My family and I converged in Louisiana to celebrate my birthday at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. The lineup featured 5 blues stages, including: Swamp, Foundation, Soul of Baton Rouge, Back Porch and Busking outdoors. Due to anticipated thunderstorms, everything was moved indoors, so some of the charm was definitely lost. But where else would we get a day of the blues in so many hues?
Walking over to the convention center we got to see a bit of Baton Rouge, including some majestic dancing oaks.
Thanks to my cousin Steve Porter, Bill and I were ushered off Madison’s beaten path to both musical and edible treats. After landing in the lake city, Bill and I made our way to the University of Wisconsin Rathskeller -a classic beer hall- sehr Deutsch. Cruising down State street, catering to the university crowd with bookstores and sidewalk cafes, we stopped for refreshments at Hsusus, a small Mediterranean cafe. Steve mentioned that it used to be a Dunkin Donuts before some students rolled a big wooden spool through the front window. A young violinist entertained passersby with classical tunes, the crowd: a mix of seasoned hippies and students of every stripe. Casual, unpretentious, it was easy to feel at home in Madison, which shares an alternative outlook with Austin, though with fewer tattoos. Moving on to Talula, a restaurant/music venue, we enjoyed crab puffs, fresh pasta and handmade pizza, layered with farm fresh vegetables. Drinks were delightful, the bartender/owner was friendly and the band brought a down home, honky tonk ambiance, complemented by works of local artists, shown below.
Earlier in the day when we were driving into the city, Bill and I caught a few minutes of a radio talk-show featuring a host who was taking Q & A about health care reform. Oddly, he was liberal, something I didn’t think existed on radio talk shows. Talking with Steve about what was happening in Wisconsin, I was reminded of the rich labor movement tradition underlying the establishment of things we take for granted and are now challenged: overtime, sick leave, vacation time, social security and health benefits. We’ll see what the future holds. Clubs in Wisconsin and probably most of the Great Lakes areas can be found in places once inhabited by supper clubs. These outliers are are now in light industrial areas (one was across from the Oscar Mayer wiener plant) on a grid known only to the locals. I was happy to have part-time drummer, Steve as our guide. Great roadhouse blues, mysterious back roads, and good company made for a great adventure in Madison, Austin’s sister city.