Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

A holiday drive to New Orleans

Wick's World


Unlike the song “Walking to New Orleans” made famous by Fats Domino, this year we will be driving to New Orleans. The big occasion neither involves a trip to Mardi Gras nor the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The days we will spend in what can arguably be called America’s most exciting city will be over the holiday season. I have heard it many times that it is the best time to vacation in New Orleans.

Each year for the past decade our family has spent the holidays together at what we term "Our Destination Vacation." Last year we rented a house in Austin, Texas, mainly for the purpose of introducing our children to our old friends who are still living in the city where we first met and eventually tied the knot. Generally, the large houses we rent are less costly than everyone getting separate hotel rooms. However, last year was rather costly, mainly because we waited until so late in the year to find our destination house. Not so this time.

Before January was over, we had put down a much smaller payment on a large six-bedroom mansion located a mere 15 minute walk from the French Quarter.

Other years, our standard extended family of 12-15 people vacationed in Mexico, Flagstaff, Lake Tahoe, San Diego, San Francisco and once, we even rented J.P. Morgan the Third’s home on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

Recently, we have been driving to our destinations rather than taking a costly and uncomfortable airline flight. There are two reasons for this. First, our hybrid Toyota Prius will cost a mere $200 total in gasoline compared to the $1,400 the airlines want for two round-trip tickets. The second (main) reason is we can bring along our dogs if we drive. Boarding and kenneling them not only costs upwards of $500, it seems like we are sentencing them to a jail term as opposed to giving them a family vacation in which they are loved to death.

Although it is rather obvious that New Orleans has no lack of sights, sounds and a plethora of entertainment available, I have two goals to fulfill. They both involve reconnecting with two incredible people. The first man is Dr. Luther Gray, the founder of The Conga Square Foundation. In the 1800s, African Americans were allowed to sing their music only on Sundays and only in Conga Square. In 1989, Dr. Gray, who is, among other things, a world renowned percussionist, re-opened Sunday music in Conga Square. It has now blossomed into a tradition that has become a must-see event that weekly features famous jazz musicians and drumming, not just from New Orleans, but from all over the world.

I met Luther in the late 1990s at a men’s conference at Camp Miller outside of Sturgeon Lake. Luther had brought with him a half dozen parolees from the notorious Angola State Penitentiary located deep in the swamps of Louisiana. Angola is infamous for Warden Bull Conner and the barbaric, tortuous conditions he created at what was then widely considered to be the toughest prison in America. Luther worked for a program called “Project Return” in which prisoners out on parole were teamed up with a mentor on the outside, preferably a man who had already served time at Angola. It was at Camp Miller where I was introduced to some members of his famous jazz group called “Bamboula 2000.”

The other old friend I would like to find also has a legendary jazz connection attached to his name. The man goes by the name of The Reverend Goat and is a longtime friend of Dr. John the Night Tripper. Recent rumor has it the Goat can still be found hanging out in The French Quarter or in the ‘hood near his home on Oak Street. The Reverend Goat can be best described as a wild Cherokee Creole street preacher/musician who weighs under 100 pounds and never shuts his mouth.

He once told me, “I’m so skinny because I’m always talking and I often forget to eat.”

In 1992, he ran for president as “The Blues Party” candidate and actually garnered 100,000 votes. His slogan was, “We want our money back.”

Although I haven’t seen him in 15 years, there is no doubt in my mind I will instantly recognize him on the street. He’s the little guy wearing the leather-fringed jacket and a white cowboy hat with feathers sticking out in all directions. He’ll also be the only street musician with a stringed-jawbone playing a style of music as unique as his name.

Look out Reverend Goat — I’m on my way!


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