The aromas of boiling crawfish, sweet beignets stuffed with pralines, curry, pecan catfish meuniere, fried soft shell crabs and so much more blew over the fairgrounds pulling you in along with the music of Alex McMurray and His Band playing on the Gentilly Stage. The 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was underway!
Running for two consecutive weekends (always the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May) the festival offers up a gumbo of musical genres, cultural activities and mouth watering dishes that help make New Orleans one of the top food destinations in the world. This year welcomed a thirteenth stage to the festival, the music of Cuba. With the easing of political tensions, Quint Davis (CEO of Festival Productions) welcomed Cuban Ambassador, Jose Ramon Cabanas, to the festival along with New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu; former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu; and Jazz and Heritage Foundation President Donna Santiago. Continue reading First Weekend of the 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival→
Scott Caradine flips through his old calendar, which is ink and coffee-stained, well-worn with time. Names fly by in each of the date boxes: Walter Wolfman Washington, Astral Project, Elvis Costello, Mose Allison, Peter Rowan, Medeski Martin and Wood, Jerry Joseph, the Black Keys. He turns over postcards from friends and employees, reminiscing about old times and the string of incredible music that has passed through Proud Larryâ€™s in Oxford, Mississippi.
â€œIt feels like yesterday I was sitting on the couch with two friends saying, you know, we should just open a place in Oxford with a really good beer selection and slices of pizza, because nobody did that then in Oxford then, and put on some good shows,â€ Caradine says. â€œTwenty years have gone by pretty fast.â€
He opened April 15, 1993 with two partners. Caradine handled the food, another handled music, and the other took care of general upkeep of the facility. By 1996, he had bought out his partners and was joined by his wife Lisa.
Proud Larryâ€™s seats 120 people, serving gourmet pizzas, hamburgers, pasta and salads, making most menu items from scratch and priding themselves on using fresh ingredients.
Their slogan is â€œCome for the food, stay for the music,â€ and after the kitchen closes at 10 p.m., tables and chairs are removed and they ease in to music venue mode, reaching a capacity of 350 people.
Caradine doesnâ€™t hesitate when asked about his favorite shows.
â€œWeen is right up there with the best of all times, with their first one in 1995. I think they were here twice, but the first Ween show was by far the biggest,â€ he says. â€œThen looking back, there are so many shows that leave a lasting impression, from Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside to New Orleans music like the Rebirth Brass Band or George Porter Jr., or the sit-down, you can hear a pin-drop type of shows with David Lindley, or Roger McGuinn or the Del McCoury Band. And the local bands that have all left their mark here deserve a lot of the fanfare for making it 20 years.â€
To commemorate two decades of music, the North Mississippi Allstars played April 4 and George Porter Jr. returns on April 12.
â€œWhen we originally thought, what shows can we do to celebrate 20 years of Proud Larryâ€™s, shows that will be fun, but that also have a part of the history here and have stood a long time on their own,â€ Caradine says. â€œWith George Porter, I was a fan first and then became a friend. He has played a number of shows at Larryâ€™s and in Oxford over the years, so he was a natural fit. We promised when we opened in 1993 to bring a truckload of funk, jazz and rock and roll to Oxford, and George is the heavyweight champion of funk. So it made sense to bring him back for a celebratory show.â€
The Allstars were also an easy choice.
â€œI remember meeting Luther Dickinson at a Junior Kimbrough show at Proud Larryâ€™s and then seeing their band do a residency here when they first started out, and then seeing them grow to play the big venue in town and certainly as a nationally touring band, I was really glad they agreed to play a show here,â€ Caradine says.
Although he may not have known 20 years ago that Proud Larryâ€™s would become an institution full of history, or that it would be folded into the lexicon of Oxford lore, Caradine says he has accomplished what he set out to do: bring pizza, good beer and music to Oxford.
â€œI donâ€™t know where we will be 20 years from now, obviously, but if Proud Larryâ€™s chooses to be here, itâ€™ll still be here,â€ Caradine says. â€œI still enjoy coming to work. I have had fun watching the food progress over the years and itâ€™s been fun to watch employees meet here, and end up married with kids. Itâ€™s fun to see my own kids up here. Â I have a 13-year-old daughter who comes up here to work from time to time.â€
The community itself is also an important aspect to running the business.
â€œWe see people in here today that were customers of ours 20 years ago,â€ Caradine says. â€œThey are really a lot of the same people. And I think back and have great memories of all the staff that put in a lot of sweat to make this place go, and Iâ€™ve been able to watch my family grow through the whole process.â€