If luxury horror is your thing, look no further than haunted hotels this Halloween. As rounded up in a spread on USA Today, several hotels across the country are incorporating their own tales from the crypt into their businesses this time of year. A couple examples of haunted hotels participating in the spooky season:
The Biltmore Coral Gables in Miami has been everything over the years from a speakeasy during Prohibition to a hospital ward for World War II soldiers to the murder scene of a gangster. Guests have complained of visions and other kinds of ghostly disturbances-including getting dropped off at the 13th floor form the elevator despite the button not being pressed-since the building reopened as a hotel in the 1980s.The Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans once served as a ballroom and theater, but was then turned into a girls’ school, orphanage and medical ward. Guests routinely complain of hearing voices that sound as though they belong to children.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And if you can’t convince them your hotel isn’t filled with ghosts, convince them of the opposite instead.
Recently, the former automotive boomtown of Detroit made history by filing for bankruptcy, making it an easy butt of jokes on Twitter and in the news. However, Motown has also been making strides to become America’s great comeback city, with artists and entrepreneurs lured by cheap rents, and innovative projects happening all over town (disclosure: I’m a big fan of the city, and so is the New York Times‘ Frank Bruni). Detroit has more than a few great things going for it, including architecture, museums and sports, and tourist dollars could go a long way in helping the city recover. Can it become a tourist destination again?
Some of the top tourist destinations in the world were once no-go zones for travelers, suffering from financial crises, war, natural disasters and rampant crime. Here are a few of our favorite comeback cities:Berlin: One of the world’s most resilient cities, Berlin has been through war, occupation and one gigantic divide, and come back to thrive. In the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, East Berlin in particular has become a hipster mecca, due to some of the lowest prices in western Europe for nightlife and a vibrant art and design scene. While not everyone welcomes the gentrification, the German capital is continuing to gain millions of foreign tourists each year.
Buenos Aires: A mix of hyperinflation, government corruption and mounting debt led to riots and an economic crisis in Argentina in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country has stabilized and the peso value has risen, but it’s affordability has made it increasingly attractive to travelers in the last ten years, making it the No. 1 tourism destination in South America. Buenos Aires is opening more boutique hotels each year, ensuring a place every year on lists such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of new hotels.
New Orleans: A longtime favorite for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, along with events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans was profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourism is the biggest source of employment in the city and a major factor to its economy, and the disaster made visitor numbers plummet. Louisiana’s recovery has been slow but steady, and major infrastructure improvements brought on by this year’s “Super Gras” have helped the Big Easy come back.
New York City: Visitors to the Big Apple have topped 50 million, spending billions of dollars in the city annually. While New York has never suffered from lack of tourists, the 1980s crack epidemic and surge in crime gave it an image of being a violent, dirty and dangerous city and visitor numbers dipped. Like Detroit, it also faced possible bankruptcy in 1975 and President Ford was infamously (mis)quoted to tell NYC to “drop dead.” The terrorist attacks in 2001 caused another slowdown in visitors, but it’s now one of the safest, most visited cities in the world.
Tokyo: While Tokyo was not as devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as other parts of Japan, it definitely felt the hurt with a sharp decline in tourism, major damage to national infrastructure, and radiation concerns. Foreign visitors are now exceeding the pre-disaster levels, though seismologists worry that an even bigger earthquake is due to hit Tokyo.
An honorable mention must go to the countries in the former Yugoslavia, especially Croatia and the cities of Belgrade and Sarajevo. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the popularity of the Dalmatian coast as a beach destination, or the battle-scarred Serbian capital as a nightlife hotspot? They aren’t quite seeing the same tourism numbers as the destinations above, but they should be on your travel radar. Istanbul and Beirut are also favorites for their many comebacks and reinventions, though the effects from current events are already being seen in the local tourism industries.
We love music here at Gadling, and this month is Public Radio Music Month, which is why we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.
Today we’re headed to the birthplace of jazz: New Orleans. But New Orleans offers a whole lot more than jazz, and the local scene is one that’s well known outside of Louisiana. Thanks to local music host Gwen Thompkins we get the insider scoop on the music of this exciting city, from singer-songwriters to high school brass bands.
Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Host, Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins. NPR contributor.
When people think of music in New Orleans, what do they think of?
When people think of New Orleans, they think of music and vice versa. The city and its music are synonymous – traditional jazz, modern jazz, bounce, blues, R&B, brass bands, gospel, boogie woogie, swamp pop, hip hop, funk, cabaret. If your tastes run to opera, New Orleans has that too. In fact, the first opera house in North America was built right here in the French Quarter, which back then wasn’t just a neighborhood. It was New Orleans. Jelly Roll Morton talked about what he heard and saw at the opera house all the time. But what most people forget is that the legendary Boswell Sisters also grew up in New Orleans. In the 1920s and 1930s, their vocal jazz harmonies dominated the national charts and sold tens of millions of records. Ella Fitzgerald credited Connee Boswell as the only singer she ever tried to emulate.
New Orleans later topped the national charts with early rhythm and blues. Nearly everything Fats Domino touched turned to gold. But there’s no use skipping over Shirley and Lee of “Let the Good Times Roll,” or Ruth “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” Brown or Lee “Working in a Coal Mine” Dorsey. And the whole nation heard about Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law.”
These homegrown songs and many, many others are still part of our daily lives in New Orleans. We hear them every day on radio and at a growing number of music festivals around town.
More often than not, today’s visitors to New Orleans want to fit into the groove right along with us. So they’re looking to absorb the whole musical experience – from trumpeter Buddy Bolden to the Meters, from Mahalia Jackson to Mystikal and from Louis Prima to Trombone Shorty to L’il Wayne. They also want to know about the great producers – Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew, Wardell Quezergue and Cosimo Matassa – who helped shape, shift and funkify modern American music. And they want to hear from some of our piano royalty – Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr. John, Huey Smith, Ellis Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., David Torkanowsky, Jon Cleary.
And then there’s Louis Armstrong. He’s the immortal one, the reason we all want to be from New Orleans.
How do you help curate that musical scene?
I look to my left and I look to my right and chances are – wherever I am in New Orleans – there’s someone or something great nearby. Just a few doors down from my house lives Lionel Ferbos who, at 101, is the oldest performing jazz musician in town. I see soul queen Irma Thomas at the dry cleaners and Dr. John at the grocery store. Talent is ubiquitous down here, which makes us a little spoiled. So I’m creating an archive of hour-long discussions with some of the most seminal artists of our time. We talk about the experiences and influences that helped create their sound and, by extension, music that is treasured around the world. We broadcast the interviews each week on radio and allow folks to stream them on the web.
How has the New Orleans scene evolved over the past few decades?
We’ve said goodbye to way too many wonderful artists in recent decades. Some, like James “Sugar Boy” Crawford or “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, died. Others, like the great pianist Henry Butler, moved away because they had to start over again after Hurricane Katrina. But those who can come back eventually do.
Since the 1950s, New Orleans has had its share of traditional jazz revivals and currently traditional jazz is in full bloom, with a crowd of established and up and coming artists. Try visiting Preservation Hall or the Palm Court Cafe or walking Frenchman Street in the Marigny (neighborhood). There’s nothing like seeing kids with dreadlocks and tattoos slow dancing to an old classic like, “Careless Love.”
That said, bounce has grabbed a lot of music lovers by the ears. Big Freedia and Katie Red are the divas to beat and when they team up with funksters like Galactic, they’re unstoppable.
Brass bands have gotten funkier too, which has set off an aesthetic debate down here about the meaning of tradition. What a trumpeter like Shamarr Allen teaches young brass band players is a world apart from what a drummer like Shannon Powell learned from the celebrated jazz greats of Treme.
What would you say is the most unique thing about the New Orleans music scene?
New Orleans has open arms. There’s room in the city for homegrown talent and for musicians who were born far, far away. It’s rare to find a place in the world where so many different people can play so many disparate styles and still feel at home artistically.
What are three new up and coming bands on the local scene right now and what makes them distinct?
The first lesson a music lover learns here is, “Ain’t nothing new.”
But if you’re coming to New Orleans don’t miss:
Alex McMurray: one of the finest songwriters working today in New Orleans or anyplace else. McMurray was born in New Jersey, came down here for college, took in a Neville Brothers/Marva Wright show at Tipitina’s and decided he was home. His songs are fully realized narratives about protagonists who drift through blues melodies, ditties, lounge music or flat out rock ‘n roll. McMurray writes about old boxers and sea faring lads, barflies, soldiers, at least one courtesan and a nutty guy named, “Otis.” Through a strange set of circumstances involving Disney and Japan, McMurray also knows an unusual number of sea shanties by heart. Filthy? Yes. But they’re awfully fun. He plays solo and with a band called the Tin Men. Check out: “The Get Go” “Me and My Bad Luck,” “It’s Not the Years, It’s the Miles,” “As Long as You Let Me.”
Hurray for the Riff Raff: Great singer-songwriters, not afraid of a guitar and a violin and a yodel or two. Alynda Lee Segarra, originally of the Bronx, New York, writes most of the songs. The melodies are mostly folk rock, but take on a Cajun quality at times. Hurray for the Riff Raff has been reported to admire The Band, which makes them A-OK by me. Check out: “Look Out Mama,” “Junebug Waltz,” “Little Black Star.”
KIPP McDonough 15 Middle School Brass Band. Director: Kelvin Harrison, Sr.: One of the many young brass bands coming out of the schools of New Orleans. Others include: O. Perry Walker High School Brass Band and Joseph S. Clark Prep Brass Band. Each school won a top prize at the 2013 Class Got Brass competition held by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. This is how the city’s second line tradition is reaching the stars of tomorrow.
Each year, the foundation uses some of the money earned at the city’s annual jazz and heritage festival to help continue local music traditions. The bands win prize money to buy and maintain their instruments. If you wanna know who’s gonna be the next Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen or Dr. Michael White, start seeking out these and other young brass bands.
For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?
“We Made it Through That Water” – Free Agents Brass Band
“Heart of Steel” – Galactic featuring Irma Thomas
“Blessed Quietness” – Zion Harmonizers & Olympia Brass Band
“Petite Fleur” – Dr. Michael White
“Tou’ Les Jours C’est Pas La Meme – Carol Fran
“Careless Love –Don Vappie
“Atrapado” – Tom McDermott
“How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come Around)” – Dr. John
Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras has never been for the faint of heart. But with the city set to host the Super Bowl just nine days before Fat Tuesday, locals believe that this year’s “Super Gras” celebration might be the city’s biggest party ever. New Orleans has spent $1.3 billion on infrastructure improvements in the run up to the Super Bowl according to CNN, and USA Today estimates that the city will see a $1 billion spike in economic activity as a result of the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras.
The pre-Lent partying culminates on Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 12 this year, but there are dozens of parades, organized by carnival krewes, balls and parties in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. We spoke to Laura Martone, a New Orleans native and author of the recently released “Moon Handbook to New Orleans,” to get a flavor of what New Orleans is like during Mardi Gras.
For some, Mardi Gras is synonymous with debauchery – beads, flashing and binge drinking, among other things. Has all of that been going on for decades?
I’m 36 and all of that has been happening since I was a little kid. My mom tells me that it used to be more family friendly. People throw beads down to women and men who are flashing. I have never done that. My dignity is worth more than some plastic beads. But a lot of the parades are more family friendly and you don’t see much flashing at those events.
I assume 99% of the women who are flashing are tourists?
Probably. The thing that used to fascinate me as a kid was seeing the cops taking pictures of the women flashing. No one was getting ticketed for indecent exposure because the cops were too busy taking pictures.
The cops don’t still take photos of women flashing, do they?
I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past them.
You live in the French Quarter. Do New Orleans natives dread Mardi Gras because the city is invaded by tourists?
A lot of my friends are leaving town, and when I was growing up, my mom would take me to some of the parades but even she didn’t love it. As an adult, you kind of dread the mayhem. You get so many drunken crowds; people are here to party more than for the culture. This year is the perfect storm because we have the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras at the same time. It’s total mayhem.
But, while I know plenty of people that flee the city during one of the busiest times of the year, there are many, many more that embrace the occasion. People host Mardi Gras parties, flock to as many parades as possible, and, sometimes even spring for tickets to one of the big balls. Most New Orleanians don’t need a reason to let the good times roll.
What’s it like to live in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras? Are people vomiting and peeing in the streets?
Oh yeah, but sadly you see that here throughout the year. It’s just a bit more during Mardi Gras. Sometimes I just do not want to be on Bourbon Street. I’d rather walk on Royal Street, where you can still get the French Quarter atmosphere without being inundated by hawkers and drunks. But sometimes it is fun to walk down Bourbon Street and just feel the energy. Most people are having a really good time.
Do most of the tourists just turn up around Fat Tuesday or well before then?
The big crowds come for the last weekend because that’s when all the major super krewes run. Endymion is on Saturday night and Bacchus is Sunday night, and Monday is Orpheus. Orpheus is the one started by Harry Connick, Jr. and it has a music theme. And then on Mardi Gras Day, you have a ton of parades. The major ones are Rex, which is the king of Mardi Gras, and Zulu, that’s the African-American one that’s been around since the early 1900s. They pass out coconuts and it’s a little crazy.
When does the Mardi Gras season start?
Technically, it starts on January 6, Epiphany. But the parade season is usually the two weeks before Mardi Gras Day. The dates change every year, depending on when Easter is. Usually right after Christmas, we take down our Christmas decorations and put up our Mardi Gras decorations.
What advice do you have for first-time Mardi Gras visitors?
If they’ve never been before, coming on Mardi Gras weekend is a big deal because that’s when the super krewes roll. You get the celebrity grand marshals and the big floats and endless marching bands and that kind of stuff. But for people who just want to get a taste of the season, there are parades going on all the time. On Sunday, for example, there’s the Krewe of Barkus – it’s the dog parade and it’s really crazy.
It’s tough to get a room in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras. What other neighborhoods should people look into?
I don’t always encourage people to stay in the French Quarter. The French Quarter hotels tend to be a lot pricier and it’s harder to get rooms. The two neighborhoods on either side of the French Quarter – the Central Business District (CBD) and the Faubourg Marigny – are really good. CBD has a lot of chains so those places will be more reasonably priced. Faubourg Marigny has more intimate bed-and-breakfasts and it’s a little funkier, so it’s kind of a good New Orleans experience. It’s cheaper than the French Quarter but it’s still within walking distance.
And the Garden District?
That’s another good choice and it’s accessible via the St. Charles streetcar but because of the Super Bowl, everything is in disarray because they were repairing that line. But it’s still pretty easy to get from the Garden District to the heart of the city. Uptown is also a good choice. It has a combination of chain hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.
What other tips do you have for first-time visitors?
New Orleans isn’t dangerous in the same way Rio is. But still, with the crowds and alcohol, you want to be careful. Travel in pairs. Watch out for pickpockets. People worry about the crime situation in New Orleans but just be careful where you go. The Quarter itself is relatively safe because there’s a big police presence. But right across Rampart Street, which borders one side of the quarter, you’re in Tremé, which is not very safe. Tourists wander off the beaten path when they’re drunk and that’s when they get mugged. Try to stay in places where you see plenty of people, and when in doubt about an area, just ask someone. Natives are very friendly here.
Tourists come here and they leave their inhibitions behind. People think that anything that happens here, stays here but it can be safe if you have your wits about you.
For those who want to experience Mardi Gras but are a little intimidated by the crowds and craziness in New Orleans, are there alternatives nearby?
There are parades in Metairie, which is a suburb of New Orleans, Slidell, which is another suburb that is much more family friendly. And beyond here, Lafayette has a big Mardi Gras celebration of its own. It’s about 2-1/2 to 3 hours away and it has a more Cajun vibe. And outside Louisiana, Mobile has a great Mardi Gras and it’s also pretty family friendly.
People do crazy things to get beads at Mardi Gras but these things are made in China. Why not just buy them?
Right, you can buy them wholesale. They are dirt-cheap, so it doesn’t make that much sense to me to expose myself to get them.