They exist on the outskirts of every New Orleans event, serving a purpose as valuable as the event itself. They often spend their own money and always endure tremendous inconveniences. They’re out there in the event crowds, too, of course, but that’s not where they make a difference. It’s in their houses, behind the opened doors of their sacrosanct castles, that they perform what might be the most important duty of any New Orleanian: hosting.
The host is an incredibly vital part of New Orleans culture. Events like parades, Second Lines, and festivals may be open to the public (or at least have public aspects), but they can be chaotic and crowded. New Orleanians live in a near perpetual crowd, the events and festivals flow almost seamlessly from one to another. It would be impossible for many who live here to enjoy the benefits of such a culturally active city without a home base. Hosts provide this home base. They open up their bathrooms, their couches, and their guest beds. The ice down kegs and champagne and line steaming crock pots down long tables. Everyone comes together to help, we all bring beer and food and ice and propane, but without the host, we’d all be out in the street battling the crowds. The host makes sure that participating in New Orleans is as easy for a local as visiting a friend.
We have benefited from hosts our whole time in New Orleans. We have entire social circles built around people who live along the St. Charles Avenue parade route. We have another built around the scene in the Bywater/Marigny on Mardi Gras day. It goes beyond parades: we’ve come to meet people who live in the French Quarter or along corridors in other parts of the city prone to festivals. Through hosts, we’ve viewed the experience of virtually every New Orleans event through the eyes of more than a New Orleanian: that of a neighborhood resident. Every neighborhood in New Orleans where a friend lives is another neighborhood where you are a local.
We take the host’s responsibility in keeping New Orleans culture accessible to New Orleanians seriously. Our contribution is, like that of all hosts, determined by our neighborhood: Faubourg St. John, or, The Fairgrounds. Here, every April, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is produced. This event has a long, fond history in New Orleans, but recently prices have been increasing dramatically (we found a 2004 ticket laying around with an $18 face value, 2016 tickets will cost near $70). The increase in price means that attending the festival, which many locals used to do on every one of its seven days, has become cost prohibitive. But visiting with friends is free. So every year we open our home, just a half block away from the festival, to our friends and family and their friends and family. We get a bunch of beer. We cook breakfast and dinner. Our guests come to our house whether they are attending the festival or not, because they know someone in the neighborhood. They know what it’s like to live so close to Jazz Fest and watch the crowds from a comfortable perch. And we hope they have a good time. We hope our hosting allows real New Orleanians, the ones who work here, who put up with all the negatives, to experience the best their own city has to offer.
It’s important to participate in your local culture, and it’s important to help others participate as well. In hosting, New Orleanians have established a beautiful custom of spreading our cultural wealth. In our time here we have benefitted enormously from our friends, our hosts. Without people like JoAnn and Rabbi, Alex and Daniele, James and Rylan, Rahlyn and Amy, Reba, Erica, Tim and Rachel, Gary and Les, Bob and his family, and probably dozens of others I’m forgetting, our time in New Orleans would not have been nearly as enjoyable and fulfilling as it has been. We hope that we have been enjoyable guests during our time here, and we hope that we too have been hosts worthy of our site in the New Orleans cultural calendar.