I first heard the Dixie Chaps last November, during a visit to the Treasure Island post office where a recording of their lively arrangement of the Dixieland classic “South” fluttered across the room like a windswept envelope. In response to my inquiry, a postal clerk nodded toward a speaker on the wall. “Oh, they’re a local band,” he said. “They play at the Bilmar Hotel every Wednesday. “
Our group arrives at the popular Bilmar just before sunset on a balmy June night and locates an available table in a courtyard formed by sturdy stucco walls and decorated with palm trees and tropical shrubs. One side of the courtyard opens to a swimming pool where, this evening, motel guests lounge on inflatable rafts or slam oversized beach balls. Steps from our table, at the hotel’s beachfront lounge, a handful of patrons relax at wicker tables with beers and mixed drinks. Through sliding doors left ajar, I can see a clarinet and a trombone resting on stands beside a trio of microphones.
The aromas of char-grilled beef and baked fish waft on the warm sea breeze as servers dressed in tee shirts and shorts carry plates laden with entrees, sandwiches, and salads across the cobblestone walkways toward an outdoor cafe.
Ten minutes after our arrival, the band begins with an up-tempo song reminiscent of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street jazz halls. Comprised of five senior gents, the Dixie Chaps continue with “Basin Street Blues,” followed by “Jeepers Creepers.” They perform for nearly an hour, alternating soothing rhythms with swinging sounds.
Seated at an iron table beneath a palm in this courtyard on a sultry evening, I feel lonesome for the Crescent City. I recall the horse drawn carriages inching past Jackson Square, the warm, powdered beignets and steaming chicory coffee at Café du Monde, and the brassy tunes spilling from the dim old clubs onto the narrow streets of the French Quarter.
Then suddenly, a laid-back melody performed by the legendary clarinetist Pete Fountain comes to mind. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” Yes, Indeed.