Even Grammy-winning trombonist Stafford Agee has one unfulfilled dream: "I want to be part of a college marching band," he says. "It's the one thing I missed."
With a preppy Polo shirt and smooth-skinned face, he looks college-age, though he's been with the Rebirth Brass Band for almost three decades. We've met at The Wolf Den, a sidecar to the original Howlin' Wolf. The Den is breezy and gritty, with exposed bricks and pumped with '70s funk. In the corner, Uptown's Boucherie has sprung up with a short, street-food menu.
Stafford goes straight for the barbecue shrimp po-boy, no sides, feeding the notion that he chose to live simply on rice and gravy for much of his childhood. He found his appetite about the same time that he went to a high school football game and gazed on the marching band. He remembers they were playing "Three Times a Lady."
When his po-boy comes, he tears off the loaf's end to reveal a stuffing of vibrant, whole and hot-sauced shrimp. He starts eagerly, then each bite becomes slower and more deliberate. I enjoyed a plate of smoked pork taquitos, chewy housemade mozzarella with tomato jam, and goat cheese quesadillas.
Stafford's focus seems to be elsewhere —ramping up his New Orleans music store, which will sell and repair brass instruments, and teaching band in local schools and for Roots of Music.
"Anyone can teach you how to read music, but these kids trust me to give them life advice, righteous information," he says. Such as: "Give yourself options in life, and when you're angry, sit still and gather your thoughts. Music's a way of sitting still."
Students relate to his story, his early dabbling in bad company and even worse habits. One morning he woke up and was "tired" of the lifestyle. "I was a street kid, once upon a time, and music saved my life," he says.
And then he's gone and I'm left in the moonlight, jotting in a notebook dappled with balsamic sour cream. I think of Stafford's dream of playing with a college marching band, and what that audition would be like, what the judges would think of the student already with a Grammy in his living room.
Maybe Stafford would tell those judges: "All dreams come true. We get everything in life we ask for."