My older son, Nick Hughes, went to his first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival when he was three months old.
His dad and I had been to our first Jazzfest two years earlier. By the time we acknowledged the seed of love for New Orleans and its culture that had been planted, it was deeply rooted in our lives. "Playing airplane" with the baby became a living room dance to the sounds of The Wild Tchoupitoulas, with lyrics amended as "My big Nick's a golden crown."
Nick first played drums at age 9, as part of Cowboy Mouth's interaction with the audience at a club near N.C. State University in Raleigh. It was a magical moment for me to watch. Bandleader and drummer Fred LeBlanc invited Nick to the low-slung stage and handed him a pair of sticks. Nick tapped the floor tom hesitantly. "All right, let's go!" Fred said ... and Nick started drumming! Not with any particular skill, obviously, but he dropped the hesitance, listened intently to what the band was doing, got into the spirit of the thing and made a serious stab at contributing.
From the start, Nick has taken his drumming seriously. He takes pride in being professional and doing things right. He even gets uptight about being late for gigs, which is pretty extraordinary in the context of "New Orleans time." His serious interest led him to some wonderful interactions with pretty amazing New Orleans musicians. Stanton Moore taught him how to manipulate the snare strainer. Joe Cabral taught him about clave. Johnny Vidacovich recommended him for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. I still mourn the loss of his drummer autograph book and drumstick collection in Hurricane Katrina.