All-Star week equals party time in New Orleans

There’s no question that New Orleans knows how to throw a party. And when the NBA heads to town for its annual All-Star Weekend, the city will throw quite a few big ones.

But perhaps none is bigger than that being planned for the NBA owners and their guests by Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gail.

At a midday news conference held at the Contemporary Arts Center, the site of the Friday night shindig, the Bensons, along with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, noted chef Susan Spicer, event planner to the stars Bronson van Wyck and local musician Trombone Shorty, laid out their plans to fete the NBA — New Orleans-style, with a backdrop of pelicans. The last time New Orleans hosted the NBA All-Star Game was in 2008 when the local team was called the Hornets.

On Friday, guests will arrive to a red carpet on Andrew Higgins Boulevard, where they will be greeted by a pair of giant cast concrete pelicans. Cocktails will be served inside a giant clear plastic tent featuring hundreds of native plants and flora before a backdrop featuring an enormous John James Audubon pelican print. Then, more than 200 guests will dine on shrimp and tomato bisque, braised beef ribs and assorted local greens prepared by Spicer while the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra plays. But the real party will be afterward, with Trombone Shorty and the Hot 8 Brass Band leading the show.

“I’m sure there will be a second line,” Trombone Shorty said. “The best thing is there’s no curfew in New Orleans, so we can play all night long.

It’s all part of the game of hosting the big game, organizers said. And it’s pretty much the same team that put together last year’s NFL owners dinner at City Park as part of the Super Bowl.

“We throw the best Super Bowl party in the country,” Tom Benson said. “And we want to repeat with this one. That’s our goal. And we want to be in it, too.”

Everyone knows Gail Benson loves to throw parties. But to pull one of this scale off, she needed the help of van Wyck, of Van Wyck and Van Wyck of New York, who helped design last year’s extraordinary City Park gala, complete with “glass” tent under the oaks.

The theme for Friday night’s event, he said, is typically French. He created a dining room inspired by French designer Jacques Garcia, but in the colors of the New Orleans Pelicans. Guests will be surrounded by red walls with gold trim and blue accents, with New Orleans historic prints adorning the walls. His intent, he said, is to tell the story of New Orleans.

“What a story New Orleans has,” said van Wyck. “You’re on center stage and you’ve got the attention of the entire nation. It’s an opportunity to tell the world that, not only is New Orleans a great place to throw a party — which everybody knows everywhere, I think — but it’s also a great place to live, it’s a great place to raise a family, it’s a great place to work, it’s a great place to invest.

“It’s a win-win situation when you have a city like this and you have a couple like the Bensons, who are bringing that national lens and focusing it on New Orleans. New Orleans is truly world class for events. It’s perfectly set up. You’ve got a fantastic infrastructure here that we can just tap into and the talent pool here for every different component of the event production process is deep and broad.”