Dinah Might’s New Orleans Festival Diary
I had heard rave reviews about Rick Delaup’s 1st annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival (NOBF), so I was thrilled to be performing not once, but twice at the 2nd annual NOBF!
When I think of New Orleans, I draw up images of Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, jazz bands, Scarlett O’Hara, Creole cooking and – of course – the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to explore this fascinating city, so I arrived with my boyfriend a few days before the festival.
After checking into the Westin – the host hotel, I promptly booked us onto the ‘Oak Alley Plantation Tour’. Oak Alley is named after the quarter-mile long alley of 28 magnificent Oak trees, each over 250 years old that line the driveway to the main house. At the front door a lady wearing a hoop dress and speaking with the most charming Deep South accent greeted us. She guided us through each room and entertained us with tales of the bygone cotton plantation era. Did you know that the people of the south were very short so the doorknobs were placed lower on the doors and their chairs were much smaller than chairs are now?
The next day, we hopped on a tram to see the Garden District’s beautiful southern homes. A bargain tour for $2! In the evenings we checked out a few jazz and strip clubs (on and off Bourbon Street). I was trying to imagine how Bourbon Street was in the 50’s with Burlesque clubs. It sure has changed a lot comparing it to the old photos I have seen!
Next time we visit we’ll have to do the swamp tour, but this trip’s tourist bit was finished because I had to get my burlesque hat back on! I had a photo shoot booked on Thursday with photographer Kaylin Idora at the famous House of Blues. The venue is so full of character we were spoilt for choice for our backdrops.
Thursday evening was the ‘Welcome Cocktail’ in the penthouse suite of the Westin Hotel for the performers and everyone else involved in the festival. The view of the Mississippi river was stunning from so high up. I love these intimate gatherings to catch up with performers I haven’t seen for so long, and to meet new performers as well.
It was such a thrill to meet the burlesque legend Bambi Jones, who is now in her 80’s and looking stunning! Bambi performed on Bourbon Street back in the 50’s and she filled my ear with tales of being, “in and out of the Burlesque closet”. She explained that burlesque was considered taboo so over the years she couldn’t always speak of her former profession. She now does talks at senior citizen homes about burlesque and is officially out of the burlesque closet!
Friday was now upon us and I was off to my rehearsal at Harrah’s Casino. Harrah’s showroom is a beautiful venue with a massive stage. The backstage manager had such an attention to detail, so I was fully relaxed about my show later on. I dashed back to the hotel, across the street, as it was time to figure out what to do with my hair.
In London I have a fantastic hairdresser who makes me look beautiful, but when I travel I am promoted to his position because I won’t trust a stranger with it. My hair battles with me every time and this is the least enjoyable part of getting ready. Two hours later I was happy with my tenth hair-do attempt and then I relaxed and continued my primping.
I dashed back to Harrah’s and settled into one of the three large gorgeous dressing rooms with the other performers. Catering platters were laid out with fresh nibbles, but I never eat directly before a performance so I only got to admire the trays with my eyes. A TV screen was set up backstage so I was able to watch Ophelia Flame’s and the Chicago Starlets‘ shows. I have seen both of them in Vegas, but I love the acts and could watch them over and over. It was my turn to perform my fan dance, and photographer Derek Jackson – who was sitting in the first row, got three good slaps from my fan. Serves him right – for what I don’t know, but does it matter? He was beaming ear to ear for the rest of the night.
I really wanted to see the rest of the show so I quickly changed and dashed out to grab a seat. Michelle L’amour closed the show with her ‘Le Panthere’ act. This style of act – raw and sexy – is my favorite style. She was electrifying.
After Harrah’s we teetered over to the House of Blues in our heels to watch the 2nd show of the night. I had a fabulous view from my seat in the mezzanine/balcony with Bambi Jones, Dan Whitsett and my guy. The highlights of the evening were Satan’s Angel’s show with fire tassels and Catherine D’Lish’s amazing bright blue-feathered corset and fans. Catherine always glides seamlessly from move to move and she does it with such grace. I do have a bling and feather fetish and Catherine’s new costume sent tingles up my spine.
It was so late by the time we returned back to our room, but I was so pumped up from all the excitement I couldn’t sleep. So, I stayed up until the wee hours reading Jo Weldon’s Burlesque Handbook that I had bought earlier from the vendors. In one chapter Jo speaks about her Feature Entertainer days. I particularly enjoyed this section because I was a Feature Entertainer during the 90’s in Canada (Jo is American) and I had worked with the entertainers she mentions in her book. In the book she describes an act with a Siberian Tiger but she writes that the name of performer evades her. I was so excited to tell Jo the next day that the performer was ‘Jane Jones and her Exotic Circus’ and the tiger was named Qadesh. I had worked with Jane in 1996, but at that time Qadesh wasn’t allowed on stage in the province of British Columbia.
The main event of the weekend was ‘The Queen of Burlesque’ contest at Harrahs on Saturday evening. There was a live jazz band on stage that played each performer’s music. This added to the atmosphere and reminded us we were in New Orleans. It’s always fun to ‘play judge’ at a contest and I picked my favorite from the all-star line-up. I couldn’t stay to hear the winners announced. I had to dash because I was headlining the late show at the House of Blues.
I chose Coco Lectric as my ‘winner’ so I was thrilled to hear that she did take the title. Coco was ‘in the zone’ for her entire performance. She built up so much excitement in the room and had us eating out of the palm of her hand. The couple sitting next to me had traveled from Austin (Coco’s city) for the festival and are huge fans of hers.
I missed the entire show at the House of Blues because I was backstage waiting to go on last, but I could hear the crowd hooting and hollering. I performed my ‘Glamour Pussy’ act, the act I had performed last year in the Best Debut category at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. I had trouble getting my costume off during my performance this time – every performers worst fear, but it came off in the end – it always does!
Afterwards we stayed for drinks and then dragged my favorite NO photographer Kaylin Idora to the Penthouse strip club until the wee hours of the morning. It was her birthday after all! Come to think of it, it was also Satan’s Angel’s birthday. I’m sure she too was out painting the town red.
Due to our shenanigans the night before I slept in and I missed all the classes I had signed up for on Sunday and the first panel discussion. Ah, the rock ‘n roll lifestyle! Luckily, we rolled up in time to hear the Legends Panel. What a treat it was to listen to Georgina Dante, Satan’s Angel, Bambi Jones and Wild Cherry. Georgina Dante had grown up in a circus family and had been performing since the age of three. Rick Delaup played footage of her dancing in a B movie from the 60’s. What a mover! Plus, this lady used to have the strength to pick up two hefty men over her shoulder.
Bambi (left) told stories of when she worked on Bourbon Street in the 50’s and how the ladies would dress in stockings and hats and walk up the street. They’d be treated like stars and invited into all of the other clubs. Wild Cherry spoke of the stigma burlesque had and how she would get obscene phone calls from an anonymous woman who disapproved of her choice of profession. She is a proud woman and never let anyone get away with a negative word towards her. Satan’s Angel is always a treat to listen to. This woman says it like it is. I love her “potty mouth”, as she calls it. She described herself as a baby legend because she started in the 60’s.
Sunday night was the final night of the festival and the show was held at Harrah’s Casino. Kitten Deville shook it in her trademark style. The legend Bambi Jones took to the stage and looked ever so stunning in pink.
Stephanie Blake, a former Miss Exotic World, flirted with the audience with her huge beckoning bedroom eyes. I especially loved the constant encouraging comments from the man behind us. “Oh ya” was heard in a deep loud voice and, “That’s a girl!” and, “Help a lady out” when a performer had a garter that was stuck.
Sadly we didn’t make it to the closing party as I was completely ‘done in’ by six late nights, two performances and way too many strip clubs. Our hotel room looked as if a twister had passed through it and the painful task of packing it all up was before us. I like the hotel rooms like this in a way – if it was neat and tidy I wouldn’t have had such a crazy memorable week!
Thanks to Rick Delaup and Secrets in Lace for putting on very entertaining weekend. I highly recommend this festival and I can’t wait to return the vibrant city of New Orleans…