I don’t remember exactly how I found the Penny Post, or how it found me, but playing there regularly was one of the highlights of my musical experience at Tulane. Of course, the other highlights happened virtually constantly: live bands and barbeque shrimp at Jimmy’s, going to Tipitina’s, listening to the Radiators, Irma Thomas, or the Neville Brothers on the quad with boiled crawfish and quarter beers, playing L’il Queenie ‘My Darlin’ New Orleans’ on the jukebox at the Irish pub in the French Quarter, hearing Cris Williamson and Vicki Randle for the first time on campus, becoming friends with Eric Vincent, who came all the way from France to play at Tulane, going to the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and driving around in my friend Sharon’s AMC Spirit AMX listening to a mix tape of the Gap Band, the Dazz Band, and Rick James. My time in New Orleans was drenched in music and, at the Penny Post; I found a haven for performing my fledgling songs. I belonged there.
The Penny Post was a coffeehouse where people could come to play board games, listen to music, chat and chill. Like any good coffeehouse, it had its regulars, or ‘patrons’, and many of these people became my friends. One friend in particular, Richard, was my greatest supporter. He took me under his wing, always came to hear me sing, believed in me and my future in music, and recorded all of my songs for free in his home studio. There are people who come into our lives at just the right time to help us along our paths in one significant way or another, and Richard was one of these people for me.
When I look at this photo of me playing at the Penny Post, I am reminded of a couple of things. One was that I was sooooooo proud of that Ovation guitar. I thought the rounded plastic back was the coolest thing ever, even though it always slipped down my lap when I held it to write. It was also super cool because it had a pickup in it, and so I could plug it in at the coffeehouse, which felt very rock and roll at the time, instead of having to mic my guitar.
I also think about that white beret, Mon Dieu! I wanted to be Joni Mitchell. It was a fashion choice in a long line of fashion mishaps that would color my part of Indigo Girl photo shoots, album art, and live performances. The pride in that beret may have only been matched up to that point by the pride in my faux leather gun holster I sported as a child wanna be cowboy.
I used to take the Amtrak train from Atlanta to New Orleans. It was an eleven-hour trip, traversing the backside of Mississippi, the underbelly of the Delta, and culminating in the crossing of the mighty Lake Pontchartrain. I loved the rocking movement of the train, the lonesome whistle, the unknown lives and scenery whizzing by, framed by the large glass windows. It was much fodder for daydreams and song lyrics, and was a portent for the shifting, fluid connectivity and displacement of a life lived in constant motion, one I still crave, even when I am still.
By the time this photo was taken, I would have already completed my transfer to Emory University, and would soon be leaving New Orleans. I can honestly say that I was always on the edge of a nagging fear coupled with exhilaration in New Orleans. In many ways, it was a brutal place with flooding and violence and corruption and raw sexuality. The music, culture, and history were so deep they scared me. I was frightened because I was awakening as a young woman artist with snow-white innocence and an aversion/attraction for darkness. And, truthfully, I only had a guitar and nascent prose to come to grips with it all.