Amos Lee show in Virginia to benefit NOMRF

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund sends grants to assist musicians who are still displaced 19 months after their homes were destroyed. To help address these needs, an Amos Lee benefit on April 27th at James Madison University in Virginia has been booked by Blink of an Eye Productions. The student who founded Blink of an Eye was shaken by the tragedy at Virginia Tech this week, but she is continuing on with the concert and feels it will be an opportunity for healing.

NOMRF Founder Jeff Beninato, who as a teenager played bass on Bourbon Street with both of Fats Domino’s sons, and his wife, writer Karen Dalton Beninato, founded the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund while displaced for months after Hurricane Katrina. The couple eventually went back to retrieve some of their furnishings, with no power in their Mid-City neighborhood and the National Guard patrolling the area at night.

They settled in Illinois, and can empathize with calls from displaced musicians trying to get by. The Fund is collaborating with a home furnishing nonprofit to help musicians starting to move back as more Road Home grants come through. But finding an audience can be a struggle since more than half New Orleans’ population is still gone. Many displaced musicians are trying to get re-established.

"If you're not a band leader, or if you play a style of music New Orleans is not traditionally known for, it takes longer to get your music career going in a new area. These are the musicians who are eligible for help from fewer and fewer outlets," Beninato said.

Through nomrf.org and Exiled on Main Street, they honor displaced musicians including vocalist Timothea Beckerman who died without ever making it home. Beninato lost two friends and former bandmates to the storm.

"Scott Sherman was my competition in junior high school band had one of the best garage bands out of New Orleans, Dr. Spec's Optical Illusions. Playing with him was my last gig before the storm at a Ponderosa Stomp event. As far as anyone knows, he was dropped off on Danziger Bridge and died there."

"And we lost Barry Cowsill, who adopted New Orleans along with his sister Susan, and was a fellow musician and a genius writer. The Partridge Family was based on their life story. So many famous musicians have thrived in this city because they all realize how important New Orleans pop style is to American music,” says Beninato.

NOMRF supporters include Dr. John who played a benefit for Wardell Quezergue in Chicago and surprised Wardell with his Grammy certificate to replace the one he lost to the storm. The grass-roots fund makes donations go further by hiring no professional fund-raisers. “Our help comes from individual music lovers all over the world, “ Karen said, “This summer, musician Joe Topping flew over from Liverpool and walked 1,300 from Chicago to New Orleans in support of the musicians.”

Friends still ask when the Beninatos are moving home. “My parents’ Alzheimer’s disease is progressing so quickly that every day I spend with them has been a gift," Karen says. NOMRF stays plugged in locally with the help of Board Member Robin Chambless, stage manager for this month’s Gambit’s Big Easy Awards (New Orleans' version of the Grammys). Chambless will accept recognition along with other music charities on behalf of the Fund. Board Member John Stirrat of Wilco spearheaded a benefit months after the storm, and Beninato's former bandmate Peter Holsapple of the dB's produced "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" as a benefit download. Holsapple, now touring with Hootie and the Blowfish, lost everything to the storm.

A NOMRF music cruise in January is also on the horizon. One positive aspect to continuing the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund’s work is raising awareness of the ongoing need to help displaced musicians.

Jeff concludes that, “One note from a musician who would not have been able to pay his rent from half way across the country makes it all worth it.”

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