Welcome to the era of boosterism in New Orleans. We are being bombarded with endless references to the “Katrina recovery,” the glorious civic self- congratulation festival that has officials pointing to all the great things that are happening in the New Reconstruction. And certainly there are some great things happening, particularly the medical corridor along Canal Street that may eventually displace the crippled oil industry as the key economic force that drives the city.
Katrina, the hurricane that was about to hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, actually missed the city, miraculously taking a hard right turn in the last hours before landfall. If New Orleans had gotten the direct hit that was forecast, we might well be telling an entirely different story today. The storm was gone and the sun was shining when the city started filling with floodwaters following the massive levee failure in the wake of Katrina.
The Army Corps of Engineers had built substandard levees along Lake Pontchartrain and the Industrial Canal, and the Bush administration had slashed maintenance funds for the levees. The water came over and through those facades and destroyed 80 percent of the city’s housing. This great federal flood was followed by an even greater federal inaction in which the remaining population of New Orleans was left to rot for the better part of a week without food or water. Then the city experienced the great federal depopulation and occupation of the city by 30,000 troops. “Katrina” has erroneously become the shorthand historical place marker for this disaster, but we now know this was a man-made disaster, not a natural one.
The original Reconstruction after the Civil War was a time when former slaves were granted citizenship and exercised their political power at the voting booth until Jim Crow policies negated those gains. The New Reconstruction is a time when the ruling powers in government systematically depopulated New Orleans, removing some 100,000 African Americans from the city in the process. As musician Davis Rogan put it, the flood “allowed them to spin the clock faster, accomplishing 30 years of gentrification in 10 years.”
The made-for-TV coverage of the destruction of New Orleans by flood in August 2005 was misleading from the start—part disaster movie hysterics, part disinformation campaign. Police went on a wanton killing spree, targeting blacks who were accused of “looting” what was a destroyed and mostly abandoned city in which nothing touched by the waters was going to be saved from the ruins.
At first only a few people were rescued. After nearly a week of horror, the survivors were herded at gunpoint into buses and shipped all over the country without being told where they were going. Families were separated and many, many people were still looking for relatives weeks and months later. It was the first forced depopulation of a major American city in history.
The disaster was a disgrace for all levels of government, but Republicans had a hard time hiding their joy at seeing the destruction of a black American city. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick “Halliburton” Cheney, F.E.M.A. and Homeland Security saw a golden opportunity to stick it to the only southern state that consistently voted Democratic.
The Republican vision of the flood was a cynical opportunity to flip a blue state into a red state by turning New Orleans from one
of America’s leading black cities into a playground for wealthy tourists, a vision perfectly articulated by that paradigm of Republican morality, House of Representatives leader Dennis Hastert, when he famously suggested that the city was not worth rebuilding.
As Jazz Fest founder George Wein told me a few months later, “They don’t want to keep New Orleans as a black city. They want Louisiana to be a Republican state. All of that’s involved. That’s why they’ve been dragging their feet… they want that Senate seat.”
Those of us who arrived back around Halloween 2005 saw a city that looked as if it had been carpet-bombed—miles and miles of ruined houses, no electricity, the smell of death and decay pervading the air. It looked like a war zone, and in fact it was.
The government had declared war on the poorest people in the city. OffBeat began publishing again in December, and I expressed my worry about the future of the city:
The social clubs and neighborhood joints of Gentilly, Treme and the Lower Ninth Ward that nurtured the culture of street parades, brass bands and the magnificence of the Mardi Gras Indians are gone with the departed residents of those ghost-town neighborhoods, and it is far from likely that those intricate family-based institutions will reassemble in force.
Mayor C. Ray Nagin, a former businessman who ran as a reform candidate, was incapable of responding to the devastation that took place in his third year in office and arguably was driven mad by the tragedy, resorting to fanciful promises of making New Orleans a “Chocolate City” during his reelection campaign and devolving into a pathetically useless and corrupt politician in his second term, committing very traceable crimes that ended up in convictions.
In the ensuing years, politicians in Baton Rouge, led by Governor Bobby Jindal, eviscerated the city’s school system, health care system and infrastructure. Relief money was simply wasted, starting with a huge no-bid contract for Halliburton. FEMA’s emergency housing trailers were formaldehyde-laced death traps. Habitat for Humanity’s so-called “Musicians’ Village” was built with contaminated drywall from China, forcing those homeowners who’d been able to buy the houses to relocate while the places were gutted and rebuilt.
Hundreds of millions of recovery dollars earmarked for New Orleans were lavished on the tourist destinations that were among the least damaged areas of the city, while the support system for the city’s poor—Charity Hospital and the housing projects—was abandoned. Evacuees from the projects were not allowed back into the buildings, which were largely undamaged by the flood, even to retrieve their possessions.
When dispossessed New Orleanians tried to attend a City Council meeting looking to testify against the demolition, they were kept at bay behind fences and doused with pepper spray by police.
The criminal justice system, from the police to the courts to the jails, remains in shambles and may well be broken beyond repair. The new New Orleans is younger, whiter and much wealthier, a city where real estate interests thrive. One newly-built institution that has come under fire is the New Orleans Jazz Market, a building dedicated to New Orleans jazz in a poor neighborhood. The New Reconstruction is more about condos, boutique malls and “small plate” restaurants than about honoring the city’s great musical tradition.
Music and the culture that the city’s reputation has been built on for more than a century are still given lip service by public officials, but only as a tourist attraction. Tourism is clearly one of the economic forces driving the city, and music is a key element of tourism. In the past 10 years, the French Quarter Fest has grown exponentially, Jazz Fest and Voodoo Fest continue to attract huge crowds, and the satellite festivals occurring throughout the year make New Orleans a festival destination nearly every weekend. Frenchmen Street has gone from being a hip enclave to becoming as crowded as Bourbon Street on most weekends.
The HBO series Treme drew a new generation of people to New Orleans, many of them settling here. The proliferation of Airbnb sites indicates that hundreds of houses in the city have been converted to makeshift hotels. Yet wealthy homeowners have declared war on live music in numerous areas of the city. Mimi’s in the Marigny, an important club that nurtured many of the city’s rising stars, was forced to end its music policy, and the venerable Buffa’s lounge has been harassed by lawsuits from wealthy landowner Sidney Torres.
That’s the bad news, and if you’re a member of an extended poor family in one of the hardest hit sections of the city you’ve seen it all—the death of your relatives, the loss of your homes, teachers and schools, the marginalization of your interests and influence.
In the aftermath of the flood, those institutions were threatened by city officials, but community activists held public meetings complaining about excessive fees for parade permits and police harassment of black public gatherings, forcing concessions on all fronts. Second lines became bigger than ever as they grew in popularity among all the various cultures that now populate New Orleans. The young people who’ve moved to the city in the last decade have embraced local culture as their own.
Significantly, New Orleans musicians who evacuated to other cities found that they spoke a different language from the communities they landed in. The only place they could play the music they really loved was home, so they returned, and rebuilt. Their stories show what individuals can accomplish, even at points where institutional power is totally aligned against them.
So a decade after the flood, we have a paradox. Much injustice has been visited on the poor and the middle class, New Orleans is ruled from Baton Rouge like a conquered city state, and nearly all of the improvements to the city have been targeted to benefit the wealthy. Music, the lifeblood of the city’s culture, is used to promote tourism but given little financial support.
Yet most of the musicians have returned while a generation of young people are bringing fresh ideas in art, music, theater and lifestyle, and integrating those ideas into the traditional culture. It’s not always a comfortable fit, but there’s enough goodwill on everyone’s part to find a way to make it work. The spirit of the city refuses to die, no matter what indignities are imposed on it. That’s thanks to the people who live here, and no thanks to the rulers who just want to serve the elite. It’s the tale of two cities all over again.
In our first issue after the flood, we talked to several local musicians about how they evacuated and how they returned. Let’s revisit some of those musicians, and a few others, and get their perspective on the city 10 years later.
James Andrews was one of the most visible musicians around New Orleans in the months after the flood. He was one of the first musicians to return to the city to perform when he and his younger brother Trombone Shorty played at Jackson Square for an MSNBC broadcast on September 15, 17 days after Katrina’s landfall. At the time, they still didn’t know what had happened to some members of their family. Andrews played the first of the Saturday shows at the Jazz National Park, where he was the first to utter the line “We’re gonna rebuild this city, note by note.” His band was the first to play the Thursday night Ogden After Hours series, a show that broke all attendance records and proved to be an emotional homecoming for many locals.
Andrews is one of the musicians who has devoted his life to restoring New Orleans culture after the flood, and as the head of the Andrews Family Band, a star-studded entourage that included his younger brother Trombone Shorty and his cousins Glen David Andrews and the late Travis Hill, he has served as a leader of the city’s musical forces. The family’s relatively new place, the Ooh Poo Pah Doo club on Orleans Avenue, has quickly become one of the best new venues in New Orleans.
When I began talking with Andrews, his first words were: “We’re gonna make this interview about happiness.”
“I’m happy these days. The Ooh Poo Pah Doo club is my headquarters. Absolutely. It’s been my headquarters since
it opened up. Somebody else had it before we got it but they didn’t make it happy like we make it happy. It’s in the heart of Treme down the street from the Carver Theater. That side of Treme is mostly famous for being the 6th Ward. Me and my auntie and uncle were brainstorming (Andrews’ relatives Judy and Brian Broadus own the club) with my mom and I. We wanted to recreate the days when we used to have the old Trombone Shorty Club. We used to have a club when Troy was a kid and we always wanted to bring it back. So it’s basically a renewal of the older Trombone Shorty Club mixed in with the Ooh Poo Pah Doo bar. We mixed them up together.
When you have a family reunion, how many people might you expect to show up?
Well, we got a family that includes Nelson, Hill and Andrews, when we’re all together, and I have to think—if they all come together we could have 500 people at the family reunion.
Where did you live when the flood hit?
I lived up on Banks Street near the Banks Street Bar. That was my headquarters back then, that’s when I put together the Crescent City All-Stars with Kevin O’Day and West Bank Mike and them. We got washed out of there. I came back to play at the Ogden Museum. That was great, they had like 800 people there. It was emotional because people didn’t have nothing to do except gut their houses, so this was a chance for everybody to see each other for the first time. I think that was a turning point for people, realizing it was going to come back. It was a tough time, but New Orleans music made it through everything. New Orleans music really shined through this whole thing of Katrina.
Where did you settle when you returned for good?
I’m living uptown now on Prytania Street near the Prytania Theater. It’s a wonderful neighborhood. My heart is still in Treme though.
Has the neighborhood you moved into changed since you got there?
You got a lot of high-end property going for big money around here now. It’s incredible how much these houses around here are going for. I see a lot of new people moving in. We renting this out. It’s high. I could probably be living in New York for the price I’m renting this for now. But I ain’t going nowhere. I’m not leaving, never…never. I’m always traveling to go see the people, but I’m making it back this way.
What can you say about what’s happened to your old neighborhood, Treme?
They got a lot of gentrification going on in Treme. It’s people moved in from all over the world. They’ve bought all the houses in Treme and all the people who used to live in Treme can’t afford to live there no more. At first, most people lived on the side of Treme by Armstrong Park. But now people are moving to the other side of Treme by the Ooh Poo Pah Doo bar. That’s changing rapidly. We’re expecting the new hospital to come in and bring more people to that area. I’m thinking a little bit of progress never hurt anything. If it’s good progress I’ll take it. Being that there’s a lot of blighted houses and buildings people are starting to invest in, I’m thinking there’s a renaissance going on in these areas like Treme with getting rid of crime and blight, so it’s a win-win situation for the city and Treme. I think the future is very bright, and in the end, they gonna build it nice.
When you did the OffBeat interview 10 years ago, you were worried about the future of the second lines and the brass bands and the Mardi Gras Indians.
I think all that’s intact, and it’s blooming. The second lines and the social clubs and the Indians is lookin’ good and soundin’ good and what I see right now is a whole new renaissance of musicians who’ve grown up here. We got a big time thing going on in New Orleans with the music right now. They’ve got a whole new thing. I’m still running the Andrews Family Band. We’ll put that together sometime with everybody. Everybody is doing a lot of different things right now. We’ll get to it. Now everybody runnin’. I’m runnin’ too but I’m runnin’ at my pace. I can do whatever I like, whenever I like. I run my own show. I run my own music. I run my own publishing company. I do all my own booking. I play at the Ooh Poo Pah Doo every Monday night. That used to be Trumpet Black’s big night at the Ooh Poo Pah Doo, with red beans and rice. I took over that spot for Black. Ah, the way he went out is killin’ me. It go to show how that go. Black was a mean trumpet player. He was ‘bout to pop it, too. I know the look when it’s about to happen to people. I know that look. I saw it many times in my life. Black was gettin’ ready to step up.
Were you responsible for bringing Trombone Shorty back to town?
Yeah. I’m responsible for everything in his life. I’m the one who took him everywhere first. I’m the first one that took him to the Superdome. I’m the first one that took him to the French Quarter. I’m the first one gave him an instrument. I’m the first one who showed him how to eat good New Orleans food. I’m the first one taught him how to eat an oyster. I bought his first po-boy for him. How you like that? I used to bring him out to all the clubs and bring him backstage to meet all the big time artists to meet him. I introduced him to Quincy Jones. When no kids were allowed to come to the concert, he was in there with me. I took him to everything. I’m very proud of him. I shouldn’t say proud, I should say honored to be his brother.
And you must be proud of your cousin Glen David Andrews for getting his life together and making such a great album.
I’m very proud of him. All I want him to do is stay on track and keep the family name together, that’s all I want him to do.
Any recordings coming up?
We can record any time we want because we’ve got some investors. Right now we’re just concentrating on the Ooh Poo Pah Doo bar. We’re gonna make it better. We’re gonna make that place a destination. I wanna see people jumpin’ out of busses and cabs comin’ to the Ooh Poo Pah Doo.
Any special plans for Satchmo Summerfest?
Plannin’ on having a great time and knockin’ it out of the park. I’m gonna do a tribute to Trumpet Black cause he would have wanted to be there with us. It gonna be his birthday time too. We gonna have a big time pow-wow for his birthday.
Davis Rogan’s vision of New Orleans immediately after the flood was apocalyptic. His emotionally charged reaction to returning to New Orleans offered a glimpse at the churning mental twists and turns that evacuees went through after coming home.
“I picked a great day to be there—9/11,” he said. “I’d been turned away twice at gunpoint, then when I finally got in… what I saw is too heavy to talk about [he holds his head in his hands and muffles a sob]. I saw the dead body on the fence on Airline Highway. I drove past the 7th Ward where I smelled the stink of the drug dealers who had been murdered by the Orleans Parish Police Department. It’s all way too fucking heavy.“It’s huge, it’s tragic. It’s terrifying, it’s awful. Some people will use this as a reason to crawl in a hole and die. Some people will say I’m going back to New Orleans to rebuild. Others will say ‘Dude, I’m gonna stay the fuck away from New Orleans for a while to get my head together,’ and that’s a valid response. I’m not gonna compare my suffering and loss to anybody else’s because this affected so many people on so many levels. All I can talk about is me personally. It made me think that when this happened I was teaching and trying to live on the straight and narrow and slowly driving nails into my coffin one binge at a time, resenting everyone. I’m just trying to make the best of it and look at it as an opportunity to start over.”
Davis made good on that opportunity, and his career flourished when producer David Simon based one of the main characters in Treme on him and made him a musical consultant on the series. Rogan quit his job as a teacher, recorded two more albums, and got married. He reflected on the changes to his Treme neighborhood over the last decade.
“Right now there isn’t a square foot of property in my neighborhood where they’re not building with cheap materials using non-union labor,” he said. “They’re building these fabulous replicas of early 20th-century
Treme houses which they’re selling for a quarter of a million dollars apiece. There was a historical building two doors down from me which has been a political football since the Morial administration. After years of fooling around with it, they removed all the joists so the building completely collapsed, so now they’re building something even bigger on the site. It’s pretty scary. I moved to this neighborhood because it was cheap, but the housing situation is out of control now. They tore down the Iberville projects and built these little cottages that look nice, but how long will they last?
“I quit teaching after the storm, and I just want to say that United Teachers of New Orleans wasn’t the most efficient or uncorrupt union on earth, but it was the largest union in the state of Louisiana and all of those teachers who had put in so much of their time, if they were able to come back, they found they had lost their tenure. The complete mass firing of that entire work force, people who were pillars of the community, it upset the entire fabric of the neighborhood communities throughout the city. I can see making reforms, but I don’t think the idea of flattening everything before rebuilding it is the way to go about changing it.”Davis pointed out that one of the biggest threats to live music in New Orleans right now is wealthy homeowners who don’t want live music near their expensive houses. Sidney Torres, who is waging a scorched earth campaign against Buffa’s, is the poster child for this movement.
“The thing about Sidney Torres is this,” says Davis. “He goes on about how he’s so into music and music is cool and how he’s friends with Kid Rock and he’s friends with Lenny Kravitz. But he’s been trying to shut down Buffa’s, which has been playing music long before he owned that building. That’s the same thing as saying that you’re friends with Drew Brees but you hate and want to shut down Pop Warner football. It doesn’t add up. This has been happening all along. I remember it happened to Little People’s Place in 1991, which I wrote a song about. Someone buys a house and says ‘What? There’s live music? This is interfering with the quality of my life. We have to shut it down.’ Sidney Torres has the money to put political muscle behind it.
“It’s more than the fact that the recovery money was used to build things for the rich people at the poor people’s expense. It was giving the rich people contracts to tear down perfectly functioning standing structures and build up some other shit that’s gonna fall down much quicker than the projects would have. In terms of the 30 years of gentrification in 10 years, we’ve seen 30 years of the recoloring of New Orleans in 10 years.”
On the other hand, Davis doesn’t have a problem with the social gentrification that’s taken place in the city.
“I remember this leftist, super-strident friend of mine complained to me that all the white people were going to the second lines and what a terrible thing that is,” he said. “But I don’t think it was Treme the TV show that blanched the second lines. I think it was the influx of a new population. They moved here and no one told them where they couldn’t go, so here they are.”
Despite all the things that have gone wrong, Davis believes that the soul of the city itself will prevail in the long run.
“New Orleans will always be New Orleans,” he says. “If we need to live through a period where it’s less New Orleans, we can leave this realm in the confidence that it will be New Orleans for our nephews and our nieces. It will get back to it. New Orleans will New Orleanify the people who are here. The city will win out. I was shocked and horrified about how antiseptic Mandina’s seemed when it reopened. I thought ‘Oh my God, the place has lost the funk.’ That was seven, eight years ago, but I went back the other day and had the soft shell crab, and the grease was back! That’s not a pejorative statement. It will and has funkified and I really hope that in 20 years all of this new stuff will take on a certain layer of dust and things will be all right.”
DON BARTHOLOMEW (DON B.)
Like so many others, the Bartholomew family suffered immeasurable losses in the flood. Family patriarch Dave Bartholomew, one of the greatest figures in the golden era of New Orleans R&B, saw his career effectively ended by the turmoil produced by the flood and subsequent dislocation. His son Don B. had been a successful hip-hop producer before the flood, but his business disappeared along with his clients, who left the city. But Don B. and his brother Ronald, who runs the business end of the family’s enterprise, were determined to rebuild the Bartholomew brand.
Don B. evacuated to Texas with his two sons. His 7th Ward home and studio were wiped out by the floodwaters. Before the flood, he was pulling down $1,500 a week making rap, R&B and gospel records. “When I first came back, I was making money in Memphis, Houston and Dallas, but not New Orleans,” he said. “I’d be producing New Orleans artists, but in other cities, and the studio was damaged. So I was really doing mobile work at that point, going from place to place, and my son Don would travel with me.
“After we renovated and came back home, that’s when my son Don started working a lot. A lot of the people that was movin’ back home was his age, so that was a natural thing for him. I wasn’t working so much. With my generation, most of the people was moved out of town. We started building this word-of-mouth thing. People were coming home slowly but surely, or they would call ahead to book time when they were in town. At first, nobody had money to make music. They were too busy fixing their homes or scraping money together to come back. We was the only house on the block that was functional. I had everybody living there. We had 10 people living there and the studio going at the same time, so you can imagine what that was like.”
“We have a lot of different people in the neighborhood now. Do I think it’s gotten better? No, I think we lost a lot of good people in the last 10 years, people who were here before the flood, people who were here for a long time, even before I moved into the neighborhood, people who kept their properties up, took care of things, kind of like a neighborhood watch kind of thing, watched out for each other’s kids. We don’t have the older people on the block no more to say ‘Hey, get yourself to school, boy’ and like that. I miss the old people who would talk about what it was like growing up in New Orleans and telling stories about what it was like before my parents even thought me up. Small things like that, things that we take for granted, that’s what we don’t have anymore.
“Now there’s so many people moving in and out it’s not a neighborhood like it used to be where everybody knew everybody there on your block. A lot of the houses are fixed back up, but like I say, you don’t know the people who are living there now. It’s not so much homeowners as rental properties where people are just in and out. On this block there are 15 houses. Ten of them are fixed up and the other five still haven’t had anything done to them since Katrina.
“When Katrina happened, my dad said it would take 10 years for the city to come back. Well, it’s really taking more than 10 years for the city to come back together as a whole, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress. I think having the Super Bowl here was a turning point, I think that helped a lot finance-wise. It helped the economy and gave people a better chance to fix up their houses. I think we’re on the right move but it’s a really slow move. There’s no other place like New Orleans, and a lot of people want to come back home but can’t afford to because the rent is so high. People can’t afford to live where they did 10 years ago.”
Johnny Sansone’s home near Bayou St. John didn’t flood but was heavily wind-damaged and took a lot of rainwater that pretty much wiped him out. Sansone used the experience as an inspiration to write new songs, and has become one of the city’s best songwriters in the ensuing years. His great song “Poor Man’s Paradise” was based on stories people told him about dealing with the recovery.
“That whole time is kind of a blur. I tried to get back in. I didn’t have any transportation. My sister gave me an old Mercedes. I drove down in that. I remember sneaking into the city. There were no lights yet, it was about 6 a.m. when I snuck in past the National Guard guys, you could get through on River Road if you were lucky, but they weren’t letting anybody into the city. I kind of ran the barricade to try and get back and find the cat and check on everything. I guess that was maybe a couple of weeks after. After I got to the house, the National Guard guys came and told me I couldn’t stay in the house, I had to leave or they were gonna lock me up.“I was trying just the other night to express the sense of desperation. Everybody was sitting around by candlelight trying to be happy, but everybody had known someone that had died. I guess we just tried to think that everything was gonna be okay. There was no gas. If you left your house to walk anyplace, there were no lights and you were taking your life in your hands. If you tried to populate an area where there was no population you were pretty much like in the Wild West. I wrote a lot of songs around that time just sitting with an acoustic guitar in my backyard. There was a white sheen from all the salt that was on everything. There was a crustiness, there were no birds, no squirrels.All the trees were down. It just looked like a war zone. I looked at the surroundings and my heart was hurting and I think a lot of emotions came out at that time.
“’Poor Man’s Paradise’ was just an observation about a lot of the things that were happening. I sang it as if it was what was happening to me, but actually it was happening to a lot of people, and I was collecting their stories. People were very emotional at the time, and when they told these stories you know it would hurt. I thought it was important to write a song that explained what it was like in real time.”
James Weber moved to town after the flood and opened up Euclid Records in the Bywater. He’s a good example of the young people who’ve moved into town since then and tried to make a go of it. Euclid has become a great resource for used vinyl records and features live performances. Weber is also a guitarist who leads the hard-rocking
Idle Hour Club, which often opens for his partner Lefty Parker’s Lonely Lonely Knights at the Saturn Bar.
“I didn’t get here until 2009. But even since then it seems that developments that were in place before them all came to fruition at the same time that Airbnb became a big deal in the neighborhood. Since then it’s been annexed by the French Quarter somewhat. I’ve had to bounce around to find a place to live. I was around here, then I went to Bayou St. John and now I’m living in the Holy Cross neighborhood in the lower Ninth. It’s a mix of people who’ve lived there for a long time, and people who
are buying houses ‘cause they’re cheaper and renting over there because it’s cheaper. It’s impossible to find an affordable rent situation. We found a cheaper place but it’s difficult to pay more than $1,000 a month for rent.”
Samuels is the owner of Basin Street Records, one of the few local New Orleans record companies, and a cornerstone for what passes for a music business in the city.“Before the flood, I worked on Canal Street,” he said. “We had a 3,000-square foot office near Carrollton. That had about 18 inches of water in it. My home in Lakewood had about five feet of water in it. I took my family to Austin for a school year. I knew I was going to come back when Kermit played at Fat Harry’s in early October. I worked very hard at that point to come back. I was able to come back in and gut my house. We never stopped working. It did go from six full-time people until all of a sudden it was just me again. I worked from wherever my computer was. I drove 29 times between Austin and New Orleans in those nine months when my kids were at school.
I was blogging and selling CDs and calling my distributor to send me product in Austin. Ultimately I needed to wait for the Road Home Program in order to completely rebuild my house. By the next school year, my family was living on the second floor of my house and I was using the gutted first floor as my office. When I finally got the Road Home money, I was able to finish up the house. My company never stopped functioning, not for one day. We had artists who were all dealing with their own things, although everybody seemed to continue to play. The world was good to New Orleans music and certainly to our artists. About that time, digital was in its infancy, but it helped that we didn’t actually have to have physical product. I did lose a significant amount of inventory, but we had about seven direct deals to sell downloads. Some of the magazines we owed money to forgave our debt, and people like MusiCares stepped up.Only two people in the neighborhood were back before me, and nobody with children. I was one of the first people to actually navigate the Road Home program and get a check. The neighborhood changed dramatically. I bought my house from a single old lady, and the two people on either side of me were both single old ladies before the flood. None of them came back. My neighborhood was a mature neighborhood and today it’s filled with young families who weren’t here before.
Now there’s more places to eat, more places to hear live music. Overall, I think it’s good. I think Mayor Nagin made a mistake when he allowed people to move back in wherever they wanted to. It would have made more sense to incentivize people to move out of certain areas and other areas that would have resembled a neighborhood. I believe we have too big a footprint and I think it’s going to be a long time before everyone can have the police protection and fire protection that we need for everybody to be taken care of.
I think we really need to be careful about having a lot of absentee owners. I’m concerned about the future of the music and the educational stimulus that the neighborhoods gave to the people like Kermit and Corey Henry. Some organizations have stepped in to do some of this work, like one I’m on the board of, the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp. There are some other important organizations like what Tipitina’s is doing, Donald Harrison’s thing, Derek Tabb’s Roots of Music, the Young Leadership Council. In many schools we don’t have the music programs we need, and that needs to be addressed.
I’ve been in the music business with Basin Street for 18 years and a fan for much longer than that. We don’t do the things we could do to put our music and culture in the spotlight. I get phone calls from people saying ‘I need a three-piece band but I have a $150 music budget.’ On the other hand, they don’t blink at spending thousands of dollars on decorations for the same event. That’s not about government, or about any specific program, it’s about the value that people place on music. Leaders in business and leaders in politics, leaders in music and everybody else have to stand up and say music is worth more than this.