Seven months after unprecedented rainfall flooded Southeast Louisiana, musicians across the state are still struggling to get back on their feet, having lost homes, studios, instruments, gear and gigs to the disaster.
Thanks to organizations like the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF), the burden of that struggle is a little lighter. The blues-focused, North Carolina–based nonprofit recently announced it has raised and disbursed more than $62,000 in emergency aid to support the needs of Baton Rouge–area musicians like Henry Gray, Larry Garner and Kenny Neal.
“They’re starting to get back in action and get their lives going again, but it’s still difficult,” said MMRF Executive Director and co-founder Tim Duffy, who founded the organization to “preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it,” according to the group’s website.
Marshalling financial support from other foundations as well as from MMRF board members, including Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Pete Townshend, the organization began its aid efforts by sending checks to flood-affected musicians in and around Baton Rouge. Neal and Gray were among the first to receive assistance, Duffy said, followed by 40 artists identified by the Baton Rouge Blues Society as being in need of help. In some cases, artists were also given monthly stipends.
“Everyone loves a handout, but it’s more about a hand up,” said Duffy.
In an effort to follow through on that notion, Duffy’s team is now working to set up gigs for area musicians. Along with the Jazz Foundation of America, MMRF co-sponsored the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Festival when it was in danger of being canceled. When Neal takes the stage at Jazz Fest on April 29 with the Baton Rouge Blues Revue, the foundation has committed to matching what the festival is paying each musician, Duffy said.
Amid lobbying efforts by Gov. John Bel Edwards for a bigger payout from Congress (which earmarked only $1.6 billion for the state after Edwards’ initial $4 billion request), other groups have stepped up. As of early March, MusiCares had provided approximately $100,000 worth of assistance to nearly 100 Louisiana musicians. Locally, Preservation Hall refocused its fundraising efforts to assist musicians in Southeast Louisiana affected by the flood. The Hall also teamed up with Aaron Scruggs to present the Red Stick Revival benefit concert, which followed a day of Hall-organized debris cleanup in Baton Rouge. The concert and fundraising efforts garnered $4,000.