By VICTOR E. SASSON
NEW ORLEANS -- In a park next to the wide, muddy Mississippi River, we set up our folding chairs under a flowering tree, giving us shade and a three-quarter view of one of the main stages.
The city's annual French Quarter Festival is billed as the largest, free music festival in the South -- a showcase for local musicians playing every genre from traditional jazz to rhythm and blues, New Orleans funk, Zydeco, brass bands and so much more.
And the crowd must be the best fed with more than a 100 stands offering signature dishes and cocktails from the city's top restaurants and bars.
I concentrated on dishes made with crab, oysters, shrimp and fish, and found a few real winners.
Among the bands we enjoyed were Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers; Irma Thomas, Soul Queen of New Orleans; and Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the Roadmasters.
The highly anticipated Buckwheat Zydeco encountered technical problems, but when they were resolved, the group bombed, and we left during the first song.
|A refreshing Crab & Artichoke Citrus Salad ($8) from Jacques-Imo Cafe was the first specialty we tried on Thursday in Jackson Square, and it was one of my favorites.|
|In Riverfront Park, House of Blues' delicious Voodoo Shrimp ($8) was served over corn bread, above and below, for a deeply satisfying snack.|
|New Orleans offers seafood lovers an incredible variety of wild-caught oysters, fish and shrimp from the nearby Gulf of Mexico.|
|The sight of a po-boy sandwich makes my knees weak, and this Oyster Rockefeller Po-Boy from Desire Oyster Bar ($10) was no exception. I asked the server to hold the creamed spinach dressing and drenched the fried oysters with hot sauce.|
|Praline Connection offered some of the biggest servings, including Fried Jumbo Chicken Wings with Mustard Greens ($9), above, and a Vegetarian Plate of Mustard Greens, Crowder Peas & Okra ($8), below.|
|A spicy Fish & Chips from GW Fins was a big hit.|
|Mona's Cafe offered Greek and Middle Eastern food, including this lamb Gyro with Hummus, Greek Salad and Pita ($10). But there was no explanation for the mediocre pocket bread, which felt like cardboard.|
|This tomato-based Red Fish Bisque ($8) from Red Fish Grill is one of the best soups I have ever had.|
|Also in Riverfront Park, Pat O'Brien's Bar was pouring a Hurricane ($9) -- 4 ounces of Hurricane Rum mixed with 4 ounces of Hurricane Mix in a 26-ounce cup -- that made your head spin.|
|Lakeview Harbor Burger Restaurant served these wonderful Louisiana Blue Crab Cakes over Mixed Greens with Remoulade Sauce ($8), another one of my favorites. I enjoyed this treat on Sunday, the last day of the music-and-food festival.|
|Two of the food stands in Riverfront Park, above and below.|
|The line for the Louisiana Blue Crab Cakes and other dishes from Lakeview Harbor.|
|Sweet Crude is a band that embraces the region's French-speaking tradition.|
|American blues guitarist John Mooney, left, and his band, Bluesiana.|
|Tank and The Bangas was another young band with incredible energy. They performed on a stage at the Old U.S. Mint.|
Planning for next year's free festival is underway. The dates are April 6-9 with more than 400 musical performances over four days.
Web site: French Quarter Festivals Inc.