Tuesday, August 31, 2010

NOLA Notes: House of Dance & Feathers

The museum, he’d explained, was a way to preserve the culture and beauty that is associated with those organizations. “And that’s my love story, ” Mr. Lewis stated, “I don’t have much more to say than that.” He welcomed us to take pictures, and I asked if I could take one of him. He obliged me.

NPR: Treme Brass Band, Living and Breathing New Orleans

Treme Brass Band; credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images
Enlarge Mario Tama/Getty Images

Members of the Treme Brass Band walk through the 9th Ward after attending a Memorial Day service honoring the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

The Treme Brass Band lives and breathes New Orleans traditions. The band often leads jazz funerals and "second line" street parades. They've been featured on the HBO series Treme and in Spike Lee’s documentaries about Hurricane Katrina.

Late Wednesday nights, you can find the band jamming at a down-home joint in New Orleans called the Candlelight Lounge. It's packed with new TV fans and loyal locals. "They fabulous, they wonderful," says Buster Andrews, 37. "Old Treme neighborhood band been around here all my life."

A funky mix of both seasoned and younger musicians rotate in and out of the band, led by 67-year-old snare drummer Benny Jones, Sr. His band has helped to keep alive a New Orleans brass band tradition that began at the turn of the last century. "Still need somebody to do the traditional music so we can pass that to the younger generation," says Jones. "Somebody got to hold that spot down."

That includes leading dancers through the streets to mourn and celebrate. The band stays rooted in the customs of an earlier era, such as a dress code. "Sound good, look good," says Jones. "My band always had the black pants, white shirts, ties, coats. That's a New Orleans tradition. What the older bands did years ago."

The Treme Brass Band has been a training ground for other musicians. Sam Williams, who now has his own funk band, says, "If you haven't played with the Treme, [you] don't know what's up."

Cool Uncle Lionel

Central to the band's popularity is the stylish bass drummer, Lionel Paul Batiste, Sr. "Uncle Lionel," as he's known, is never without his dark sunglasses, hat, two-tone shoes, gold watch and rings.

Uncle Lionel

"Uncle's the man, know what I'm saying?" says Williams. "Just a real cool daddy. He gets all the women." Batiste enjoys the attention. "I keeps myself up," he says. The debonair 78-year-old gets attention whether he's flirting on the dance floor, grand-marshaling a Mardi Gras parade or just strutting down the streets of the French Quarter. His iconic image now looms over Times Square on a banner for Spike Lee's latest New Orleans documentary.

"It makes me feel real proud I'm getting my recognition," he says from the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme. "I always try to put a smile on someone's face."

Batiste grew up dancing on Bourbon Street and playing in kazoo bands. But he's most famous for keeping time with his ragtag, upright bass drum with a cymbal on top. Earlier this year, he lost that drum during a parade.

"The fellow 'sposed to be watching it, he was half drunk," he recalls. Immediately, the word went out over radio station WWOZ.

"When the drum was stolen, we took it very seriously," says DJ George Ingmire. "There were a lot of people very upset about it. When you think of New Orleans, one of the things you think of is the bass drum as a symbol. Forget the steaming bowl of gumbo or the beignets, the cliches. It's Lionel's drum that makes it. Hitting it with a wire coat hanger, that's New Orleans to me." Uncle Lionel's drum turned up within a day.

He likes to tell the story of his drum during Hurricane Katrina. When the levees broke and flooded the streets, he was still at his house in the Treme. "I was watching the water rise and drinking my liquor," he says. "I didn't want to leave, but I'm glad I did. Yeah I'm glad I did."

True to form, Uncle Lionel evacuated in style. "I used my bass drum and turned it flat. Just paddled my feet," he laughs, remembering how he used his drum as a life raft. "And, of course, I had my liquor on top there."

The drum saved him as he paddled to safety. "It's still in good condition,"‘ he says, smiling. "It's still taking that beating."

I'll Fly Away

The musicians in the Treme Brass Band lost friends and family, their homes and instruments to the storm. Some lived for a time in Red Cross shelters and toxic FEMA trailers, or with relatives scattered across the country. But many managed to work their way back. And when Spike Lee made his documentary When the Levees Broke, he featured the band leading a jazz funeral for Hurricane Katrina.

Clarinet player Michael White says they paraded and danced through the devastated Lower 9th ward. "You could feel when we were going through the streets undiscovered bodies and remains in some of the houses and the spirit was very strong that day," says White, a professor at Xavier University. "I remember the silence of the loss of people was very powerful and very haunting. "

Five years after Katrina, most of the Treme Brass Band members are back in New Orleans. But Benny Jones isn't finished rebuilding his flooded house. And he says, despite their newfound TV fame, the jazz musicians are still struggling.

"We making money just to survive, pay our bills, keep food on the table for our children, our grandkids," he says. "We surviving pretty good. Ain't like we rich. I'm thinking about trying to go to the Oprah Winfrey Show, take the band there, perform there, tell them we need money."

"Ain't that right," nods Uncle Lionel, with trombonist Eddie N. King, Jr. adding, "Amen on amen."

NPR: Post-Katrina, Music Still Thrives In New Orleans

Steve Earle & Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform "This City" @ City Winery

Monday, August 30, 2010

Burning Wood: "You Can't Drown Soul, Baby" : Remembering Katrina

By Sal Nunziato

Thanks to all who chose to stay, chooses to visit or gets this great complex, maddeningly, wonderful place called New Orleans.

Let's not forget the great people of New Orleans.

Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley- Lee Dorsey
Exit To Mystery Street- Paul Sanchez
Handa Wanda- Stanton Moore
Keep It To Yourself- Sansone, Krown, & Fohl
Before I Grow Too Old- Tommy McClain
John The Revelator- Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Dizzy Miss Lizzy- Snooks Eaglin
Liberty Bell- Willie Tee
Croker Courtbullion- Dr.. John
Indian Red- The Golden Eagles
Louisiana 1927- Marcia Ball
My Gang Is Leaving Now- Guardians Of The Flame


Time: "10 Questions for Dr. John"

I feel like things still aren't right around New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Do you think the city will ever be the same? —Christopher Gustin, ARABI, LA.

Considering that over half the population is not back, I don't see how it could ever be [the same]. The Ninth Ward is still destroyed. People have nowhere to come home to. They got burned by the insurance companies. They got burned by everybody.

Do you think the people of Louisiana are in better shape now than they were in 2005? —Jose Mejia, BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS

No. All of the dispersants, all of the poisons that have been put in the Gulf are killing every critter that walks, flies, swims. All of the poor fishermen out there that for generations have earned their livelihood fishing are being wiped out.

What is the one thing New Orleans needs the most post-Katrina and post-BP? —Terri Fallin, NEVADA, MO.

One of the things it needs most desperately is leadership. We've never had any. This is a pathetic thing to say about my home. We're good people, but I feel like oil companies own our politicians outright. (See pictures of Katrina's survivors and heroes.)

What is it about New Orleans that so inspires musicians? —Waheed Akberzie, SIMI VALLEY, CALIF.

We have a culture, for one thing. I think we're the only state in the U.S. that actually has its own culture. It overlaps into the food, into the music, into the lifestyle of our people. We live on sacred lands that are being terribly abused.

How have the spirits and ancestors of New Orleans music influenced you? —Eoghan Ballard, PHILADELPHIA

I pray to them all the time, all of my musical ancestors, from Jelly Roll Morton to Buddy Bolden to Louis Armstrong. I'm proud I grew up in his neighborhood, the Third Ward. My father used to say, "That's where Louis Armstrong was born." He never called him Louie. He never called him Satchmo. "That's where Louis was born."

How would you describe your own music? —Denis Murrell, MACAU
I like to think of what Duke Ellington said about music: There's only two kinds of music — good and bad. I would like to think my music is good. I try to make music that tells truths. (See pictures of Dr. John.)

What musicians would you most like to collaborate with? —Dave Krolak, BASKING RIDGE, N.J.

That's an unanswerable question for a guy like me. It's not like I listen to people's music and say, "I like that. We'll write great songs together!" People who can write fast — bing, bang, boom — that's the kind of people I like to write with. I don't think I could ever write a song with Randy Newman. He takes forever to write a song and finesses it to the point where it's wonderful. That's not how I like to do it. I can write two, three, four songs in a day.

You used to be a guitar player but switched to piano. Why? —Keith Watling, MILWAUKEE

One day I walked in on Ronnie Barron — he was a kid singing with our band — and this guy was pistol-whipping him. Now, his mother said that if anything happened to him on the road, she was going to take her meat cleaver and cut my cojones off. So I went and tried to get the gun out of the guy's hand. I got shot in my finger. It was sewed back on, but it messed up part of my head where I thought, Oh, I can't play the guitar anymore. I still play it a little bit, but not the way I used to.

What do you think of the HBO series Treme? —Jay Combe, NEW ORLEANS
I don't watch television. I don't own a television. I don't want one. But I saw the premiere, and the guy who plays the teacher — oh, God, I can't even tell you his name [Eds.: John Goodman] — he danced with my mother at her 90th-birthday party. His character on the show talks truth, about why we're constantly treated like a third-world country down here in Louisiana.

Is there any other city in the world that you could live in? —Trey Comeaux, NEW ORLEANS

No. I love my roots and my heritage. I've tried living in other places — I lived in New York City once. But New Orleans is where my heart is.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Pictures: Trombone Shorty / Jon Cleary @ South Street Seaport

By Dino Perrucci Photography

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

Jon Cleary - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

James Singleton - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

Doug Belote - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

Danny Sadownik - The Beach @ South Street Seaport, NYC 8/26/10

Thursday, August 26, 2010

PopMatters Review: Dr. John and the Lower 911's "Tribal"

By Jonathan Kosakow

cover art

(429; US: 3 Aug 2010; UK: 28 Jun 2010)

New Orleans’ very own Dr. John has a familiar sound. The swampy jazz, funk and soul of the Bayou has flowed forth from him since the 1960s, at times following different directions, but always staying true to its roots. The piano swoons, the bass swings, and his gravely vocals lay truth on the line. It’s a comforting sound, one that touches the soul. His latest, Tribal, played with backing band The Lower 911, does just what we’ve come to expect from the good Doctor. A follow-up to his 2008 album, The City That Care Forgot, in which he took anger out on those who let his beloved city stand hurting, Tribal makes no secret of his continued displeasure with the state of affairs in this country.

The album starts out on a positive note with “Feel Good Music”, a slow funk proclaiming, “I’m a feel good doctor and I don’t lose/make ya feel good and ya won’t refuse”. But he wastes no time getting to the thick of things, as “Lissen At Our Prayer” begs our respect for all life, and “Big Gap” (co-written with Allen Toussaint) attacks the financial class differences becoming evermore present in the United States. The title track sums up the general message of the album: all humans are one, so we must live together and help each other.

The album also features some tunes of a lighter tone. “When I’m Right (I’m Wrong)” and “Jinky Jinx” take some playful jabs at his own faults in the world of life and love. A shout-out is given to the world champion New Orleans Saints with a “Who Dat!?” chant thrown into “Sleepin’ in my Bed”, and “What’s Wit Dat” has so much hop, it could physically pick you up and move your feet for you.

The hardest hitting tracks come towards the end. “Them”, also co-written by Touissant, is a spooky tune, and asks whom we will blame next for our problems (there’s always someone else, after all). “Manoovas” is four minutes of electric blues featuring the slide guitar of Derek Trucks alongside a dark, driving bass line.

Tribal is not just another Dr. John album, nor is it simply a call for action (neither of which would be at all painful, by the way). The poignant lyrical message conveyed through most of the album, coupled with the ability of the music to keep you uplifted, is perfectly reminiscent of the spirit of New Orleans. Even though times could be better, there is always a reason to go on.

The state of working musicians in New Orleans: 'Half the gigs ... and the work pays less'


It's not hurricanes challenging New Orleans' musicians anymore; it's the economy. Five years ago this weekend, Hurricane Katrina decimated the city and its music community, but the recession has set a slow pace for its recovery.

According to the third annual State of the New Orleans Music Community Report, there are 50% fewer gigs in the Crescent City than there were before the storm, and it has been that way for the last two years.

"Musicians currently have half the gigs they did before the flood, and this work pays less than pre-Katrina," says Gabriela Hernandez, executive director of the non-profit relief agency Sweet Home New Orleans (SHNO), which released the report. "At the same time, the recession has eliminated a lot of the service industry day jobs they've previously relied on. So while the cost of living has skyrocketed in the city, musicians are seeing their opportunities to earn money dry up."

SHNO published the report this morning, using its 4,500 clients to provide insights into the well-being of the city's famed music community. There's good news: Despite fears about the storm's impact on neighborhood-based institutions such as Mardi Gras Indians and the second-line community, those groups are back to pre-Katrina levels of activity. Musicians, on the other hand, have experienced a drop in the average number of gigs from 12 to six in a month, and earnings are down 43% to a ballpark income of $15,000 per year.

Hardest hit have been older musicians and those reliant on tourists for their livelihood, whether on Bourbon Street, riverboats or convention-related gigs. Saxophone player Elliot "Stackman" Callier played with Ray Charles and Fats Domino, and he appears on many classic R&B recordings, including Lee Dorsey's "Working in a Coal Mine." His resume hasn't insulated him from the economic downturn, though. "I have to take anything that almost makes good sense to play," he says.

Callier's doubly affected by the economy. For years, he made his living as a touring musician in a horn section, but the business doesn't sustain many bands that size, so he does what he can in New Orleans, playing once or twice a month. Some of those gigs include Children’s Hospital and retirement homes -- dates arranged by the Jazz Foundation of America to help employ musicians.

Tourism remains New Orleans' leading industry, and even though the number of tourists and conventions has doubled since 2006, last year's 7.6 million visitors was down more than 2 million people from 2004's 10.1 million. Last year's 661 conventions and meetings were roughly half of the 1,299 booked before Katrina. Convention gigs were once a staple of musicians' incomes because they often paid better than club dates. Now there are fewer of them and because convention budgets are smaller, they pay less when they happen. "When I played with Preservation Hall or a big band, the least I made was $550," Callier says. "It's nowhere near that right now, trust me. It's anywhere from $150 to $200."

New Orleans’ older musicians and jazz musicians aren’t the only ones facing hard times. The limited number of gigs in the city has prompted many musicians, including Trombone Shorty, Theresa Andersson and the trombone-led funk-rock band Bonerama to develop more active touring careers.

Folk-rock singer Susan Cowsill tours to promote her new album, "Lighthouse," because she has to. "I can't make a living playing one gig a month at Carrollton Station," Cowsill says. "Playing over and over and over again in town is like having baby showers on your seventh kid, but that's not really an option because the gigs just aren't there."

With two school-age children, Cowsill and her husband, drummer Russ Broussard, have had to take outside work to make ends meet, and they recorded "Lighthouse" with the assistance of the fan-funded Threadhead Records. He plays drums with other bands in town, she paints houses, and they'll occasionally do a Bourbon Street date with friends. She's also a part of the famous Cowsills, who recorded "Hair" and "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," and she and Broussard join her brothers for Cowsills shows. Still, when they got behind on their rent, they had to turn to Sweet Home New Orleans for help.

The agency's study says this situation may be the new norm. "The (music) community has reached a plateau of 80% of its pre-Katrina size," it says. "Meanwhile, the number of gigs per month for New Orleans musicians has stayed consistent at around 50% of the pre-Katrina level. These figures suggest new baselines for the population size and amount of work available to the music community."

The study is based on data largely collected before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, so that's not factored in. "Obviously, it is having a major effect on tourism, and reduced spending there finds its way back to our clients," Hernandez says. "Anecdotally, we've already seen a few clients lose their day jobs as a direct result of the spill."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Soul Sides': "Allen Toussaint - For the Sisters"

Allen Toussaint: Soul Sister
Fingers and Toes
From Life, Love and Faith (WEA, 1972)

[T]he beat is catchy enough but what really sells this are Toussaint’s vocals, the male back-ups and the unexpected female singers who come in to sing, “thank you brother, thank you baby,” immediately followed by that the men, vigorously hollering back, “Hey you!” As a sequence, it’s hellaciously awesome.

I can’t claim that anything else on this album can top “Soul Sister” but if you ever get tired of just putting that tune on repeat (but really, how can you?) you can always flip over to “Fingers and Toes” for a far moodier ballad that’s pretty much the emotional antithesis of “Soul Sister’s” cheery, anything-can-happen vibe. This is a song at the end of love and damn if Toussaint doesn’t even make that sound compelling (a really intriguing hook on this song, btw. Sounds like a chorus written a couple thousand miles north of NOLA even if the rhythm is all Crescent City).

New Orleans Funk Fest Tomorrow!

NPR's "The Music Of New Orleans, After The Storm"

Soul Rebels Brass Band

In advance of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, All Things Considered has been talking about recovery along the Gulf Coast: what's changed, what's moved, what's come back. The musical heartbeat of New Orleans has clearly been shifted by what's become known simply as "the storm."

Nick Spitzer has spent his life immersed in the music of Louisiana — he hosts the public radio program American Routes from New Orleans. In an interview with All Things Considered host Melissa Block, he says that the cultural disaster he feared after the storm has not come to pass.

"Early on, music became essential to the sense of, 'Why should somebody come back, and how will the city recover?' " Spitzer says. "We found that a lot of it was the intangible sense of music in the neighborhoods and the clubs and the lifestyle. It's a powerful culture, it's a diverse culture, and it's been right there in the middle of getting us to where we are now."

Spitzer discusses some of the musicians and musical projects in New Orleans who have been active since the storm, including the Soul Rebels Brass Band; Derrick Tabb and the Roots of Music program; and a special collaboration featuring Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz, Tim Robbins and a few New Orleans musicians.

Related Links

Rebirth Brass Band Signs With Basin Street Records

c/o Offbeat

Basin Street Records announced today that the Rebirth Brass Band has signed with the label, and will be releasing their first Basin Street album early next year. It won’t be their first recordings with Basin Street—they played with former member and co-founder Kermit Ruffins on 2005’s Throwback. However, the upcoming album will be Rebirth’s first of new material under their own name since 2004’s Rebirth for Life.

Mark Samuels, President of Basin Street Records, states, “There is nothing in the world like going to see Rebirth on a Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf. We are excited to begin what we hope will be a long relationship that is beneficial to both Rebirth and our label.”

If this sounds like the match you’ve been waiting for while patiently waiting on the release of more Rebirth recordings, you’re not alone. As founder and tuba player Phil Frazier says, “This is what New Orleans is all about, the Rebirth Brass Band and Basin Street Records teaming up to release music that’ll make you move and put a smile on your face.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NPR: Rebirth Brass Band Flourishes After Katrina

The story of Hurricane Katrina can't be told without music, which is at the center of New Orleans culture. After the storm, Morning Edition heard from Phil Frazier, co-founder of the Rebirth Brass Band. Two weeks after Katrina, the band kept their tour dates.

NPR's "Irma Thomas: The Soul Queen Of New Orleans"

Irma Thomas

For a voice that makes you sit up straight, look to Irma Thomas to deliver. The New Orleans native is 69, and she's been singing pretty much her whole life.

"I can't remember when I didn't sing," she says. "It was just a part of life."

When Thomas heard that she had been selected as one of NPR's 50 Great Voices, she said, "I kinda lit up, like, 'Wow, I'm among 50 great voices!' Like, 'Hey!' "

Thomas' voice is a true New Orleans treasure. The soul queen isn't just from the city — she's of the city, and her voice reflects that.

"It's just something about the way we, as performers from this city, the way we do things," Thomas says. "We hear extra sounds in our heads — extra beats, extra backbeats, extra rhythms that people from other parts of the United States just don't understand or get."

"The phrasing — it just sounds so much like New Orleans in particular," says Allen Toussaint, who has been recording with Thomas since the beginning of her career. "And as a female vocalist, Irma is the epitome of that."

"She is the soul queen of New Orleans," pianist David Torkanowsky says. "She is sort of ingrained in the genetics of this place."

Forcing Her Way On Stage

Thomas' story is filled with sharp twists and turns. She got pregnant after eighth grade, was married at 14, and became a mother of three by the time she was 17. The single mother was working as a waitress at a nightclub, but she couldn't resist getting onstage to sing with the band.

"Of course, I had a white boss again who had a segregated mentality," she says. "He said he didn't hire me to sing; he hired me to wait tables — even though the audience was asking for the singing waitress, that didn't mean a thing to him, so he fired me."

'Time Is On My Side'

Irma Thomas and The Rolling Stones both recorded "Time Is On My Side" in 1964 -- but Thomas recorded first, and some people say the Stones version owes a debt to hers. Compare them here.

But the bandleader at the club took notice of Thomas' abilities and told her, "Irma, you sing well enough to make records." He got her an audition at a recording studio, where she learned a new song, "(You Can Have My Husband But Please) Don't Mess With My Man," on a Monday.

"And I recorded it that Wednesday, and two weeks later I had a record out, and the rest is history," Thomas says. "It happened just like that."

That happened in 1959, when Thomas was 18. Even at that young age, Thomas says, she knew what she was singing about.

"I laugh, because it sounds strange [to hear the recording now]," she says. "Funny, in a sense, because I sound so young. And I can relate to how far I've come since that time and how much I've learned musically in how to put a song across, more now than then — even though I knew what I was talking about then. Because I've matured, and there's a lot more gone. As they say, there's a lot of water gone under the bridge since that time. And so you can sing it with a whole different perspective."

Telling A Story

Thomas says she brings her own stories into the songs she sings.

"I choose songs with the intention of having something that I can understand and be able to interpret from life experiences to sell the song," she says. "And in order to make it believable, you have to know what the song is about. I mean, I've sung songs where I've heard the lyrics, and if the lyrics were kind of vague, I would actually ask the writer, 'What were you thinking about when you wrote the song?' so I can understand what I'm singing about.

"I've sung songs in the studio and literally cried while doing them," she says. "Something would come up — a memory or something that I can relate to where that song fit that situation — and, rather than stop and go in the corner and cry, I just go down and sing the song with the tears meeting under my chin. I've done that many times."

In the early '60s, she'd come by Allen Toussaint's parents' shotgun house in New Orleans. He'd sit at the piano and compose for her right there on the spot.

"Her love for singing translates when she's singing," he says. "She brings everything to the moment."

Irma Thomas
Melissa Block/NPR

Irma Thomas at her home in New Orleans.

"I remember when I was writing 'It's Raining,' she was sitting right there, and it began raining outside," he says. "I just wrote that song then and handed it over to her and sung a little bit of it, just to show her the melody, and it fit like a gown. Like an evening gown made and tailored for her."

"It's heart-wrenching when she sings," Torkanowsky says. "It's dripping with soul. It really is."

Torkanowsky says that when he plays with Thomas, it feels like an intimate conversation.

"That's why people love her — because there's no pretense to her delivery or the sound of her voice or how she renders a lyric," he says. "And she won't sing anything that she doesn't believe in."

You can hear Thomas' conviction and honesty in every song she sings. But her intensity also comes from what she doesn't do. She doesn't get fancy, because she doesn't need to.

"I don't think my fan base [cares] about how many notes I can hit. They want me to sing the doggone song," she says. "If the song doesn't dictate adding all this other stuff to it, then why do it? Sure, I may be able to hit 15 notes in one bar, but is it gonna help the song? No."

A Musical Thank You Note: "Dear New Orleans" Compilation Album

“I have a very low tolerance for hippie bullshit,” says Tim Quirk. “There’s nothing more blind than a do-gooder that is just doing it for their ego or to relieve some kind of guilt. It’s rare to see someone who is just doing good work because they are completely passionate about a cause or set of causes. And that’s why I love Air Traffic Control and people like Erin Potts, and Jordan Hirsch. ”

Dear New Orleans is Air Traffic Control’s musical response to Chris Rose’s “Dear America” letter written shortly after Katrina. Dear New Orleans will be released Tuesday to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s part of Air Traffic Control’s ongoing relationship with New Orleans. The non-profit organization working for social justice has brought musicians to New Orleans for retreats, using the city since Katrina as a place to learn how they could use their position to pursue their social justice interests. For the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the organization asked alumni of its retreats to release songs about New Orleans. Over half of the 60 alumni gave permission and many recorded original tracks. OK Go wrote an original song, “Louisiana Land,” that mentions Antoinette K-Doe and other shout-outs to New Orleans. “The Crescent” is a new song by the Wrens, who haven’t put out an album since 2003, and My Morning Jacket included a live cover of “Carnival Time” recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Tim Quirk of Wonderlick – a former VP of Rhapsody and Air Traffic Control alum – can’t believe the response. Usually compilation albums take months of finagling with lawyers and artists. Yet for Dear New Orleans, all the obstacles were removed.

“Not only is it five years after Katrina, but we’ve only been working on this since mid-June. We got 31 tracks in the astonishingly short period of time,” he points out. “These sort of things are usually a licensing nightmare. I’m floored and honored and grateful that we got that many, and it’s a testament to (executive director) Erin (Potts), (director of special programs) Deyden (Tethong), the work they do, and just how profound an experience those retreats can be.”

Since 2006, 60 musicians have flown into Louis Armstrong and bonded over drinks in the French Quarter. They ate at Dooky Chase and spoke to the late Antoinette K-Doe and her stepdaughter at the Mother-In-Law Lounge. They attended standing gigs and watched local masters like George Porter, Jr. show off their skills. They played with Bonerama and experienced what it’s like to be backed up by three trombones. Alumni include Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Alec Ounsworth, Flobots, Nellie McKay and the Mekons’ Jon Langford, who painted the album’s cover.

Nicole Atkins, whose cover of “When the Levee Breaks” with Bonerama is on the album, says, “It was truly one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken. It’s the one American musical culture down there.”

Erin Potts describes the retreats as “a coming home for musicians – to be in a place where music is so loved.” She continues, “It’s inspiring to them and a deep musical experience. Also, because of what has happened and not happened with regarding to the rebuilding, the levees, and the recovery, it’s an incredible example of recovery.”

The retreats aren’t only about music. Given that the nature of the program is social justice, the artists are exposed to climate change devastation and Hurricane Katrina’s impact. The retreat’s first meeting always opens with Columnist Chris Rose’s eloquent post-Katrina letter, which Potts calls the retreat’s “entry point.”

“We felt ‘Dear America’ really captured that moment in the country,” says Potts. “It became a way of understanding what was happening.”

The musicians also meet leaders from Sweet Home New Orleans and the Gulf Restoration Network, two organizations that Air Traffic Control works closely with. The Gulf Restoration Network and Sweet Home are the recipients of the proceeds from Dear New Orleans. On Tim Quirk’s 2010 retreat, Jordan Hirsch (who Erin Potts calls a “human encyclopedia” of New Orleans musical history) took the musicians to the 7th Ward and introduced them to Mardi Gras Indians. The Gulf Restoration Network’s Aaron Viles showed them Bayou Bienvenue, the lonely remains of a neighborhood destroyed by flooding after salt water from the Mr. GO canal killed the trees that protected the area. Quirk was deeply affected by the experience, where he connected the dots between climate change devastation and the threat it poses to New Orleans and its music.

Two months after his retreat, Quirk engaged in a brainstorming session with Potts and Deyden Tethong (also from Air Traffic Control) over drinks in Washington, D.C. They were thinking of ways for Air Traffic Control to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and Potts threw out the idea of doing an EP.

“I told her, ‘You’ve got 60 alumni. You could have a collection of tracks from almost every artists and have a fantastic collection,’” says Quirk. After leaving Rhapsody, Quirk adopted the idea as his summer project and produced it.

“I just want to give people a soundtrack to do whatever thinking they’re going to do to,” Quirk says. “If that soundtrack happens to place their mind towards a Sweet Home New Orleans or Gulf Restoration Network or New Orleans or inspire them to think of their own way to contribute, all the better. It’s not a requirement, though. If you want to put the record on and drink and dance, you can do that too.”

Dear New Orleans is officially available for download on Tuesday, August 24 at DearNewOrleansMusic.org, iTunes, Amazon.com, Rhapsody and eMusic.com. On Monday, though, it’s on sale at Amazon.com for $2.99.

Track Listing

1. OK Go: “Louisiana Land”

2. The Mendoza Line: “Catch a Collapsing Star”

3. The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello): “Midnight in the City of Destruction”

4. Janet Bean and the Concertina Wire: “My Little Brigadoon”

5. Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy: “Love in the Hot Afternoon”

6. Paul Sanchez: “Don’t Be Sure” [ft. Shamarr Allen]

7. Alec Ounsworth: “Dr. So and So” [ft. Al "Carnival Time" Johnson and John Boutte]

8. Steve Earle: “Dixieland”

9. Luke Reynolds: “Flood”

10. Jon Langford: “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”

11. Laura Veirs: “I Can See Your Tracks”

12. Vijay Iyer: “Threnody”

13. Jill Sobule: “Where Is Bobby Gentry?”

14. Flobots: “Stand Up”

15. Rebecca Gates: “Doos”

16. The Wrens: “Crescent”

17. Indigo Girls: “Kid Fears” [ft. Brandi Carlile]

18. Timothy Bracy’s Collection Agency: “Matching Scars”

19. Nellie McKay: “Late Again”

20. Blind Pilot: “I Buried a Bone”

21. Mirah: “NOLA” [ft. Thao Nguyen]

22. Allison Moorer: “A Change Is Gonna Come”

23. 2nd Chief David Montana: “The Change of Heart Man”

24. Wonderlick: “The American Way”

25. Bonerama: “Mr. Go”

26. Thao Nguyen and Bonerama: “Body”

27. Erin McKeown and Bonerama: “Blackbirds”

28. Nicole Atkins and Bonerama: “When the Levee Breaks”

29. Mike Mills and Bonerama: “Ohio” [ft. Wayne Kramer and Dave Herlihy]

30. Wayne Kramer and Bonerama: “Kick Out the Jams” [ft. Mike Mills, Erin McKeown, Nicole Atkins, and Martin Perna]

31. My Morning Jacket and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: “Carnival Time”

NY Times: Dr. John - Gumbo Along the Hudson

IT was another scorching day in New York, but in his short-sleeve shirt, black jeans and snakeskin shoes, Dr. John, the piano-playing, politically assertive singer and songwriter from New Orleans, was quite comfortable.

“I don’t like to be cold,” said Dr. John, who was born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., and is known to his friends as Mac.

At 6 on a recent evening, he was making his way along West Harlem Piers Park on 125th Street and the Hudson River. The sun was still bright and the water beckoned. Cyclists whizzed by; children ran down the walk. No one seemed to recognize the Grammy-winning performer, who adopted his stage name from a voodoo practitioner who lived in the early 1800s.

Not that he didn’t stand out with his wooden walking stick, which he clutched like a scepter; it was adorned with voodoo beads, key rings from Narcotics Anonymous, a yak bone, a subway token, an alligator tooth, feathers and crystals.

Now 20 years heroin-free, Dr. John could pass for a decade younger than his 69 years; his face is barely lined. On this particular day he said he was tired, having recently completed a monthlong European tour to promote his latest album, “Tribal” — a gumbo of jazz, funk and rock peppered with Creole and R & B — which was released earlier this month.

He sat down on a bench and lighted a Dominican cigar (which he calls a “square”) and said he liked it there, by the water; it reminded him of New Orleans, his hometown, where he spends much of the year. He also rents a “pad” in Washington Heights, where he stays on and off and where many of the residents are Hispanic. “It’s nice,” he said. “I relate to people up there that kind of hangs on the streets.”

Does he speak Spanish? “No,” he said. “I don’t even speak English.”

In a way, he’s not kidding. Talking with Dr. John is an adventure. And a treat. After all, this is the guy who is responsible for lyrics like “I walk on gilded splinters.”

Still, it can be challenging to follow him. His voice hovers between a growl and a whisper, and made-up words burst from his lips. A message is a “massage.” A text becomes a “textile.” Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, is “Bobby Jingle Bells,” as in: “For a minute during the BP mess, I liked Bobby Jingle Bells. For a minute.” And now? “He’s the kind of politician who makes me nauseated.”

He can also be vague. When asked how many children he had, he answered “A lot.” And how many grandchildren? “Enough.”

His conversation meanders with seemingly no connective thread; eventually, certain themes emerge: Louisiana, offshore drilling, Hurricane Katrina, the joys of eating goats’ eyeballs (“When you get the hard part out, they’re delicious”) and drinking, which he never enjoyed. “I killed all my mother’s plants ‘cause I poured wine in there,” he said.

And then there is Barack Obama, “The first person I voted for since John Kennedy who won,” he said. “For a lot of years I didn’t vote. After Nixon and Reagan I got disgusted with politics.”

He still is. Indeed, on this topic he is quite articulate. “I’m sitting in Europe and I see Barack Obama on TV being nice to the British prime minister” after the BP oil spill. “I ain’t prejudiced against British people. I got friends who are British. But did we really win the Revolution?”

“I don’t feel like I can trust anybody, anywhere,” he said. For that reason, he doesn’t read newspapers and doesn’t have an e-mail address or even a computer. But he does have a cellphone (Louis Armstrong’s music is one of his ringtones), which compensates for the lack of e-mail: “I can text on the phone, and even then I know it’s being monitored somewhere by someone.”

He is outraged by the government’s response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. His 2008 album, “City That Care Forgot,” which is about New Orleans after the deluge, won the 2009 Grammy for best contemporary blues album. He is still collecting money for New Orleans charities. On his Web site, drjohn.org, he notes that “As a gesture of thankfulnessments to his fans and with no profitabilitary to hisself, Dr. John is offerin’ up some drawers in honoroficalness of NOLA, his hometown.”

Does he have hope that things will improve? He shrugs. “One day you’re on top of the world, and the next day the world’s on top of you,” he said. “That’s life.”

As for him right now? “I’m somewhere in the middle.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Donna’s Bar & Grill Closes

By Jan Ramsey

The last mainstay of live local music on North Rampart Street has closed its doors.

Donna’s Bar & Grill, which has been the home of brass bands for almost 20 years, is closed forever

Donna's: Home of New Orleans Brass Bands.

“We’re done. We turned in our license,” said Donna Poniatowski, for whom the club was named. “When we went to city hall to turn in the license—which is something you’re required to do—the lady who accepted it even told me, ‘You know, now there won’t be any live music on North Rampart Street.’” Donna’s right to present live music was grandfathered in when the city prohibited new Mayoralty licenses (that allow live music). The other establishment that was grandfathered in was the Funky Butt, which closed prior to Katrina.

Donna and her husband, Charlie Sims, opened Donna’s because of their love for local music. Charlie cooked for crowds of people who loved his red beans and rice and barbecue, and in recent years, Charlie ran the club. Donna has been teaching for several years since Katrina, full-time, at schools in Florida, and commuted to and from New Orleans. She told OffBeat in June that while the club took its usual summer hiatus, she was returning home for good because she’d managed to get a teaching position at the University of New Orleans. “I was on my way to New Orleans to sing the contract, and that’s when the [teaching] cuts were made by our ‘wonderful’ governor,” she said. Charlie, who’s now 75, experienced some serious health problems earlier this year.

But according to Donna, the main reason they decided to shut down the club is because of the condition of the building. “The building is in horrible shape,” she said. “We rent the property and couldn’t see investing thousands of dollars into a building that wasn’t ours. With all the rain we’ve had this year, the roof leaks and the ceiling is about ready to fall in. We just couldn’t see putting money into a building we didn’t own. We’ve had so many problems over the years, and the landlord just wasn’t interested in keeping up the building. So while it was a hard decision to shut down Donna’s, we just decided it was not in our best interests, given Charlie’s health and the condition of the building, which is just getting worse. We just couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take over the business, either. I asked Charlie is he wanted to try to find a new location, but his health problems and the fact that I’m in Florida was too difficult, so we both decided that we’re done,” she said. “We’re going to relax and enjoy each other’s company!”

Interestingly, the Funky Butt, which is owned by the same landlord (Cahn Enterprise), closed for the same reason. Sammie and Shanekah Williams were operating the Funky Butt prior to Katrina, but decided to close the business because the building was “falling apart” and needed a totally new HVAC system, which the landlord would not replace. Just prior to Katrina, the Williamses were trying to relocate the Funky Butt to Frenchmen Street, but Katrina squashed that effort.

After Katrina, another operator attempted to reopen the Funky Butt as a music venue but was prevented from doing so because he could not get the proper licenses to allow live music. The same will now apply to any operator who’d want to reopen Donna’s as a music club. So it appears for now—unless the city steps up to the plate and revamps the zoning on North Rampart Street—that music on the historic street that runs next to Armstrong Park and Congo Square is a thing of the past.

From our standpoint, this appears to be a serious problem for the music scene in New Orleans, and the attempts to re-establish North Rampart as a street that permits and honors local traditional music. We’ve discussed this issue many times online and in the pages of OffBeat, and suggest that the property owners on North Rampart, and in the historic areas of the city need to be held accountable for their neglect of their properties. It may not be unlawful to let the interior of an historic property fall into ruin—as long as the façade appears to be intact; it may not be unlawful to enter into a lease with a tenant who can’t afford to make structural repairs to a building that produces income and supports the city’s cultural health and economy. But both actions seem to us to be morally reprehensible and in fact, ultimately damaging to New Orleans historic nature and to the city’s culture.

It’s still hard to believe that a city like New Orleans, known for its music

Upcoming: Nola Funk Fest @ South Street Seaport

Thursday August 26th


Trombone Shorty
& Orleans Avenue

w/ Jon Cleary:
Piano, Drums & Bass

plus sp guests High & Mighty Brass Band
& DJ Cochon de Lait

5:30pm Doors 6:30pm Show | 18 & Up
$35adv $40dos (if available)

@ South Street Seaport Water Taxi Beach
Fulton & South Streets, North Side of Pier 17 (Manhattan)

The Water Taxi Beach
& Beer Garden South Street Seaport is an 18,000 square foot venue located along the water�s edge on the north side of Pier 17 at South Street Seaport. It features an open-air tent that can fit 400-500 people and a very large beach area for another 300-400 people. It offers the most spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River in the city.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

HBO Trailer: If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise

Upcoming: Bonerama Concert Cruise Tomorrow Night



Aboard The Jewel

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rocks Off Concert Cruise Aboard The Jewel

Boards: 7:00pm / Departs: 8:00pm
E. 23rd St. & FDR Dr. Maps & Directions

Advance: $25 / Day of Show: $30


Even in a city that doesn't play by the rules, New Orleans' Bonerama is something different. They can evoke vintage funk, classic rock and free improvisation in the same set; maybe even the same song. Bonerama has been repeatedly recognized by Rolling Stone, hailed as "the ultimate in brass balls" (2005) and praised for their "…crushing ensemble riffing, human-feedback shrieks and wah-wah growls" (2007). Bonerama carries the brass-band concept to places unknown; what other brass band could snag an honor for "Best Rock Band" (Big Easy Awards 2007)? As cofounder Mark Mullins puts it, "We thought we could expand what a New Orleans brass band could do. Bands like Dirty Dozen started the "anything goes" concept, bringing in the guitars and the drum kit and using the sousaphone like a bass guitar. We thought we could push things a little further."

Upcoming: Henry Butler Boat Cruise Tonight

Henry Butler

In association with the Musicians Aid Society

Musicians' Aid Society Jubilee

Henry Butler / Gent Treadly


Aboard The Jewel

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rocks Off Concert Cruise Aboard The Jewel

Boards: 7:00pm / Departs: 8:00pm
E. 23rd St. & FDR Dr. Maps & Directions

Advance: $99 / Day of Show: $100


Henry Butler

An eight-time W.C. Handy "Best Blues Instrumentalist - Piano" award nominee, Henry Butler knows no limitations. Although blinded by glaucoma since birth, Butler is also a world class photographer with his work displayed at exhibitions throughout the United States. Playing piano since the age of six, Butler is a master of musical diversity. Combining the percussive jazz piano playing of McCoy Tyner and the New Orleans style playing of Professor Longhair through his classically trained wizardry, Butler continues to craft a sound uniquely his own. A rich amalgam of jazz, Caribbean, classical, pop, blues and R&B influences, his music is as excitingly eclectic as that of his New Orleans birthplace.

Upcoming: Cyril Neville Headlines Free Blues & BBQ Fest @ Pier 54

Blues & BBQ Fest

Blues BBQ

2010 line-up

Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King Band 2:30pm
Janiva Magness 3:45pm
Joe Louis Walker featuring Murali Coryell 5pm
Teeny Tucker Revue 6:15pm
Cyril Neville 7:30pm

BBQ Headliners
Brother Jimmy's BBQ
Char No.4
Dinosaur Bar B Que
Fatty 'Cue

Back for the 11th year, Hudson River Park’s annual Blues BBQ Festival brings the best Blues bands from across the country together with the finest New York City BBQ restaurants for a fantastic summer day on the river. This feast for your senses brings you the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a true southern BBQ experience!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Upcoming: Big Freedia in Brooklyn

August 28 - Big Freedia and DJ Rusty Lazer, House of Ladosha, w/ Ghe20 Gothik DJ's Venus X & Brenmar

36 Hours in New Orleans: The Budget Edition

By Carey Jones


[Photos: Carey Jones]

Yesterday, we gave you our price-no-object recommendations for New Orleans eats. But one of the many great things about this city—you don't have to spend much to eat well. If you're looking to keep your vacation costs down, here's a guide to serious eats on the cheap: oysters, drinks, and all.

Breakfast: Camellia Grill


About as old-timey as it gets, Camellia Grill is a charming Uptown diner where, if you're not chatting with the white-jacketed counter guys, you're doing yourself a disservice. Waiters, short-order cooks, and entertainers all, they'll whoop and holler and welcome you to Camellia as they turn out crispy-edged pecan waffles or enormous, fluffy omelets (the eggs whipped up in a milkshake frother) in mere minutes. Not enough charm for you? You can take the streetcar there.

Camellia Grill: 626 South Carrollton Avenue, New Orleans LA 70118 (map); 504-309-2679 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-309-2679 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; camelliagrill.net

Morning Snack: Angelo Brocato


Walking into the century-old Angelo Brocato is like walking into any gelateria in any city's Little Italy, with one critical difference: the gelato inside is fantastic. Classics like pistachio and creamy fior di latte are silky and intensely flavored and not too sweet; you won't go wrong with filled-to-order cannoli or a hot cappuccino, either.

Angelo Brocato: 214 North Carrollton Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70119 (map); 504-486-0078 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-486-0078 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; angelobrocatoicecream.com

Late Lunch: Cochon Butcher


Want to experience the charcuterie, the piggy deliciousness, or the cocktails of Donald Link's Cochon without shelling out for dinner? Stop by Cochon Butcher in the same building. Order at the counter, then sit inside or out to scarf down this crazy bacon melt (made with buckboard bacon and collard greens) or the Cochon muffuletta, all the meats house-made—we'll go on record saying it's the best muffuletta in town. (And yes, we've eaten it next to Central Grocery's.)

Cochon Butcher: 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans LA 70130 (map); 504-588-7675 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-588-7675 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; cochonbutcher.com‎

A Few Beers: d.b.a.

Sure, you can get an Abita Amber anywhere—and there's no reason you shouldn't. (Would that the local favorite beer in every American city was this drinkable.) But if you want to branch out a little, head to beer paradise d.b.a. for 20-odd brews on tap (including some interesting local picks), a lively (but not Bourbon Street lively) crowd, and live music.

d.b.a.: 618 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans LA 70116 (map); 504-942-3731 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-942-3731 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; dbabars.com

Dinner and Drinks: Parasol's


Parasol's isn't just the kind of bar where crowds gather to watch and cheer on the Saints on game day—it's the kind of bar where crowds gather to cheer for Saints game reruns. (True story.) So as long as you're not put off by bar-thumping and occasional cries of Who dat?, head to Parasol's for a few Abitas and the best roast beef po' boy I ate in the city—not doused in gravy, but cooked so long it dissolves in its own juices, almost like a pulled pork sandwich. (Yes, I preferred it to Parkway's.) The fried oyster po' boy is just as good.

Parasol's: 2533 Constance Street, New Orleans LA 70130 (map); 504-899-2054; parasols.com

Breakfast: Morning Call


Down in the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde gets the beignet tourists—and there are any number of reasons to head down there, from the huge enclosed patio to the unparalleled people-watching. But bite for bite, we actually prefer the crispy little fritters from Morning Call Coffee Stand in suburban Metairie. And with old wooden stools and white-hatted waitresses, the place isn't lacking in atmosphere, either. Particularly if you're already headed to our next stop...

Morning Call Coffee Stand: 3325 Severn Avenue, Metairie LA 70002 (map); 504-885-4068 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-885-4068 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; morningcallcoffeestand.com

Lunch: R & O's


All the way up on Lake Pontchartrain, R&O's may look every bit the divey seafood shack, but it's a damn good divey seafood shack. We won't point you toward the pizza that makes up a big chunk of the menu, but you can't go wrong with boiled seafood, heaps of fried shellfish, classic gumbo, or the po' boys—and while the fried shrimp are great, the R&O Special, gravy-laden roast beef piled with ham, is one of the best po' boys we had in New Orleans.

R&O's: 216 Metairie Hammond Highway, Metairie LA‎ 70005 (map); 504-831-1248 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-831-1248 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Drive-By: Any Seafood Shack


Want the crawfish without the restaurant? Stop by any roadside seafood shack (pictured above, Schaefer's Seafood in Metairie) and grab already spiced and boiled shellfish on the cheap. Ready to eat, they're a great picnic lunch (or snack eaten off the hood of your car). Warning: it gets messy.

Afternoon Snack: Hansen's Sno-Bliz


There's a snowball shop (think dressed-up snow cones) just about everywhere you look in New Orleans, but there's something particularly charming about Hansen's Sno-Bliz on Tchoupitoulas—maybe that it's still a group of Hansens shaving the ice, on a machine that Ernest Hansen perfected in 1939. Our favorite flavors? The satsuma (an orange-like citrus) or anything topped with condensed milk.

Hansen's Sno-Bliz: 4801 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans LA 70115 (map); 504-891-9788 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-891-9788 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; snobliz.com