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Kevin Gates

At the very beginning of his career, in 2007, Louisiana’s Kevin Gates started working with the one and only Lil Boosie, another Louisiana native. Gates and Boosie worked hard in the studio, eventually cutting the track “Get in the Way,” which garnered some attention for Gates’ burgeoning rap career. Gates was unfortunately jailed in 2011, but after his release, was signed to Atlantic Records and taken under Young Money Entertainment’s management wing. Gates was also featured as a member of XXL Magazine’s 2014 Freshman Class, so you definitely know he’s on the come up. Vice’s music channel Noisey is presenting this show, which is promoting his latest project By Any Means.

Wed., Aug. 20, 7 p.m., 2014

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Mikky Ekko

When you hear the urban pop gloss covering the lithe, un-accented singing voice of Mikky Ekko, it’s hard to believe that one of the most intriguing voices in pop music right now hails from languid Louisiana. But listen to any of his songs—the lushly-arranged space cadet-speed of “Pull Me Down” produced by Clams Casino, or the bluesy grit sticking to the jungle rumble of “Who Are You Really”—and it’s clear Mikky Ekko’s music is like an avant-garde earthquake, the sum of many strange parts. In January of 2013, when a little song called “Stay” was released and performed as a duet between Rihanna and Ekko, the Barbadian goddess helped put the relatively unknown artist above the mainstream radar. Considering Ekko was the guy who wrote the chart-smashing pop ballad that played non-stop for all of 2013, they both have each other to thank.

Wed., Aug. 13, 9:30 p.m., 2014

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Ducks Eatery: Bite Their Tongue

A fried pig’s ear is a porky mille-feuille. Cartilage, meat, and skin layered together for crackle and crunch. Ducks Eatery serves the stuff as curled ribbons in cold lettuce cups, garnished with pickled cabbage, hot sauce, and sesame seeds ($11). The little bundles are a welcome addition to the East Village bar-snack scene.

Other flourishes catch the eye. There is scallop roe, cured and dried like bottarga, used to season a quinoa salad ($8). And there are fried duck tongues on beets ($7) garnished with drunken hiccups of fermented rice and a gently spiced dressing of house-made yogurt. Citrus fruits such as calamansi and finger limes arrive to the party, too, like friends who glow with fresh, tropical tans.

Will Horowitz used to run a small restaurant inside SPiN, the Flatiron Ping-Pong club, also called Ducks Eatery. Although Horowitz could easily have gotten away with a basic menu of overpriced sliders and truffled fries there, he was coming off a year cooking and traveling through Southeast Asia. So he made fresh tortillas and oyster kimchi for short rib tacos and slipped roasted pigskin confit into the banh mi. Horowitz closed Ducks 1.0 last year and returns now with his sister, general manager Julie Horowitz, bar manager Steve Laycock, and chef de cuisine David Milburn. The new Ducks draws even more loosely from Asia and from Louisiana.

The restaurant has a plucky sense of adventure that is often charming, and that occasionally leads to peril. Take that girl at the bar in a high-cut black leotard. She’s not wearing any pants. No, it’s not Lady Gaga, just one of the many thirsty East Villagers who don’t seem to mind that the cocktails here can be a bit sweet, fueled by fruit and perfume—a grainy watermelon gimlet ($11) whiffed of the lavender pillows and half-emptied bottles of gin one might find in an old lady’s knicker drawer. Beer is perhaps a more reliable match to a fine dish of deeply smoky, spicy ribs ($12) or a pile of chicken wings with the crispy tips still on ($12), brined in lime juice and cooked in the kitchen’s wood-smoker.

The butcher’s diagram of a rubber ducky, the restaurant’s much-repeated logo, is 100 percent silly. But maturity doesn’t seem to be a top concern at a place with “Dee’s Nuts” ($6) on the menu. The nuts are served in a wrinkled paper bag and are quite charming, actually: a mix of chile-dusted cashews, cubes of Benton’s bacon, Cocoa Krispies, and soft, dry cherries. But some dishes at Ducks can be heavy-handed. A raw diver scallop ($8), shucked and sliced to order, gets lost in a sticky dressing tweaked with vanilla oil, green olives, and pearls of finger lime—the same elements composed with a touch more finesse could make a stronger case for their pairing. A yaka mein soup ($14) conceals submarines of the restaurant’s delicious smoked brisket, clams in their shells, and pickled greens. It’s a nice homage to Louisiana, but the thick, fresh noodles from Chinatown can be overcooked.

As the executive chef, Horowitz is often opening a bottle for a table of women, greeting groups warmly like they’re walking in to a house party, and schmoozing in the dining room. On a recent evening, he was standing outside just a few feet away from the patio tables with a few diners who were smoking, and the sweet smell of whole barbecued shrimp ($10) slathered in lardo disappeared as my table was hit by puffs of Lucky Strike. Love it or hate it: The stink and clatter of the East Village is an inextricable part of dinner at Ducks Eatery.

The tables are too small, and you must shout to be heard. Wedged tightly among the drunken, sometime pantsless youth, women in dry-cleaned sweaters who interact mostly with their phones, and bleary-eyed bros who see only the meat in front of them, it’s easy to forget what it is you love about this cramped and unaffordable city. At 2:30 in the morning, hydrate with cold New York tap water, share fried pig ears and hot coconut rice with friends, and you’ll remember.

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Hurricane Romney, “Go Home and Call 211” and the Politics of Everything

With Clint Eastwood’s to-hell-with-this-wooden-chair speech in the past, the brutally drawn-out Republican National Convention has come to an end, leaving the Romney campaign to finally focus on the last three months of the election season. And these upcoming few weeks are the most important: as the candidates mark out their final talking points, the notorious yet senselessly hopeless skeptics known as the ‘independent voters’ go through the ultimate process of elimination. Hooray for the two-party system!

Moving on from Tampa, Mitt has found himself in hurricane territory: after accepting an invite from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the Republican hopeful traveled down to the devastated lands in Isaac’s path. These were the towns that unfortunately exist outside of the vast levee system that “protects” Louisiana’s shores after Katrina. And most of them were found underwater by authorities after the storm hit.
Once there, Romney spent close to an hour with Jindal shaking hands with first responders and National Guardsmen. The Governor pointed out to reporters that he extended the invite to Mr. Obama as well even though the President is coming on his own accord this Monday. And Jindal has a history of not accepting invites from the President, too: he was one of the few Republican governors that refused to accept stimulus funds a few years back. At the time, Louisiana had one of the worst unemployment numbers in the country
Mitt also met Jodie Chiarello, a 42-year-old woman who lost her house thanks to Isaac. Since the federal funds did not come to her area a few years back, her house was submerged under water and, now, she has nowhere to go. When Jodie asked Mitt what he could do about the situation, he had a brilliant plan to salvage what was left.
“He just told me to, uhm, there’s assistance out there,” she told reporters. “He said, ‘go home and call 211.'”
For those who do not know, 211 is a public service number one calls for basic human needs resources and other physical/mental resources in times of crisis. According to its website, you can also call it for unemployment benefits, daycare and donation centers. It’s like the 311 number we have here in New York – it’s a direct connection to your government, except they’ll probably put you on hold for fifteen minutes or so. Relax, the government will help you when it gets around to it.
Besides the fact that Jodie has no home to call 211 from, Romney’s suggestion relies upon an individual responsibility that lies as the cornerstone of his partner-in-crime’s budget. In Path to Prosperity, Paul Ryan offers an 80% cut in discretionary spending – the largest gutting of governmental public services in our lifetime – and FEMA finds itself stuck on the chopping block. Although exact numbers aren’t given to how much disaster funds would be cut, it’s safe to say that calling 211 might be the only option left in a nation starved for cash flow.
This was the point made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday when he chastised Mitt and Paul for even thinking that they could show sympathy for the hurricane victims. A bit harsh? Yes. In a statement, he wrote,

“It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own.”

Contrary to popular belief, everything is political. As cynical and heart-wrenching as it sounds,  a natural disaster like Hurricane Isaac is dealt with by human hands and, as Hunter S. Thompson once pointed out, “politics is the art of controlling your environment.” Therefore, Reid’s interjection of Ryan’s budget into the conversation is a common move by politicians (especially during election season) to further politicize an already political event. That was a tongue twister and a half.

However, the downside of an all-political reality is the ignorance that rides the coat tail of partisanship. If we’re talking disasters, we saw it happen back when Katrina hit New Orleans. While the country argued with itself over responsibility (or lack thereof) from FEMA, the Cajun city got privatized and assembled back together like a leaded toy from China.
And we are seeing the same thing happen here in this election now with Isaac. Sure, criticize Romney for telling Jodie to ‘go home and call 211’ but Reid is just as guilty of taking our eyes off the real victims here as well. The argument shifts away from the actual physical and emotional toll Isaac left behind on these people and we find itself mired in talks of the budget and Ayn-Rand-inspired personal responsibility.
In the end, humans are responsible for politics but they never want to be responsible for its side-effects. All this information can be repeated for you by calling 2-1-1.
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Quvenzhané Wallis Endures in Beasts of the Southern Wild

A zealous gumbo of regionalism, magical realism, post-Katrina allegory, myth, and ecological parable, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the southern Louisiana–set debut feature of 29-year-old Benh Zeitlin, rests, often cloyingly, on the tiny shoulders of Quvenzhané Wallis. Her character, Hushpuppy, the film’s six-year-old (also Wallis’s age during filming) protagonist and narrator, is meant to recall the resilience that Lillian Gish, addressing her flock of itty-bitty orphans and runaways, spoke of so memorably in The Night of the Hunter (1955): “When you’re little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again. Children are man at his strongest. They abide.”

Co-written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, whose play Juicy and Delicious served as the film’s starting point, and using a cast of locals, almost all of whom make their acting debuts here, Beasts of the Southern Wild strains to remind us of Hushpuppy’s wisdom and courage beyond her years. She is a motherless child: “She swam away,” explains her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), a chronically ill, frequently drunk man, of Mom’s absence. He and Hushpuppy live in separate trailers in a grassy, overgrown expanse in a fictional bayou area called the Bathtub. Stomping around her ramshackle, squalid domain in white plastic rain boots, a dirty T-shirt, and orange Underoos, this peewee heroine confidently wields a blowtorch. Perhaps saluting his child’s precocious strength, Wink refers to Hushpuppy as “boss,” “boss lady,” and the gender discordant “man,” whether exhorting her to cover up (“Get your pants on, man!”) or goading her to flex her pecs (“Who’s tha man?”).

This little girl will need to prove her might repeatedly. Her neighborhood is washed away by a hurricane, her father grows sicker and sicker, and she fearlessly stares down enormous, rampaging creatures called aurochs—actual prehistoric animals, here reimagined as giant wild boars, unleashed by the melting of the ice caps or by Hushpuppy’s fervent imagination. Yet all of these disasters—both natural and emotional—are merely part of Hushpuppy’s grand cosmic lesson: “I see that I’m a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes things right,” she says in voiceover, an aural blanketing as unremitting as the swampy, string-heavy score, co-composed by Zeitlin.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is not the first project by Zeitlin—the white Queens-born, Wesleyan-educated son of professional folklorists who has made New Orleans his home for the past few years—to feature a young African-American girl as its first-person narrator. Glory at Sea, his 25-minute short from 2008, which shares Beasts‘ diluvial setting and multiracial, marginalized Louisiana denizens, is told from the perspective of a child underwater. The missteps of Beasts aren’t necessarily rooted in the voice that Zeitlin assumes (presumptuously at worst, naively at best) to tell this uplifting story of survival and fortitude—both Hushpuppy’s and her Bathtub neighbors’. But in trying through incessant narration to make a six-year-old a prolix sage, Zeitlin can’t avoid falling into sticky sentimentality.

That’s a shame, because Wallis, whom Zeitlin cast after auditioning more than 3,000 other little girls, has such a commanding presence on-screen—never more so than when the camera observes her up close and in silence, before the music, Hushpuppy’s maxim-filled voiceover, and Wink’s bellowing kick in. In Beasts‘ opening scene, Hushpuppy quietly entertains herself by playing with a small mound of dirt in her trailer and clutching, almost too hard, a chick in her tiny hand. Her intense concentration during these moments—in which she becomes aware of her power over beings smaller and more vulnerable than she is—is the one image I’ll never forget from Beasts of the Southern Wild, despite its many effulgent scenes of Roman candles, drunken revelries, and unfazed mariners on jury-rigged boats after the storm. For it seems the truest, simplest expression of what Zeitlin is trying so relentlessly, if with the best intentions, to honor: a child’s understanding of responsibility, both to herself and others. In that one precious instant, Hushpuppy becomes, like pint-size Ana in The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) or, more recently, Iris in Night Catches Us (2010), a witness to forces within and without her—while still unmistakably remaining a child.

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Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole

Not yet 30, Texas-born Cedric Watson is a zydeco hotshot with a broad neotraditionalist enthusiasm for the French and Spanish dance musics, Congo drumming, Native American ceremonial rhythms, and Creole melodies that all fed into the Louisiana sound. A former member of the Pine Leaf Boys Cajun band, the fiddler-accordionist eases off on zydeco’s propulsive stomp by adding waltzes and two-steps to the party. Pre-show zydeco dance lessons begin at 7:30 p.m.

Sat., June 16, 8:30 p.m., 2012

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Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience

Fresh from his 27th consecutive appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Simien plays zydeco that keeps one eye on the past and the other on good-time tomfoolery. Local Cajun accordionist Jesse Legé, tonight’s opener, grew up in southwest Louisiana and was inducted into the Cajun Hall of fame in 1998.

Thu., May 24, 7 p.m., 2012

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No Sparks: The Chemistry Fizzles in Notebook-lite The Lucky One

It’s Nicholas Sparks’ world; we just live in it. Sparks, in case you haven’t scanned the paperback racks lately, is the former pharmaceutical salesman who’s written 16 bestsellers since 1995, when The Notebook was plucked from the slush pile by a wily publisher. The 2004 movie version of The Notebook was the third Sparks to be filmed, but it’s the one against which all other adaptations are measured. Lit within an inch of its life, and corny as hell, it’s one of those date night flicks we’re all too cool to fall for, but the chemistry between the leads, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, is pretty irresistible. Directed by Scott Hicks (Shine), The Lucky One is the seventh Sparks movie—two more are currently in pre-production—and, well, it’s no Notebook. In fact, it’s the most leaden of the bunch.

Zac Efron, impressively containing his innate physical exuberance, stars as U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault, who’s on his third tour of Iraq as the film opens. After a firefight in which several men in another platoon are killed, Logan is resting by a truck when something in the dirt catches his eye: a photo of pretty girl standing near a lighthouse. Just as Logan walks over to pick it up, a mortar round blows up his truck. Close call!

Soldiers are a superstitious lot, and that photo becomes Logan’s lucky charm. So when his tour ends, he sets out to find the girl and thank her for getting him through safely. Faster than you can say Google, Logan discovers that the lighthouse is in Louisiana, but before heading there, he stops in Colorado, where he jumps at loud noises and nearly strangles his nephew when the boy playfully attempts to wake him. Only mildly alarmed, his sister suggests a military therapist. Does Logan have post traumatic stress disorder? Apparently not, because screenwriter Will Fetters (Remember Me) never references such behavior again. It may be that exercise is the cure for PTSD because, from Colorado, Logan and his faithful German Shepherd journey to Louisiana by foot. That’s an awfully long walk, but before you know it, Logan is shaking hands with Beth (Taylor Schilling), his blond talisman.

Love stories of this type are all about failed communication, and so it is that before he can explain about the photo, Beth has mistaken Logan for a job applicant, and hired him to work at the gorgeous, farm-like pet kennel she runs with the grandmother who raised her. Nana, as Beth calls her, is deftly played by Blythe Danner, a fine actress who’s been better served by television than movies. Presumably, neither Ellen Burstyn nor Gena Rowlands were available to play Nana, who spends her days doing paint-by-number watercolors, cutting fresh roses from her movie-perfect garden, and arching a knowing brow at Beth and Logan, who are predictably blind to their growing love.

Lust does eventually win out. After a few beers, Efron’s shirt finally (!) comes off and he and Schilling feign PG-13 ecstasy beneath the white mosquito netting that drapes Logan’s bed. (Hey, this is Louisiana.) They hit the sack more than once, actually (making a slow-moving film feel even longer), but no amount of neck nuzzling or back arching can make us believe there’s real heat rising between these two. Onscreen chemistry between actors is a mysterious thing—100 years into cinema, it remains the one story element that Hollywood can’t fake.

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In Praise of Frank’s RedHot: A Thumbnail History of Buffalo Chicken Wings

Whoomp! There it is.

When I’m making Buffalo chicken wings, do I reach for the Tabasco? No, I do not. Sure it’s great for zapping a gumbo or shaking on oysters, but it’s too damn hot and vinegary for Buffalo wings. Use it, and it will climb right up your nose, eclipsing the chicken flavor with its overweening sourness.

No, the proper hot sauce for Buffalo Wings isn’t Louisiana brand, or Trappey’s, or Texas Pete’s. It’s Frank’s RedHot, which has less spiciness and less vinegar. It’s custom-made for tender-tongued Yankees, that’s for sure, but that’s why Buffalo wings are wildly popular in the first place: They massage your tongue with heat rather than singeing it.

Here’s how it’s done: First, cut the wings into their constituent parts at the joints, discarding the tip third. Second, shake sea salt and grind pepper all over the parts. Third, fry the things in peanut oil till the skin is crisp and golden brown. Fourth, warm equal parts Frank’s RedHot and butter in a skillet. Fifth, dip the fried wing parts in the mixture, swooshing the Frank’s butter over them for a minute or so. The warmth of the sauce helps it penetrate.

Then, chicken wing perfection!

Frank’s RedHot is no fly-by-night condiment. It was, according to its Wikipedia page, invented by Cincinnati resident Jacob Frank at his tea and spice warehouse in 1896. Twenty years later, after entering into a contract with a Louisiana pepper farmer named Adam Estilette to purchase chilies, the two reformulated the sauce, and began producing the modern version.

It was the hot sauce deployed when Buffalo wings were supposedly invented at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo. Some say her husband, Frank, was responsible. Why she (or he) did it is a matter of speculation — one story recounts an erroneous chicken-parts delivery, another an after-midnight invention Saturday morning for a bunch of Catholics, just after their Friday flesh-fast was completed.

And others claim credit, too, specifically a guy named John Young, who called the wing dip “mambo sauce,” and didn’t cut his wings into segments the way the Bellissimos did. Either way, Buffalo chicken wings must be accounted one of the greatest American culinary inventions of the 20th century.

Read Calvin Trillin’s wonderful 1980 investigative piece into the origin of the wings, from which several of the above details have been derived.

The finished product. Oops, where’s the celery and homemade blue cheese dressing?

 

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‘CMJ: Lissie+Dylan LeBlanc’

Born and bred in small-town Illinois but currently based outside of Los Angeles, Lissie makes dusty, soul-steeped Americana that sounds like the product of Cat Power’s younger sister; the English press are currently buying, if that means anything to you. Young Dylan LeBlanc comes from Louisiana and sounds more enamored of the music of which Cat Power’s enamored.

Fri., Oct. 22, 7:15 p.m., 2010