The Big Easy is what? Of course, it indicates New Orleans, Louisiana. But what does The Big Easy mean? And what does it have to do with Buffalo? I’m going to tell you about the Big Easy in Buffalo and then about the origins of The Big Easy, with information researched from an article by Rebeca Trejo of Culture Trip. And then I’m going to tell you how you can win a free pair of tickets to one of three fabulous shows coming to Buffalo from The Big Easy in Buffalo.
In the words of Tod Kniazuk, the founder and director of The Big Easy in Buffalo, since 2007 The Big Easy in Buffalo has brought New Orleans and Louisiana music and culture to the Western New York region several times a year for free and low-cost live performances, as well as music education and mentoring for local musicians, students and the community. Through The Big Easy in Buffalo, thousands of students, dozens of local bands, and countless audience members in Western New York have been exposed to this unique American culture. The Big Easy in Buffalo is made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Hochul and the New York State Legislature, Erie County, buffalo.fm, Buffalo Iron Works, Sportsmen’s Tavern, National Fuel Gas Co., and Dick & Jenny’s.
Next, The Big Easy itself: One of the most popular theories discussed over the years by locals points to the late Times-Picayune gossip columnist Betty Guillaud, who allegedly coined and popularized New Orleans’ undisputed nickname while chronicling the city’s peculiar lifestyle. During the late 1960s, Guillaud began using the term to contrast how different life was (and still is) in “The Big Easy” compared to “The Big Apple.”
Then there was James Conaway’s 1970 crime novel titled “The Big Easy,” which was turned into a steamy 1987 national blockbuster movie featuring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. Ultimately, it pushed the term onto the nation’s vocabulary. According to the author, the phrase had never been penned to a published book until then. He argued that, while working as a police reporter for the Times-Picayune himself, he overheard two men chatting, and the phrase “The Big Easy” came up one night and it stuck with him.
The soundtrack to the movie became a hit, featuring New Orleans R&B, rock & roll, zydeco and Cajun music. The Cajuns were also known as the Acadians, an ethnic French people who ended up in Louisiana, forced out of Nova Scotia by British settlers. Buffalo’s “The Last Waltz” included a version of The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” in the past two years of the show.
New Orleans was always an open and supportive city that embraces an aspiring musician’s thirst for performing. Musicians could make a living by booking easy gigs while honing their craft at the same time. The nickname may, therefore, have been perpetuated through time to reference the ease in which New Orleans’ laboring musicians pursued their art. It’s not always “easy” for musicians in Buffalo but I don’t think Buffalo is too far off from having a great music scene like New Orleans.
Other possible origins have been attributed to the relaxed attitude New Orleans residents had toward alcohol consumption during Prohibition. The “noble experiment,” which ran from 1920 until 1933, was pursued to limit social problems, crime and corruption; however, the national banning of alcohol in America never quite made it to NOLA. Down South, and perhaps more than any other city in the country, people who wished to enjoy a drink continued to have a very active nightlife because of the city’s many hotspots and inconsistent enforcement of the drinking law. The term might have been coined to credit how one could wander down the street with an open container filled with booze without getting in trouble. This is all in keeping with the New Orleans tradition of letting the good times roll. Again, compared to New Orleans, Buffalo had its share of speakeasies during prohibition, especially with its proximity to Canada. And Buffalonians continue to enjoy letting the good times roll at Western New York breweries, distilleries and nightspots.
The nickname’s origin, among the many in circulation, may never be deciphered; however, the city’s easy-going, laid-back attitude toward anything life-related could never be disputed. What is guaranteed? That “The Big Easy” is a synonym for the city’s spirit; that it defines how folks in New Orleans embrace life; and that people there do things their own way, without ever fearing judgement.
“After two years of virtual live streams and delayed shows, The Big Easy in Buffalo is back with an incredible lineup,” Artistic/Executive Director Tod A. Kniazuk said. “We wanted to wrap up our 15th season in a big way, so we just had to extend Mardi Gras time into March in order to get all these bands to Western New York.” Information including ticket links can be found at www.thebigeasyinbuffalo.org and www.facebook.com/TheBigEasyInBuffalo.
Elsewhere in this issue of The JAM, Elmer Ploetz is writing about LeeRon Zydeco and The Buffalo Touch Polka Band. That will be an incredible show at The Sportsmen’s Tavern on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. This will be a very special “Mardi Graski” show. To win a free pair of tickets, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 noon on Saturday February 12th.
Laissez les bon temps rouler, Buffalo style,
SAM Foundation Board member