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Music in a Minor Key

I'm in a rundown backroom where only half the lights are working. A hand-lettered poster board alerts patrons to the location of the men's restroom. There's a three-man band on stage comprised of a guitar, saxophone and stand-up bass. (It ain't exactly Nirvana.) Loud pops occasionally blast from the equipment on stage through the speakers. "It's the sound of a party," the singer shrugs.

The guy playing the stand-up bass seems high af. His big curly hair is pulled over into a side ponytail to keep it out of his bass strings as he bops his head around to the music.

In the back corner of the room is a tiny bar with probably less than 20 bottles of alcohol. Just the basics here. And there's an arbitrary painting of a Mardi Gras Indian leaning against the front of the stage.

This is live music in New Orleans. Blues and jazz and rock and bluegrass. Songs about your woman cheating and Mardi Gras and You Are My Sunshine (the Louisiana state song). Music by people who just love music, for people who just want to feel good.

That's what New Orleans is all about. And there are hundreds of places just like it all over town.

I'm here tonight because I've got a personal connection to one of the musicians. My friend Shelley is one-third of the Dutch band The Mourning Glories, performing on Frenchmen Street tonight. But I have to go back a few years to explain how we came to this place.

Shelley was my best friend in high school, in the small town of Long Beach, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For four years, we were those inseparable, spend-every-waking-moment-together best friends. I lived with my elderly, divorced father and Shelley was an only child. Her mother took me in as her own. Put bunk beds up in Shelley's room so I could spend nights there. And I

spent way more nights there than I did in the tiny apartment that I shared with my dad.

Shelley is the one who introduced me to the weird and wonderful aspects of New Orleans and made me truly fall in love with the city. She turned me into a Saints fan, in case you're wondering from whence that passion was borne. Eventually our lives took divergent paths. I moved to Memphis and she moved...to Holland.

Shelley always was the more courageous and creative of the two of us.

My 20s and 30s were consumed with getting my degree, getting married, having a child, beginning a career. Hers were spent creating art and music, learning to draw her own patterns so she could design and make her own clothes, touring ukulele festivals around Europe with her life and musician partner Marko.

Her life was just destined to be more interesting than ours.

Today Shelley is playing in a three-woman band called The Mourning Glories. I describe it as depression-era bluegrass, very O Brother, Where Are Thou? They play guitars and ukuleles and banjos and spoons and a wash-tub bass. Her life has not been without tragedy. The name of the band isn't spelled that way by mistake.

This Mississippi girl -- together with a Canadian and a Frenchwoman who all now call Rotterdam, Netherlands, home -- is again racking up critical acclaim at European music fests.

And now, she conquers New Orleans.

"It's every musician's dream to play in New Orleans," she says from the stage.

None ever more than this one's.

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