A Good New Orleans Note to Come Home To
Music is an irreplacable part of of New Orleans and depending on which Anniversary headline you read last week, the music is dying or it’s coming back better than ever. As could only happen in New Orleans, both are true.
First are the statistics. The local musicians union says New Orleans housed more than 3,000 musicians before Katrina, and about 1,800 are back. Some estimates are twice as high, depending on who you consider a full time musician, but there are no official tallies from the city. And “coming back” is an amorphous term among musicians who worked full time before the storm.
The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund just donated a van to help New Birth Brass Band’s Tanio Hingle out with transportation. He drives in for gigs, but is a commuting musician home?
NOMRF also offers an apartment for musicians like Jerome Jones of the Hot 8 who lives too far away to drive home after gigs. But is a musician home when he stays in a charity apartment while his family still lives out of state?
For those who did come back over the last two years, we’ve noticed a boomerang effect. Musicians like Dave Malone of The Radiators have come home only to have to leave again. It stands to reason that a town barely over half its original size can only support half as many musicians, but it hurts to be one of them.
In a New York Journal News article he says, "I really, really, really, really applaud musicians and others from there who are able to say: 'Oh yeah, we're coming back,' with this completely annoying, glass-half-full attitude," says Malone. "I'm bitter. I'm really heartbroken, and I'm bitter about it. I never thought in a million years I'd ever say the sentence, 'I don't live in New Orleans anymore.'”
The article concludes with Malone explaining why the groove of New Orleans is unlike anywhere else. "(There) is not only the ability, but the likelihood, of any person in the city to throw a party or have a parade at the drop of a hat," says Malone. "It's really true. It's like, 'Oh my god, the world's (screwed) up.' Pardon my French. 'Let's have a parade.' It's really probably the most laid-back city, certainly in the country, maybe in the world. It's not like any other U.S. city. It's more like kind of a Caribbean town with U.S. laws. ...There's something about the town. All of that adds to this laid back kind of feeling. I think that somehow transfers somehow into the rhythmic feel of the music."
Magdalene Kellett of the Columbia City Paper describes this rhythm in “Crescent City Rising”:
For generations, New Orleans has captivated writers, musicians, artists and everyday people all over the world with its rhythm, its beat, the music floating out of every barroom door. Or maybe it’s the smell of hibiscus and night blooming Jasmine in the early mornings on Barracks Street, the romance of a history drenched in pirates, kings and blood. It’s the sexy laissez faire attitude. It’s the coffee. It’s the way people pass you on the street and say “alright” or the way you get called “baby.” It is everything that strikes a note in the heart of people when they visit The City that Care Forgot.
Hometown hero Harry Shearer recently explained why he stays. "I had no damage to my home and I felt that when you love a city, you don't walk away from it at a time when it's battered and bruised; you help to bring it back to good shape."
That’s a good note to come home to.