katrina.  And its reputation for being a Mecca for New Orleans music (from Zydeco, Cajun, brass band, swamp rock, blues, funk and everything in between) has only continued to grow.  This night was a prime example of the Rock ‘n’ Bowl’s appeal to locals and tourists alike – a triple bill of Little Freddie King, Sonny Landreth and Tab Benoit, all for $25 at the door. 

The giant head greets you, not Terry Hupp.
And this is what greets you at the door … well, at least once you get past the ticket booth.

Even with noticing how large the exterior of the building appeared, I was still impressed by how spacious the whole complex really was on the inside.  They clearly didn't just cram a stage and dance floor inside a bowling alley – they knew exactly what they were doing.  And even though the crowd kept building steadily for most of the night, the place never seemed … well, overly crowded. 

At the center of it all was a well-stocked and well-staffed bar. The line at any given spot around the bar was never more than two deep all night long. 

And the prices were very much in line with what you’d expect for a live music club – although I couldn't come up with an explanation why a Southern Comfort drink should cost more than a Captain Morgan cocktail. 

The stage and a large dance floor are set off the right of the entrance.  As you can see, Little Freddie King was just getting warmed up when we arrived.  That is by no means a knock on the performance.  

Now that's a man who knows how to wear a suit!
The longer he played, the hotter he sounded, and more the crowd got into the show.  I’m sure many, like us, were pacing themselves after a long day at the festival and for the two more acts that were to follow. 

After the first act, I realized I had finally built up an appetite for dinner.  And guess what, the Rock ‘n’ Bowl has food, too.  

An excellent kitchen and food stand, in fact, with a nice combination of typical bar fare (e.g., burgers, pizza, wings) and New Orleans standards (e.g., boudin links, jambalaya). 

April in New Orleans ... festival season, and Crawfish Monica season.
My choice:  Since I was unable to satisfy my craving for Crawfish Monica at Jazz Fest, I had to try the Rock ‘n’ Bowl’s version.  And all in all, their version compared pretty well.  A little Tabasco sauce and an Abita beer to wash it down, and my taste buds were completely happy.  The serving was quite generous, too.  

Sony Landreth electrifies the Rock 'n' Bowl crowd.
Getting back to why were came to the Rock ‘n’ Bowl in the first place, Sonny Landreth may have had the best show of the night.  I've been a huge fan ever since his album “South of I-10” came out in the 1990’s.  Eric Clapton, who closed Jazz Fest earlier that day, is a big fan.  I was hoping there might be a slight chance of a Clapton appearance given that and the fact that Tab Benoit played immediately before Clapton on this Sunday.  But it was not meant to be. 

Regardless, Landreth’s performance was a definite crowd-pleaser.  Need proof?

Just ask this guy.  New Orleans is a great city for music.  It’s equally great for people watching. 

Tab Benoit packs the Rock 'n' Bowl dance floor for the final show of the night. 
And I may be the only person who can rightfully claim to have seen Tab Benoit in both Crestone, Colo., and the Rock ‘n’ Bowl in New Orleans the past 12 months.  He always brings a lot of energy to every show.  

Perhaps the only people not having fun that night from either bowling, tearing it up on the dance floor or enjoying the people watching from the large seating area in the center of the complex were those who chose to sit in one very specific spot near the restrooms.    

At first I thought this person had just had a very long day after being out at the festival, and the combination of music, dancing and hula hooping got the best of her.  I was also impressed by how her friends managed to both simultaneously avoid her and watch out for her. 

However, this young lady was not alone in falling prey to what must be the most comfortable sofa in the history of nightclubs.  One by one, the next three people who sat there fell asleep, too.  Everyone in my group couldn't help but laugh.  My friend Don finally tipped off a fourth potential victim before we left. 

I guess you had to be there to get the utter silliness of the situation.  And you had to blame the seat; you certainly couldn't blame the music.       

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