Sunday, October 07, 2007

This Is Gretna!

[Note: These great pictures were taken and uploaded by Mike Sax and reproduced here in accordance with his licensing requirements. +HW]

Father Hollywood's two year-old son LionBoy (whose real name is Leonidas) and his daddy have a little game we play with one another. I recite the line from the movie 300 in which King Leonidas cries out: "This is Sparta!" Leo retorts: "No, Gretna!" I counter with: "This is Gretna!" after which, he corrects me again with a mischievous grin: "No, Sparta!"

Well, this is indeed Gretna - and I love my home town.

Tonight, the Gretna Heritage Festival winds down. Since this is our first year living in Gretna, the Hollywoods didn't realize what a big deal the Gretna Fest is, or just how close we are to the action!

Some 100,000 people were expected to come to our city for this weekend event. Our house is less than a half block from the barricades to enter the festival. People are hustling and bustling by our front porch. Cars are parked on the city streets as far as the eye can see and even farther (the city has shuttles bringing attendees to the entrance from various locations around the area).

There are several stages set up for musical acts along the levee. Bands such as Starship, the Temptations, the Beach Boys, Dickie Betts, and Travis Tritt performed (along with many other lesser known performers). A large area has been converted into a carnival midway, with the usual games and rides. Food is in abundance, including the usual funnel cakes and chicken on a stick, but also featuring boiled crab, shrimp, and gumbo.

We attended the Fest on Friday afternoon/evening. We could not believe how the usually sleepy City of Gretna had become the party epicenter of the New Orleans area. After walking the 30 seconds to get in, we turned up Huey P. Long and strutted behind a brass band toward the levee. Wow! People of all ages were happily eating, dancing, partying, and drinking (New Orleans Original Daiquiris obviously had a booth, as evidenced by the jumbo-sized "mugs" (read: mini kegs) people were walking around with.

We wandered over to the levee to see two huge stages set up - complete with the large screens for better viewing of the performers. We strolled along the levee and found us a good sittin'-place. Leo was restless, choosing to climb up and down the levee wall spinning webs like Spiderman and tossing pebbles over the side.

Finally, Starship (formerly Jefferson Starship, formerly Jefferson Airplane) took the stage, and LionBoy's demeanor changed. He took a seat next to Father Hollywood and glued his eyes to the flashing stage lights. He watched in awe as singer Mickey Thomas belted out classic pop and rock numbers from the 1980s. The band held Leo's attention for a good half hour, as he snuggled in next to dad, tapped his foot and bobbed his head to the beat. It was a great show.

After Leo had his fill of the concert, we wandered around. There were plenty of rides and games. We discovered that our little boy is pretty much fearless when it comes to the rides. I rode with him on a roller coaster with a dragon's head. We rode a spinny ride of bees that go up and down. We rode together on a little train. But Leo also rode solo on the caterpillar and the octopus rides - and had a blast. He also went "fishing" and caught two "sharks" - earning a prize of a stuffed clown fish ("Nemo," of course).

By the time we headed back to the levee, Starship had finished. That's okay, though. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane that we did get to see. Mickey Thomas still has the "pipes" and can hit the high notes with ease. (When I sang for the Fort Wayne Kantorei, I often sang in falsetto as a Tenor - so I can appreciate the energy required to sing high and with power).

Thomas, who hails from San Francisco, made a comment as the sun was getting ready to set. He scoped out the view - the Mississippi River with all sorts of boats of every type, size, and color cruising by, the palm trees, the pedestrian-friendly levee, the glorious New Orleans skyline, and the brightly-lit Crescent City Connection bridge that connects Gretna and the West Bank with the Crescent City's East Bank (to Uptown and the French Quarter). He said something to the effect of: "Look at that view! The people of Gretna get to see that every day!" And he's absolutely right.

The Hollywoods are frequent visitors to the levee. We live three blocks away. We usually walk, but sometimes ride bikes. We even go out at night. Gretna is the safest city in Jefferson Parish. While in parts of New Orleans folks pretty much have to barricade themselves in at night, this is not true in Gretna - at least not in Old Gretna where we live. You will routinely see families with children strolling around at dusk or even at night. The City of New Orleans glows across the rolling river. Boats light up the waterway as walkers and and cyclists wave and smile to everybody else on the levee. It really is cool. This is a great place to live.

"This is Gretna!"

[Note: I will be uploading some pictures of my own of the Gretna Fest to my Flickr site - but they are nowhere near as nice as those taken and posted by Mike Sax above! +HW]

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