Tag Archives: music

The Secret to Success: Brian’s Furniture

Written by: Simonette Berry

Louisiana has many “locals-only” secrets; where to get the best boudin (Hebert’s Meat Market in Maurice), where to go hear the best music (if you don’t know, ask a local), and where you got them shoes (according to the French Quarter scam artists, they’re “on yo’ feet!”). In the heart of downtown Port Allen’s historic district, there is another well-kept secret; a city block transformed into a shopper’s paradise. Brian’s Furniture is anything but a simple furniture store. The 40,000-square-foot complex is made up of four specialty shops offering indoor and outdoor furniture, accessories, art, and miscellaneous architectural pieces. You’ll find everything from bedroom sets and patio furniture to original Louisiana art and a life-size Star Wars C3PO and E.T. for your lawn.

At one time, Brian’s was a 5,000-square-foot warehouse that offered interior furnishings only. Thirty years later, it has become a destination spot where shoppers stop to spend the day. Brian Fourroux, owner of this unique, family-run business, says his success is no secret. He is constantly recreating and adding to his space. Brian works with his wife, Keri, and his nephew, Tyler, to keep each space lively and never the same the next time you visit. “We’ve become the superstore of outdoor living. People come from all around to see what we’ve got,” Brian says.

“Saturdays are big here,” he says. Across the street from the large indoor furniture store, Brian converted his father’s old service station into a quaint, New Orleans-style courtyard. On certain weekends, a musician plays traditional jazz, his melodies filtering sweetly through the sunlit rows of chairs, statues, and fountains. Several artists hang their paintings along the fence, and you’ll often find Brian’s in-house artist painting on the patio or decorating the sugar kettles and furniture in brilliantly colored finishes. A variety of aluminum patio furniture, mailboxes, lawn ornaments, bronze and copper fountains, and garden ornaments fill the space. “The jazz and the art on the fence give the space that old New Orleans feeling. It’s got charm. People love it,” he says.

Brian’s Furniture offers a milieu of outdoor elements. The New Orleans courtyard is filled with the largest selection of unique outdoor furniture, architectural pieces, mailboxes, light posts, and miscellaneous outdoor accents. “We have New Orleans-style light fixtures in aluminum and copper, and over 20 different styles of mailboxes alone to choose from.” A popular item is Brian’s custom designed fleur-de-lis patio set, which he had custom designed around the fleur-de-lis that was once on the old Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi. The fine workmanship and designs of Brian’s aluminum patio furniture almost supersedes its other charms. By virtue of being aluminum, it’s easy to move around and rust-free; and the pieces are all powder coated, which makes the product virtually maintenance free.

“Our niche is the New Orleans-style courtyard, but we have much more to offer, and people see that once they walk in the door,” he says. Brian’s Furniture just added another location within the complex; a sugar kettle yard. “We have hundreds of sugar kettles, probably the largest collection and selection in the entire southern region. We have cast iron sugar kettles guaranteed not to rust in two, three, four, five, six, and seven foot. We call the seven-foot sugar kettle ‘the coonass hot tub!'” he laughs. Brian’s Furniture also offers fiberglass sugar kettles made from molds of old Louisiana sugar kettles, with New Orleans, LA stenciled on the rim. “We have the fiberglass in two, three, four, five, and six foot. They are absolutely beautiful kettles, and once the natural aging process begins, you can barely tell the difference between the fiberglass and the iron.

In the main furniture store, Brian has a huge selection of indoor home furnishings. “In our main store, we specialize in reclaimed cypress pieces,” he explains. “I have a talented carpenter, a true Louisiana craftsman who was trained as a cabinetmaker. He creates beautiful consoles, desks, dining tables, end tables, armoires, buffets, and many customized pieces from Louisiana cypress wood.” The main store also houses Brian’s mid- to high-end imported reproduction accent pieces for the home. Next door is Brian’s furniture warehouse, where you can find great deals on discounted pieces. Biannual auctions are held in the warehouse (for more information on the auctions and special events, subscribe to the newsletter at www.briansfurniture.com).

Brian’s Furniture also features over 400 pieces of art by local artists inside the main store. Every week he spotlights a few of them, creating a constantly rotating wall space filled with Louisiana imagery and local color. If the music and art doesn’t grab you from the street, the comic relief out front will. Brian’s sense of humor shines through his choice in statuary; his street looks almost like a scene from a fantastic children’s book or television show. “We’ve got a life-size tiger, a huge alligator, life-size cigar Indian, a giraffe, and a six-foot-tall pelican along the fence out front. It adds a unique touch to downtown,” he chuckles. “Bring your camera!”

Following the Music: Dancing in Louisiana

Written by: Simonette Berry

I’ll never forget learning to Cajun dance on the worn wooden dance floor of Mulate’s Restaurant in New Orleans, my little feet poised on the toes of my mom’s high-heeled shoes as she walked me through a slow waltz. I was utterly mesmerized as my legs magically moved in time with the giant pairs of legs gliding past me. Fast forward 23 years and I’m still enchanted by Louisiana music, learning new steps every chance I get, and attending dance classes to learn new styles. I’ve grooved to Rockin’ Doopsie, two-stepped to Rosie Ledet, second-lined to the Dirty Dozen, undulated to Tab Benoit’s sultry swamp blues, swung to the Cottonmouth Kings, salsa danced to Los Poboycitos, and shaken it to TBC Brass Band on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres. Twirling through countless festivals, backyard ballrooms, and fais-do-dos each year, I’ve noticed that a dance renaissance has risen from the ashes of Katrina-struck Louisiana, creating a whole new generation of dancing schools. There are lessons throughout the state for such a variety of dance styles that you could spend your whole life taking them and never learn it all. What a better way to spend August, when the festival junkies go into withdrawal, college kids flee to cooler climates, and restaurants and clubs often close for reno(vaca)tions. The best way to follow the music in this heat is to act a little bit like a vampire—wait until the sun is laying low in the sky before you emerge from your air-conditioned cave to hit the streets and heat up the dance floor.

In New Orleans, the hottest steppers on Frenchmen Street are the swing dancers. It only takes a few weeks of practice to get the hang of the basic moves, and before you know it, you’re jumping, jiving, and wailing to the best traditional jazz, big band, and swing music on the block. There are three free beginner classes weekly: 5 pm on Sundays at d.b.a. on Frenchmen, 9:30 pm on Mondays at Mimi’s in the Marigny, and 5 pm Wednesdays at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen. Nola Jitterbugs, the company that puts on these free lessons, is stationed above Maison on Frenchmen Street, where they teach workshops and classes every Monday in August. Classes are cheap, fun, and packed with people. You don’t need to bring a partner, and it’s a great way to make friends and meet potential dancing partners on your level.

The NOLA Jitterbugs are one of the sponsors for the annual Satchmo Summerfest, a three-day-long celebration of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and his musical legacy held August 4-7 at the old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter. Nola Jitterbugs will be hosting an indoor dance floor and free dance lessons between bands at the Back O’ Town Stage. Also, check out the free event “Satchmo Swing Dance” in the Stage Door Canteen at the D-Day Museum. The D-Day Museum is another hot spot for swing dancing, weekly swing dance shows, jazz concerts, and lessons.

Traditional Louisiana dances are easy to follow and great to learn for festivals and fais-do-dos, when someone will inevitably walk up and ask you to dance. One of the best ways to pick up a few Zydeco steps is to go to Zydeco night at Rock-n-Bowl in New Orleans every Thursday. You’ll go from partner to partner, dancing the night away and learning basic steps from each one. To get schooled in a fusion of Cajun Jitterbug, Whiskey River Jitterbug, Zydeco, and Cajun Two-Step, register for a class with the Cajun-Zydeco Dance Association. They teach at Tooloulas in Slidell on Mondays and at Rock-n-Bowl on Tuesdays.

The Cajun French Music Association in Baton Rouge offers free dance lessons starting at 7 pm before each CFMA dance (admission $10). Located at UTC hall on Florida Blvd, this month’s dances feature Blake Miller and the Vermilion Playboys on August 12 and Wallace Trahan and Rice and Gravy on August 26. The CFMA also has a chapter in Lake Charles, where free dance lessons are held on the third Thursday of each month at the CFMA headquarters on East Prien Lake Road. Practice your steps at Boutin’s restaurant in Baton Rouge, where there is a live band every night of the week. Once you’ve got the hang of it, go to Acadiana for the litmus test. In Lafayette, the two most popular dance spots are Randol’s Restaurant and Prejean’s Restaurant, both famous eateries and lively dancehalls.

If you’re in north Louisiana, the new craze is belly dancing. The Port Belly Project is the dance company responsible for Shreveport and Bossier City’s blossoming belly dance scene. This beautiful form of dance is slowly starting to change from something unapproachable and risque to a fun way for women to exercise and learn graceful dance sequences. The Port Belly Project’s dance troupe performs regularly and offers a variety of dance classes out of their home base, the Lotus Studio. For a wider array of more traditional styles in Shreveport, Sandy’s Dance Studio offers private and group lessons in Ballroom, Swing, Country Western, Line Dance, Tango, and Salsa.

To keep up with the latest music events, I start by browsing the web. In New Orleans, the best music calendar is the WWOZ Livewire, which you can view online at wwoz.com or listen to, along with a fantastic array of Louisiana music, at the top of each odd hour on 90.7 FM. Clarence’s List of Cajun and Zydeco music is a great resource not only for music but also for Cajun French lessons and dance lessons in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houma, New Orleans, and surrounding areas. You can find this at cajunradio.org. In north Louisiana, go to shreveportbossierfunguide.com to find out about dance, music, and cultural events. Though this is only a small part of what Louisiana has to offer, it should get you jitterbugging in no time.

Particular About Pianos: Tips on buying the best

Written by: Simonette Berry

The first time I sat at a piano at age nine, I didn’t know a note of music. After six years of ballet lessons and seemingly glorious recitals, my parents forced me to change course and study music, to my utter horror. Didn’t they get it? I was destined to be a famous prima ballerina like Anna Pavlova! I wanted to live forever in a tutu and leap across stages.

Very reluctantly, I began taking piano lessons from a serious, no-nonsense teacher who would crack a pencil across my hands when I missed a single note. Despite this, I eventually grew to relish the daily discipline of practicing scales.

Five years later, at age 14, I was performing piano for Broadway musicals at school with the ULL orchestra, competing statewide, and taking pipe organ lessons at the college with a very demanding, phenomenal university professor. Despite his steadfast goal of sending me to Juilliard for the organ, I jumped ship. The piano was my true love. Besides, it made me popular at parties. I became grateful for that harsh (and wise) parental intervention, as my tutu gathered dust in the closet.

After graduating from high school, I moved to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, armed with dreams and a scholarship to Loyola’s College of Music. I would spend four to six hours a night practicing on the funky old upright pianos on campus. It was during those four years while performing recitals on concert grand pianos that I fell head over heels for Steinways.

Having played every kind of piano imaginable over the past few decades, I still feel there is nothing comparable to a Steinway and Sons piano. In north Louisiana, the best place to find a great Steinway is at Pendley Piano Gallery (5803 Youree Drive; 318-219-1900); in south Louisiana, it is Hall Piano (901 David Drive in Metairie; 
504-733-8863).

When those who play piano professionally are asked which piano is the best one in the world today, the answer is inevitably a Steinway. According to Grammy award-winning Emanuel Ax, one of the best known concert pianists of the 21st century, “When one plays a Steinway, there is a warmth and nobility in the sound that is unequalled by any other instrument.”

Buying a piano is a major investment, much like buying a car. You may want to consider purchasing one that will increase in value rather than devaluate. Steinway pianos, which are made by hand by master craftsmen in limited numbers, are great investments. I have been told that my own, beloved Steinway has tripled in value since it was purchased over 30 years ago.

“They only make around 7,000 Steinways worldwide each year,” says James Pendley, manager of Pendley Piano Gallery. “Each one is made by hand over a period of one year, so none of the pianos are the same. From an investment standpoint, the value of your Steinway will go up.”

There are many things to consider when purchasing a piano, from the space you have in your home to the interest and level of the person who will be playing it. Pendley continues, “For children who are beginning to study piano, most parents purchase a vertical piano for a child who may or may not continue to play, because they are less expensive.” Pendley Piano Gallery offers Steinway verticals (uprights), baby grands, and various styles of grand pianos, from new to used, and they also offer rent-to-own Steinways. Whoever purchases a piano there gets free delivery (which can be costly) and free tuning upon delivery.

A console is the most popular of the vertical pianos. Many piano teachers recommend that young beginners should learn on an acoustic vertical piano, and most will advise strongly against a digital piano. My grandmother, a pianist, treated me to a new console piano for my bedroom when I first started taking lessons, even though we had a baby grand in our home. It proved to be a wise move.

There are four types of vertical pianos, based on height: console, spinet, studio, and upright. I advise against a spinet because of the indirect “drop action” design. Try at least for a console, 42 inches or higher. Of course, the tonal quality of a Steinway grand piano cannot be matched. Larger soundboards and longer strings produce greater volume and resonance of tone.

If you have to move your piano at some point, go with only the best movers, because disasters can happen; I learned that lesson the hard way. I recommend using Kid Gloves Inc. (601 S. Galvez Street in New Orleans, 504-309-6894), which is the largest specialty moving company in this region of the country, with a great reputation. The 23-year-old company runs trucks nationwide. They are piano moving experts, and can also move antiques, fine art, chandeliers, and accessories. You can rest assured that your piano will be moved exactly right, which is a great comfort if you love your piano as much I love mine. Owning a piano and learning to play is a joy that can last a lifetime.