New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Holiday Memories

Since August, 2005, the grass roots nonprofit New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund has donated everything from grants to cars to grand pianos to gigs for musicians in need, and even in a tough economy help is still coming in.

Community Coffee has become a partner with NOMRF not only in offering free family-friendly concerts for the past three years, but by donating all proceeds from their Java Jacket for $2.95. The Java Jacket saves waste from discarded cardboard sleeves, and makes an excellent sustainable stocking stuffer to help save the culture and the planet.

With paying gigs becoming harder to find, the charity has hosted music at locations everywhere from conventions to CC's Community Coffeehouse to clubs including MidCity Lanes Rock 'n Bowl, Carrolton Station and the Howlin Wolf. New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund-produced videos of live performances help promote the wealth of talent in New Orleans, and promoting New Orleans music nationally is also crucial. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members R.E.M. and soon to be Dr. John have been invaluable in that respect, along with The Subdudes, Wilco, Spoon, Ian Hunter, James Andrews, Susan Cowsill and many other musicians offering their time and talent.

In a poignant 2005 holiday memory, NOMRF brought the Great Southwest Holiday Toy Sleigh Ride to musicians’ children. The airline offered the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund space to bring 200 pounds of toys from Chicago to New Orleans post-Katrina, the nonprofit bought more locally from stores that had reopened, threw a gala and invited musicians to choose toys for their families.

Since so few musicians were back, NOMRF also mailed toys to displaced musicians’ children. So many toys came in, former WWOZ DJ and New Orleans music legend Bob French announced that families could pull up in front of the studio and choose from everything from skateboards to drum kits. Bob is now living in the Musicians Village with his NOMRF-donated couch and drum, and providing entertainment with his 100-year old family band, the Original Tuxedo Brass Band.

Grateful that the Musicians Village has offered housing post-Katrina, NOMRF has worked to fund concerts and provide emergency grants after the levees failed. "More instruments than grants come in these days, and we're happy to get them to promising musicians in the community," said NOMRF founder Jeff Beninato. This fall, a 100-year old Czech bass was donated to a young New Orleans musician; and a violin, electric guitar and clarinet have just come in. Donated instruments are repaired, if needed, and given to musicians at every level based on the quality of the instrument.

Details are available at http://www.nomrf.org.


Subdudes Benefit at Rock n Bowl Wednesday, 4/28

Come out out to hear the Subdudes first local show of festival season at the new MidCity Lanes Rock n Bowl on Wednesday, 4/28!

Benefit tickets are only $20 and the Creole String Beans open the show. It's NOMRF's first big benefit of the year, so we hope to see you there!!


NOMRF ReDefines 8/29 on the 4th Katrina Anniversary

It's almost impossible to think about the city of New Orleans without its trademark and historical music community. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, Inc. has provided housing, furniture, transportation, instruments and anything else it can to assist those still struggling to rebuild their lives post Katrina. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, Inc., a grass roots certified 501c(3) non-profit was founded in Internet cafes and FEMA rooms by musician Jeff Beninato and his wife Karen and is supported by volunteer graphic designers, publicists, video producers and friends of New Orleans music including Wilco, REM, Dr John and Ian Hunter.

With the 4th Anniversary of Katrina approaching, this organization has played a big part in assisting survivors in rebuilding their lives. Millions of Americans will never forget as they watched the horror unfold before their eyes as 80% of the city flooded along with many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks. Tens of thousands of survivors were left clinging to rooftops, trapped in hospitals and shuffled to the Convention Center where they were left without food or water for five days. Hundreds of thousands of other survivors were scattered around the country, many of them just now returning home. In the first few years after the storm the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund was able to mail hundreds of direct grants to musicians across the country and help them return.

With grass roots charities struggling to survive, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund has increasingly received physical items ranging from drums to desks. Tanio, a brass band drummer, received a donated van for gig transportation. When the band's van was stolen, the lawyer who processed the donation paperwork donated her car just in time for his family's Hurricane Gustav evacuation. This week, 500 pounds of bright blue band uniforms were shipped from Williamstown School in New Jersey to Lusher Charter School to give them the chance to have a marching band. And within the last year, the Astor Crowne Plaza donated 20 floors of four star furniture to Furnish our Neighbors as the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund helped them kick off ReDefine 8/29. The furniture sells for $8 and $29 to those returning home and people drive home with truckloads. Furniture was also donated to musicians living in the Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village. Help keeps rolling in in the form of instruments including 3 grand pianos, guitars, horns, congas - even vintage clothing for gig wear. And the charity was pleased to offer a free family friendly CC's Coffee Shop series that gave musicians extra gigs this summer.

"It's been humbling how many of their own instruments music lovers have sent us, even four years after the storm when many are struggling themselves. Those who have the least sometimes have the most room in their hearts for a city still healing," said Karen Dalton Beninato. "Instead of focusing on the day to day struggle of trying to keep a small charity running, it's heartening to focus on the help that's still coming from music lovers and musicians."

Jeff Beninato agrees, and just told Press of Atlantic City about the charity's support from New Orleans legend Dr. John: His presence can make ailing friends and family members forget their troubles just a bit. We visited his friend in the Musicians Village who was having a tough time paying for his medication, and through Mac's generosity he forfeited his expenses from a show used to help many musicians," Beninato said.

"The New Orleans Musician's Relief Fund has a great debt of gratitude to Dr. John for his unselfishness as an ambassador for the music of our city. Jeff adds that "Tragedies like the Galveston hurricane and Minneapolis Bridge collapse are forgotten too quickly in today's news cycle, like New Orleans, but I believe that people have enough compassion to go around if given the chance. Traveling across America after Katrina to raise funds for displaced musicians because we couldn't go home, it was amazing how many local jazz and dixieland bands would be playing traditional New Orleans songs. The sounds of New Orleans still entertain people across America, and it drove home the point that our music is a cultural mainstay."

You can help keep the music programs rolling. Founders Piano Prints are available, and soon NOMRF will post Jackson Squared - an artist's pop art nod to Michael Jackson's 8/29 birthday and Andrew Jackson who fought the Battle for New Orleans which is ongoing in many ways. You can also purchase ReDefine 8/29 tee shirts and memorabilia at the charity's web site.

This year's rebooted ReDefine 8/29 download for $4.99 will feature 6 tracks: Dr. John, Dream Warrior; Ian Hunter, When the World was Round; REM, live South Central Rain; Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey and Branford Marsalis, Begin Again; Dave Pirner, Start Treating People Right; and the late Barry Cowsill, Kid. Rolling Stone Magazine gave the first ReDefine 8/29 download a four star review.

An auction to support the charity now underway with a 40th Anniversary edition Fender stratocaster signed by musicians including Little Steven; Rock Tree posters signed by supporters including Mike Mills and Ian Hunter, and other pieces of history including two Andy Warhol photo prints will be auctioned on ebay through 8:29 pm on August 29, 2009.

Contact the founders with any questions or comments - all support is welcome.

New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Link: http://www.nomrf.org

Ebay Auction Link: http://bit.ly/18mpfr

Furnish Our Neighbors Link: http://bit.ly/gJLCf

Press of Atlantic City Link: http://bit.ly/108oN9

For more information, please contact:

Jeff Beninato
New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund


Jazzfest Features Ever-Growing Family Bands

The musical heartbeat of New Orleans families shone through in this year's Jazz and Heritage Festival, deeply evident when Big Chief Bo Dollis sang "I Love You" and "Goodbye" for two stanzas while his son shook his head and looked to the skies. Bo's voice was in fine form despite his physical battles, and performing with the Wild Magnolias gave him the strength to stand up and reach out his fans, thanking his fans for giving him a career in music. Marva Wright joined the Big Chief in a set that was as joyful as it was heartbreaking. Little Bo Dollis is the new standard bearer in The Wild Magnolias, a band that blasted Mardi Gras Indians into the public's consciousness over 30 years ago.

New Orleans has always been blessed with musical families including Andrews, Batiste, Boutte, Clements, Ford, French, Neville and Paulin among many others. Shamarr Allen has three budding guitar players in his household and he's now touring with Willie Nelson who is on my wish list to headline next year's Jazzfest - it's not too early to start dreaming.

Representing for the twang contingency, three generations of Clements musicians (Annie, Cranston, Dave, Austin, Tyler and Lewis) gathered backstage after Annie's Sugarland gig. The teenage twins had already played a slamming original tune written with their dad, Cranston, for the Twangorama set which for the second year in a row drew a standing ovation from the Lagniappe stage. There's something about watching young musicians you used to babysit take the stage with talent that can take them as far as they want to go.

If a band can also be a family, Dr. John and the Lower 911 qualify. They have rallied around a bandmate who needs their support, broke through past a label that was done with New Orleans related songs to win a Grammy, and paid tribute to Eddie Bo at the new Rock n Bowl NOMRF Benefit with Marcia Ball, Joe Krown, Papa Gros, Cynthia Chen, Bob Anderson and Tom Worrell, ending in an all-star piano jam.

Aspiring guitarist Nicolas Broussard, Russ Broussard and Susan Cowsill

Members of New Orleans' rootsiest tribe, The Continental Drifters, are now mostly disbursed across the country and played a night show I regret missing. There's always the dream of a reunion tour - years from now it could include Nicolas Broussard who's been jamming to the White Stripes. Frankie Ford (the other one) sat in with Susan Cowsill on Saturday for her Covered in Vinyl show - he's 14 and already plays a mean harp.

New Orleans' musical families are growing by leaps and bounds, and it's wonderful to hear the heartbeat from stages all over town. In honor of Mother's Day, take your mom to see the Wild Magnolias the next time they play.

All you'll hear from Big Chief Bo Dollis is love.


Jazzfest Recap and New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Benefit Update


Based on the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Nicolas Cage is selling his New Orleans houses too soon. All roads lead back to NOLA, evidenced when Wilco's Jeff Tweedy said from the stage, "It feels like home. John is home." Louisiana native John Stirratt somehow managed to keep a straight face while their John Holmes-looking cowbell player stole the show dashing around the stage during Hoodoo Voodoo - a song written by Wilco and Billy Bragg with reclaimed Woody Guthrie lyrics. Speculation ran rampant that the mystery cowbeller was a roadie, but it could have been a Second City alum doing a shirtless impression of the most enthusiastic cowbell artiste since Will Farrell on SNL.

(*Update from John Stirratt, it was guitar tech Josh Goldberg who will probably be booked on a solo cowbell tour once video of his, ummm, acrobatic performance gets out.)

It was Old Home Week when Stirratt was interviewed by reporter David Fricke of Rolling Stone. We caught up with him after his interview and before the cowbell and thanked him for the Wilco benefit that helped the Preservation Resource Center and New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund jump into action shortly after Katrina. Both are still going strong - the Preservation Resource Center sponsors programs to deconstruct and reuse materials in rebuilding New Orleans, and the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund donates repurposed instruments and, on a good day, used cars for evacuation.

2009-04-28-fricke.jpgWhen Fricke asked the Wilco bass player which CD he most recently bought and enjoyed, it was a recent reissue of legendary songwriter Bobby Charles, of "Walking to New Orleans" fame. Bobby often co-writes songs with Mac Rebennack, a/k/a Dr. John, and Mac passed the word back to Bobby that he received a shout out at Jazzfest, so there's your full circle. Gambit Weekly's Entertainer of the Year, Mac played at a NOMRF benefit and Eddie Bo tribute at the new Mid City Lanes Rock n Bowl Tuesday; interviews Wardell Quezergue at the Ponderosa Stomp Wednesday; plays at the House of Blues with the full band on Friday; at the 40th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Saturday; and with the Voice of the Wetlands on Sunday so it's worth a trip down to New Orleans - at the very least for Weekend 2 of Jazzfest.

Hugh Masecela closed down the first weekend in the WWOZ Jazz Tent describing how he still tours with the same white bandmate the South African police used to harass him about having in the band when Apartheid still separated the races. In response, Masecela gave the quote of the weekend: "We didn't give a shit."

With so many returnees, evacuees and relocatees walking the track at the Fest these days, I keep finding myself pulled into a mini-reunion around every corner with relocated friends like Jimmy Descant whose found object artwork rocked the art booths. Standing in the sandy racetrack path on Friday afternoon, our crew listened to Joe Cocker belt out "With a Little Help from My Friends." I've been humming it ever since.


NOMRf Benefit, Eddie Bo Tribute at Rock N Bowl with Dr. John

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, a grass roots 501c(3) charity, is proud to announce a Living Legends benefit at the brand new Mid City Lanes Rock n Bowl with solo piano by Dr. John, Marcia Ball, Joe Krown, Papa Gros, Cynthia Chen, Tom Worrell, Bob Andrews and Marc Adams. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 28, and the tunes will include classic songs written by the late Eddie Bo.

The new Mid City Lanes Rock n Bowl is located in the old Helm Paint Store and it's now all on one level and beautifully restored, debuting to rave reviews in nola.com.

Benefit tickets are $25 and are available at Mid City Lanes Rock n Bowl, behind the old Helm Paint store and next to Ye Olde College Inn.


Dr. John, Friend of New Orleans Musicians, to Host Benefit

Dr. John has a heart that's still broken over his lifelong musician friends scattered to the four winds after Hurricane Katrina. That said, he is resilient, hilarious, generous and a badass depending upon what's called for at any given time.

Here is a photo essay of one week in the life of a friend of New Orleans music; a friend of New Orleans and, we're proud to say, a friend. Here he is delivering a donated New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund saxophone to the legendary Smokey Johnson for his church; sitting in with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Tulane's Benefit Crawfest; and spending time with Red Tyler and Al Johnson at the Musicians Village.

Dr. John will be playing the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Living Legends Benefit on Tuesday, April 28th at the new Rock 'n Bowl Mid City Lanes, with New Orleans pianists including Joe Krown and Papa Gros with musical tributes to the late Eddie Bo.

He was recently honored with a Blues Foundation Slim Harpo Award including this City of Baton Rouge proclamation officially declaring it Dr. John Day.

Isn't every day?


New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund's Video for Friday the 13th

Suffering from Fear of Friday the 13th (Triskaidekaphobia)? This video won't help. It's Phil DeGruy guitar solo from 13 years ago on a Friday the 13th television appearance in New York:

Phil plays the CC's Community Coffee House / New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Concert Series next weekend, and Craig Klein plays tonight's Friday the 13th Gig. Stop by and show some support on the scariest damn day of the month.

The Craig Klein Trio 6 p.m. 3/13: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Phil DeGruy 6 p.m. 3/20: 2800 Esplanade
Joe Krown 6 p.m. 3/25: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Joe Krown 6 p.m. 3/26: 2917 Magazine Street

Spencer Bohren 6 p.m. 4/3: 2800 Esplanade
Patrice Fisher 6 p.m. 4/8: 941 Royal Street
Patrice Fisher 6 p.m. 4/15: 2917 Magazine Street
John Rankin 6 p.m. 4/17: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Spencer Bohren 6 p.m. 4/19: 2800 Esplanade
Susan Cowsill 6 p.m. 4/23: 941 Royal Street
Johnny Sansone 6 pm 4/29: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Leroy Jones 6 p.m. 4/30: 2917 Magazine Street


NOMRF / CC's Community Coffee House Concerts

Enjoy Free Shows throughout New Orleans

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, a grass roots 501c(3), is proud to kick off a free CC's Community Coffee House Concert NOMRF Series in New Orleans. Starting this morning, sit, sip and soak in the sounds from New Orleans' own: John Rankin, Phil DeGruy, Craig Klein, Joe Krown, Spencer Bohren, Patrice Fisher, Johnny Sansone and Susan Cowsill and Leroy Jones. Details are available at: Nomrf.org.



John Rankin 10 a.m. 3/8: 2800 Esplanade
Phil DeGruy 6 p.m. 3/11: 941 Royal Street
Craig Klein Trio 6 pm 3/12: 2917 Magazine Street
Craig Klein Trio 6 pm 3/13: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Phil DeGruy 6 p.m. 3/20: 2800 Esplanade
Joe Krown 6 p.m. 3/25: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Joe Krown 6 p.m. 3/26: 2917 Magazine Street


Spencer Bohren 6 p.m. 4/3: 2800 Esplanade
Patrice Fisher 6 p.m. 4/8: 941 Royal Street
Patrice Fisher 6 p.m. 4/15: 2917 Magazine Street
John Rankin 6 p.m. 4/17: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Spencer Bohren 6 p.m. 4/19: 2800 Esplanade
Susan Cowsill 6 p.m. 4/23: 941 Royal Street
Johnny Sansone 6 pm 4/29: 900 Jefferson (Magazine)
Leroy Jones 6 p.m. 4/30 2917 Magazine Street


Thanks for Micro Giving

Micro-giving has been a godsend to NOMRF for over three years. James Andrews received this trumpet from an East Coast musician, and thanks to a generous donor the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund is replacing the saxophone of an elderly musician whose horn was stolen from his FEMA trailer.

The founders of of Betaworks suggest in their blog that, "We're entering a new era in fundraising and perhaps other social/political causes. What's new? Virtual tribes -- networks of caring people with more commitment than cash. And that's what excites us about micro-giving: It takes so little. You might not have much to spare, but you've got a penny jar -- and we all know that if you reach in and remove a handful of change, you'll feel no pain. What's great about the new, frictionless online giving we're testing here is that, if you've got a good cause, you no longer need to spend a fortune on real-world marketing. Online, with word of mouth and simple technology, pennies can become serious money."

To commemorate the spirit of micro-giving at the holidays, here’s Ian Hunter’s “How’s Your House” video by Grewvia:

More ReDefine 8/29 Downloads are available at:

New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund



Second Baby Grand Piano FInds a Home

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, a grass roots 501c(3), is grateful to music lovers including the woman who donated her baby grand piano (above) to replace Steve's whose home was at the 17th Street Canal breach; and we're grateful to companies like Pearl River which gave piano teacher Sylvia a brand new baby grand to replace the one she lost to Hurricane Katrina.

If you're holiday shopping and would like to support our ongoing efforts, a percentage of the proceeds from CC's Coffee holiday gift packs and Lee Michaels Jewelry Fleur de Lis Ornaments will be donated to the charity, as well as downloads of Lionel Milton, Trombone Shorty, Bonerama and Big Sam's Funky Nation-designed levels on PS3's Little Big Planet video game. Santa Sack Boy pictured below. (Visit www.nomrf.org for details.)


Santa Looks for Louie

In Santa Looks for Louie, St. Nicholas is delivering a trumpet and tell his reindeer, "I guess Louie hasn't made it home yet." NOMRF offers the image in everything from a tote for green shopping (at right) to holiday cards to a variety of tees. Browse HERE or stop by Saving NOLA store in Jax Brewery, New Orleans.

One hundred percent of the net proceeds benefit our charity's programs, from offering housing for returning musicians to helping musicians find gigs as they make it back to the cradle of jazz and rock. Also on the shelves this holiday season, Sony Playstation's Little Big Planet is donating proceeds from game levels created by New Orleans musicians and artists. Sony and Southern Comfort kicked the new benefit levels off in style at the Voodoo Music Experience

And throughout Louisiana, CC's Coffee is offering a percentage of the proceeds from its holiday gift bags, for which the Fund is very thankful.


Messageboard for Musicians on the Road

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund has posted a new messageboard for those who have room for musicians out on the road or in shelters. So far we have offers from Austin, Santa Fe, New York, Florida and Kokomo. 2008-09-01-Cayetano.jpg

No one knows what Hurricane Gustav will do yet, so before heading out of town we passed along an evacuation car to a brass band drummer whose first donated car was stolen last year.

When we get back to New Orleans, hopefully in a week, a new Pearl River grand piano is going to a music teacher who lost hers in Katrina. She asked the company to hold her replacement piano as she can't take a chance on losing a second one. This week, NOMRF will finally pass a donated grand piano along to a New Orleans musician who has relocated to Chicago after struggling with the decision to relocate.

There are many ways to help musicians out on the road: If you're a community organizer, plan a benefit; If you're a musician, donate i-tunes proceeds from your song - especially if it's about lending a helping hand; And If you're a music lover, download ReDefine 8/29. Our grass roots charity only receives help from individuals, so every effort counts.

Back in the Midwest since Katrina, New Orleans is weighing heavily on our hearts as we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

The question we heard more than any other after Hurricane Katrina was, "How's Grandpa Elliot?" the New Orleans street musician. This time around, he's on a train to Memphis.


Smokey on the Water: Rock Star Scholarships Awarded

Mark Hudson and Shamarr Allen jam at Rock Fantasy Camp

When Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp rolled into New Orleans, the rock star counselors asked the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund to fill some scholarship positions and show them the effects of Katrina three years later. Showing someone around New Orleans these days not only includes pointing out abandoned slabs where homes were washed away three years ago, it also includes touring the areas where the city is finally rising thanks to ongoing grass roots efforts.

Camp counselors were Elliot Easton (The Cars); Glen Hughes (Deep Purple); Gilby Clark (Guns and Roses); Dave Ellefson (Megadeath); Chip Winger (Winger); Mark Slaughter (Slaughter); Chris Slade (AC/DC); Marc Hudson (the Hudson Brothers); and Earl Slick (David Bowie). We visited Global Green, Make it Right, Furnishing Our Neighbors and the Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village the day before the show.


Hudson, Elliot Easton, Cosimo Matassa and Chip Winger at the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp gathering.

Along the way, Aerosmith and Ringo Starr producer Mark had the chance to meet recording engineer Cosimo Matassa who founded J&M Studio in the French Quarter at the age of 18. Cosimo was responsible for Little Richard's Tutti Frutti and Fats Domino's The Fat Man, and Mark was fascinated at the soul of musical history still to be found in New Orleans. Dr. John called my husband Jeff and when he found out about the tour Mac said, "The Hudson Brothers? I wrote a song for them," so Jeff passed the phone along to Mark for old home week. Dr. John also played on Sonny and Cher tracks, whose show the Hudson Brothers replaced so there's your variety show fun fact for the day.


Mark Hudson and Dave Ellefson talk with rock drumming legend Smokey Johnson.

At the Musicians Village, New Orleans drummers Smokey Johnson who toured with Fats Domino for 28 years, and Bob French, leader of the longest running jazz band in New Orleans, held court. Smokey was waiting for us at beginning of the street and the counselors piled out of the bus as soon as they saw him. Smokey talked about how he invented a cadence called Ratty Number Nine in his high school band and the second line beat can still be heard throughout the city on a good night. Mark told Smokey stories about Ringo's fascination with his drumming style.


Eliot Easton autographs one of the lampshades at Furnishing Our Neighbors

Smokey's Habitat home is now sporting a wheeled desk and chair thanks to Furnishing Our Neighbors, which was another stop on the tour. Mandi Thompson's brainchild converts rooms full of furnishings from luxury hotels into furniture for returning New Orleans residents at only $8 and $29 as part of the ReDefine 8/29 campaign. The warehouse is open Thursday to Saturday behind Rock and Bowl and it's gratifying to see truckloads of furniture drive away as people continue to come home. The overstuffed chairs are comfortable which was good after a New Orleans tour in August, and the rockers were kind enough to autograph a lampshade and headboard for FON.


Glen Hughes and Dave Ellefson view the Global Green Holy Cross Project

Beth Galiente showed the rock counselors through Global Green's eco friendly home, as beautifully designed as it is practical. At the end of every year, the utility company owes the New Orleans Global Green home money back. With an energy crunch at crisis proportions, that's quite a feat. The home was designed by the winner of a architectural competition sponsored by Brad Pitt. I want to move back to New Orleans and live in the Global Green home. Just saying.


Rock Tree Poster from Rock Camp

Kenneth James from Jazz City Tours not only hosted the rockers, he hooked us up with a table at the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club that night. Last week, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund was able to pass a saxophone along to Kenneth thanks to one of our amazing instrument donors. In the tightly knit community that is New Orleans, almost every musician at the Zulu club that night was Kenneth's cousin. The counselors turned in early, but took time out to sign NOMRF's series of rock tree posters and a 40th anniversary Fender Strat, auction link coming soon.


Chip Winger and Scholarship Student Austin Clements

The next day was band camp, and Mark Hudson helped NOMRF present two guitars to twins Austin and Tyler. Mel in Chicago sent down 14 guitars with her Bat Mitzvah money, and the rehearsal was held in a synagogue so it was one of those days where the rivers keep intertwining. Cosimo told the counselors the story of how his first microphone was bought from a nearby synagogue which no longer wanted their high end German microphone after World War II and sold it to him for half price. It was the microphone that recorded some of the earliest songs in rock and roll history. Much of Cosimo's memorabilia washed away after the levee failure, but he can still be found in Matassa's Grocery Store in the French Quarter most mornings to expound on the roots of rock and roll.


Elliot Easton rocks out at the House of Blues

Austin and Tyler jammed all afternoon along with their guitar god dad, Cranston Clements, and trumpet virtuoso Shamarr Allen brought his kid brother Khalid Allen in for the third NOMRF Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp scholarship. Mark Sleeper came up with the scholarship concept so props to L.A. Shamarr was in the movie Skeleton Key with Mark's niece Kate Hudson, which made for another six degrees moment. On Monday night Cranston, Shamarr and his kid brother kicked out Proud Mary at the House of Blues with their camp counselor Mark Hudson.

The band name was Cosimo's Kids.


Making New Rock Stars, One Axe at a Time

Today nola.com's Chris Rose described our nomrf guitar transfer (story here). Next month the charity is passing along a donated grand piano and good used car to New Orleans music families thanks to the help that's still coming in.


Jammin' Generosity of Two Families Places Guitars in the Hands of Young Rockers

By Chris Rose, Columnist, The Times-Picayune

Let us pause to consider, once again, the kindness of strangers.

There is a young woman in the north Chicago suburbs -- Wilmette, Ill., to be exact -- who cooked up a rather unorthodox plan to celebrate a hallowed rite of passage in her life.

Her name is Mel and, as her bat mitzvah approached this past May 31, she told her parents that she would like to forgo the bundle of cash and gifts that generally attend the Jewish celebration of a young woman's entrance into adulthood and, instead, would like to buy -- of all things -- a bunch of guitars for kids in New Orleans.

At the very same time, a couple of kids from the Discher family in Wheaton, a western suburb of Chicago, decided to canvass their neighborhood residents and businesses, soliciting donations for a trip they planned to take with their family to New Orleans this month.

It's part of a Discher family tradition, something they call their annual Donation Vacation, wherein they pick a troubled spot in the world -- hopefully one that's nice to visit, as well -- and they go there not only to sightsee but to help out in any way they can.

What both of these kids' families had in common -- other than the obvious Chicago link -- was that the parents in each case went online in search of a worthy recipient of their generosity.

Both considered but eventually eschewed the big dogs of the rebuilding effort -- the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, etc. -- and looked for something more grassroots. Since music was a common tie among all parties involved -- the two kids in Wheaton are both musicians -- they both happened upon the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.

To add to the serendipity of it all, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund is headquartered in Illinois, south of Chicago in Bloomington. It was founded by a former New Orleans couple, Jeff and Karen Beninato, who evacuated there for Hurricane Katrina and remained.

The timing was just too exquisite. The Wilmette family bought 14 Fender Squire electric guitars. The Dischers asked the Beninatos what they needed most, so they made a list of accessories -- guitar cases, straps, strings, amps, picks, etc.

Put in touch with each other by Karen Beninato, the two families met last month in Rosemont, Ill., for the guitar handoff. Then the Dischers headed south for New Orleans. They arrived last week and, on Thursday afternoon, 14 New Orleans kids got outfitted with brand new guitars.

The giveaway was a little unusual not just because of the very poignant details of the donations, but because most music charities around here tend to focus on horns and other staples of the brass, jazz and marching band traditions.

"We didn't want to leave out the rock-and-rollers," Karen Beninato told me with a laugh at the Parkway Bakery in Mid-City, where the giveaway was held. "We're what you'd call an 'instant charity' -- what people donate to us, we immediately deliver to New Orleans. And we've brought down everything from saxophones to cellos, but this is the first time we delivered a bunch of axes."

The Parkway Bakery courtyard was abuzz with activity Thursday afternoon as the chosen recipients picked out their guitars from the selection of black, turquoise and even pink Squire models.

What most of the kids had in common is that they are the children of New Orleans musicians; this is one way to keep the music flames burning here. Eleven-year-old Olivia Huston, the daughter of local sax player Derek Huston, hugged her turquoise model to her chest like it was a favorite doll or stuffed animal.

It's her first instrument. She was wearing a Ramones T-shirt. I asked her what kind of music she planned on learning on it and she told me: "The guitar kind."

Yeah, you right.

Eight-year-old Dinneral Shavers Jr., the son of the slain New Orleans brass band leader, leaned on his new ax with a big smile. "This is my first real guitar," he said.

I asked him what his music ambition was. He said: "Like, I don't know. Jazz?"

Other Squire recipients hailed from equally notable New Orleans musical families -- the Frenches, the Andrews, the Allens and the Clemenses. Also, six guitars were being donated to the Lusher Charter School -- "the school of rock," Karen Beninato called it, a reference to the inordinately large number of musicians' children who go there.

Carson and Emma Discher watched it all with satisfaction. He's 12, she's 14. They're the two kids who solicited their neighbors up north. She wore peace sign earrings and told me: "It's cool to help people."

Their mother, Deb Discher, said: "We live by the motto: To whom much is given, much is expected."

And what we can expect around here now is the sound of ringing guitars. Courtesy of our friends in Illinois, strangers no more.



ReBuild Your Own New Orleans Garage Band

"Give what you have to somebody, it may be better than you think."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Since Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent broken New Orleans levees, hundreds of music lovers have donated enough to keep displaced musicians in gear, transportation, housing and instruments through the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. This grass roots support has freed nomrf from having a large staff, office or professional fund-raisers and lets us concentrate on getting instruments directly into the hands of New Orleans musicians.

Next week, fourteen Fender Squier electric guitars, amp and stands will be given to young musicians in New Orleans thanks to Mel who bought them with her Bat Mitzvah money. Another family will drive the instruments down, along with gear they collected from neighbors in their Penny to Remember New Orleans Drive. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund will distribute the instruments with Dash RipRock entertaining, and NOMRF supporters REM are sending some surprises down to encourage the beginning musicians. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund is also part of replacing a piano teacher's Pearl River baby grand piano which she had just made the last payment on the week Katrina hit, so it's a summer of new beginnings.

Founded while displaced from Hurricane Katrina, our 501(c)3 certified charity operates entirely on grass roots donations with no corporate or government sponsorship. Between now and 8/29, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund is hosting a ReBuild Your Own New Orleans Garage Band drive in honor of Scott Sherman, drummer for one of New Orleans' first garage bands, Dr. Specs and the Optical Illusions. Scott, who my husband Jeff gigged last with the week before Hurricane Katrina, died in the storm, and many of our city's legends have passed away too soon.

Almost three years post-Katrina, touring musicians are struggling with higher gas prices and can use help staying out on the road. In the current economy, CD sales are down across the board, and many displaced musicians are still attempting to build a new fan base in towns halfway across the country. None of today's music, from jazz to R&B, would be what it is without the contribution of New Orleans musicians. Please join us in getting the next generation of New Orleans musicians started out right.

Donations may be made at nomrf.org or at our MySpace page, or you can:

Host an instrument and gear drive

Plan a ReDefine 8/29 event in your own town

Download ReDefine 8/29 with tracks including REM, Dr. John, Ian Hunter

Ask a local hero to donate part of downloads, ticket sales or merchandise


And Grace Will Lead Me Home: Aaron Neville Returns to New Orleans Jazzfest

Aaron Neville just gave the show of the year at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, closing out the Gospel Tent with Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." It was his second encore, and at the words "What has happened here is the winds have changed," the audience burst into applause. Jazzfest audiences now include a mix of those who lost their houses to the levee failure and have not come back, like Aaron, and those who pioneered New Orleans recovery and offer evacuees a couch when we come home. When he sang, "I Was Born By the River," it became obvious that there is a new gospel now.

Some locals reacted angrily to the Neville Brothers not closing out Jazzfest the last two years after the storm. Cyril Neville, now an Austin resident, expounded on whether or not New Orleans supported its musicians, even before the storm, and that added to the controversy. Aaron suffers from athsma, and in 2006 I saw an "Athsma My Ass" tee shirt worn on the festival track. With his warm welcome in the Gospel Tent today ("When I Say Aaron You Say Neville"), it's clear that the town is ready to heal. John C. Reilly was one of the celebrities wise enough to come down and enjoy the set. Next up for Aaron is a tour with Dr. John, hopefully coming to a city near you.

Aaron's inimitable falsetto carried "Amazing Grace" through the tent, dedicated to the late Wille Tee, a great musician who died far from home, and to Aaron's wife who was battling for her life during the last few years.

"This is for those we lost, who are waiting for us," he said.

After Katrina I settled up north to stay with my father as his memory faded. We lost him just after last year's Jazzfest, so quickly I never had a chance to say goodbye. My mother's mind slips a little further away every day. Last week I walked up a set of deck stairs, and turned around to notice that she was walking up the shadow next to them. It's like living with a performance artist. There are as many factors keeping hundreds of thousands of us away as there are drawing us back. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund still exists because it has to -- so many are still so far away.

Walking across the fairgrounds as familiar faces drift by, this is the line still with me, sung by a man with a voice like an angel and a sword tattooed on his face. New Orleans reconciles opposites.

"Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.

Tis grace that brought me safe so far and grace will lead me home."


Jazzfest in New Orleans: Showing Up for the Party

Welcome to virtual New Orleans. It's a cool day, wild parrots are screeching in the back yard and we're waiting to see if it rains before heading to the racetrack. Bob French, proud owner of a Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village home, drummer for the longest running band in the city and the planet's most uncensored disc jockey on WWOZ is keeping listeners posted on Jazzfest weather. He says, "There will be no rain today," and his guest adds:

"You listen to some of these weathermen with their gloom and doom and they say, 'we're all going to be under water . . . well actually we were under water that one time so maybe they're right." Radio New Orleans at its finest.

Dr. John is a must-see at 3:20. He's been working in new tracks from The City That Care Forgot, and based on a sneak preview over the holidays this one will make him the most uncensored musician in New Orleans when it debuts in June. We listened to hundreds of tracks to compile the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund benefit ReDefine 8/29 download and I thought I had my fill of post-Katrina songs. It turns out I haven't.

The "Turbinton's House" Tribute is this afternoon in the WWOZ Jazz Tent to honor Earl "The African Cowboy" Turbinton and his brother, Willie Tee, who both passed away within the last year. Too soon, and both very missed. Each New Orleans musician is distinctive enough to each leave a void that can never be filled, but each also mentors a new generation in a way that no other city offers. They gather in a rolling sideshow of bands as exemplified by Paul Sanchez and his Rolling Sideshow. Paul's former band Cowboy Mouth also plays today. John Thomas Griffith of Cowboy Mouth was in The Fate Brothers with NOMRF founder Jeff Beninato, and all these ties reinforce the sense that everyone you love is just up the festival track.

2008-04-26-band.pngJeff now plays bass with Bryan Lee Lee and the Blues Power Band. The Braille Blues Daddy mentored Kenny Wayne Shepard as a young prodigy, and Kenny Wayne will be playing the Fest next weekend. Bryan will rock the Rivershack tonight before heading to a festival in Germany. He's one of the many New Orleans musicians back on the road after losing a steady gig to the storm, and his "Katrina Was Her Name" is up for Best Contemporary Blues Album at next month's Handy Awards. But first it's off to Ingolstadt, fictional (hopefully) home of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.

Back at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, the rain is finally coming down and Big Jay McNeely, a founder of rock and roll, is taking the stage. Known for leading strolls out of clubs and around the block, he was once arrested for disturbing the peace on one of his second lines. His band kept playing until he was bailed out, came back to the club and finished the song. In the '40s, Big Jay once crawled from home plate to first base on his back while playing sax in an LA stadium. His stage show made him one of Jimmy Hendrix' biggest influences, and eventually got him banned from LA. He introduced his track 3-D, available from the nomrf Sax on the Web download, with:

"When I was 21 I recorded this number. I'll be 81 on Tuesday, so here we go . . . "

Yesterday Robert Plant played "Fortune Teller" as Allen Toussaint beamed backstage. He also loaded up on swamp pop at the Louisiana Music Factory, as any good visitor should.

John Boutte just stopped by the WWOZ tent to thank New Orleans visitors for supporting its music. He also described the challenge of bringing music to fans ready to let the good times roll, while waiting for the recovery of your home town.

"People are still dying from the devastation from the failure of the federal levees and they're dying in auto accidents trying to make it back home, they're dying from increased substance abuse, people are being thrown out of their homes, living in facilities, but yet here we are. We're still trying to make it through. Thank God we do have a little distraction, and thank the world for helping us."

John specifically thanked the Threadheads, a jazzfest supergroup, for funding his and Paul Sanchez' new cd, and closed with "Showing Up for the Party":

"I'm showing up for the party so everyone can see. I'm showing up for the party, but I know it's not for me."


Mardi Gras Fashion Police

If this year's Oscar fashions were too tame for your taste, check out the Saving NOLA Mardi Gras Open House. Styles were more Bjork than Tilda Swinton, so mix up a Sazerac, crank some Subdudes and check it out (HERE).

Our internet connection died (so much for liveblogging) and an ebay strike postponed the rock auction so clearly we're on New Orleans time. Photos of rockers and relief workers decked out in Zulu beads and solidarity have been trickling in for weeks.

For rebuilding style, come down to the Gulf Coast for festival season and shop for merchandise at the Save NOLA Now Store in Jax Brewery. Their tee shirts and handbags benefit the Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village, New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, Global Green and Make it Right.

Happy 3-weeks-after-Mardi Gras. We loved this guy's feathers, by the way. Discuss among yourselves.