Lafayette could be called the Little Easy or New Orleans West. Since Hurricane Katrina, the city of 110,000 in the Cajun music and zydeco cradle of southwest Louisiana has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle and other national publications.
The attention comes as Lafayette has opened the Cajundome, auditoriums, homes and other venues to thousands of evacuees, including a number of New Orleans musicians and entertainment notables displaced by Katrina. Pianist Eddie Bo, John Blancher of Rock ‘n’ Bowl, fiddler Jonno Frishberg and renowned folklorist Nick Spitzer are just a few of the names.
The arrival of their New Orleans neighbors has sparked a number of ventures to help displaced entertainers remain healthy and employed. Those undertakings include the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, Project HEAL, and Big Easy Nights.
NEW ORLEANS MUSICIANS CLINIC
The clinic that took care of the medical needs of more than 1,000 musicians and their families since 1998 is now operating in Lafayette. NOMC is working through its local partner, Healthcare for Musicians and its Lafayette headquarters, the Southwest Louisiana Health Education Center (SWLAHEC).
Clinic officials continue to look for any displaced New Orleans musicians who need help with medical services, housing, equipment and more. Their resources include the MusiCares Foundation, an emergency assistance arm of The Recording Academy, sponsors of the Grammys. MusiCares, which helps artists deal with personal, medical and financial hardships, has set up a $1 million hurricane relief fund.
Kathy Richard, spokesperson for NOMC, said the clinic can help artists even if they are not in Lafayette.
“Someone needed to see a dentist in California and we were able to make a few phone calls and get him the appointment, said Richard. “We’ve helped people in other areas get diabetes medicine.
“We’re able to help with co-pays and other things, as long as they go through us.” Peter Spring of Eugene, Oregon, who has donated musical instruments to hurricane victims, is distributing them through the clinic.
For more information, call the NOMC at (337) 781-9611 or (337) 988-1583. The office is located in the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra building at 412 Travis St. in Lafayette.
Project HEAL, which was born two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, was established to help displaced musicians, visual artists, dancers, performing artists and others continue to make their livings in the arts in the Lafayette area. HEAL has received a positive reaction from artists and the public.
“Musicians and artists have always been independent and no one has ever worked for them,” said director Matthew Goldman, a displaced employee of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. “These same people hustled for gigs and hustled for work. Now other people are hustling for them.
“Once they realize that, they understand it better and start opening up and start telling us about what happened to their house, their career. You can see they can relate.”
Artists helped by HEAL include blues guitarist Michael Juan Nunez of Erath, who was displaced when Hurricane Rita struck southwest Louisiana. Nunez was booked to play a Festival International fundraiser at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette.
Frank Levy, a storyteller from St. Tammany Parish, was set up with performances at the library and civic center in Ville Platte. Cajun accordionist Bruce Daigrepont was booked to perform at Festivals Acadians and a Louisiana Folk Roots seminar. Future plans include brass band shows, a second line parade during the November ArtWalk in downtown Lafayette, children’s art projects and more.
HEAL works through Acadiana Arts Council, but has also formed local partnerships with Louisiana Crossroads, Louisiana Folk Roots, Festival International, the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana, the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.
For more information on Project HEAL, call (337) 233-7060 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIG EASY NIGHTS
307 Downtown, a jazz and blues club on Jefferson Street in downtown Lafayette, is now hosting Big Easy Nights. Each Sunday and Monday night, 307 features displaced service industry staff and entertainment from New Orleans. Sunday nights feature free live entertainment in the club’s front bar from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
A blues jam, with musicians from Houston to New Orleans participating, takes place on Monday nights. There’s no cover charge for the jam, but donations will be accepted. Funds benefit the NOMC and its local partner, Healthcare for Musicians.
The Jazz Foundation of America has visited 307 and come in to assist musicians on an individual basis. Since the early 1990s, JFA has been helping jazz musicians who have fallen on hard times. In 1991, JFA’s first fundraiser totaled more than $65,000 and allowed the group to start the Jazz Musicians’ Emergency Fund. Services now include medical, financial and legal help.
After Katrina, JFA has expanded its reach into Louisiana and had an immediate impact. JFA secured a $70,000 donation of brass instruments for musicians who had lost instruments. They’ve funded 150 gigs in schools and shelters. Executive director Wendy Atlas Oxenhorn recently stopped by 307, along with Prince Max of Schaumburg-Lippe of Austria, a New Orleans music fan.
Oxenhorn wants to make sure musicians don’t have to trade their horns and guitars for hammers and brooms.
“For a musician, an instrument, that’s your freedom and that’s your love,” said Oxenhorn. “I’ve had guitarists tell me ‘I sleep with my wife every night and then, I’m married,’ referring to their guitars.” This makes it all worthwhile. To reunite people with their only way to make music is probably the greatest thing you can do.”
For more information on Big Easy Nights, call (337) 262-0307.
Fiddler Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil was one of 12 recipients of the 2005 National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts awards by the National Endowment for the Arts. In late September, Doucet and the 11 other honorees were in Washington, DC for an awards presentation on Capitol Hill. He performed at a concert at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University.
Doucet follows in the footsteps of previous fellowship winners, like Dewey Balfa and Canray Fontenot, Cajun and Creole fiddlers he considers his idols.
For the first time in its 24-year history, a fellowship goes to an artist (Doucet) who was first recognized through an NEA-funded apprenticeship grant in 1975 to study with master Cajun and zydeco musicians who were later recognized as heritage fellows.
Doucet not only studied with those masters, but brought them into schools and colleges to expose their music on an academic level. He said studying with those masters provided revelations that have lasted a lifetime.
“Just going to their house, that’s when it just opened up for me,” said Doucet. “It was much more than just playing Cajun music or French music or zydeco. It was family music.
“That’s really where music was in those days. You heard dancehall music, but somebody came from a family or you just played music. That’s what we try to convey.”
In almost 30 years as a group, Doucet and BeauSoleil have been praised around the world for their mix of Cajun, Creole, jazz, country, blues, Tex-Mex and more. The band has performed at the Super Bowl with Mary Chapin Carpenter, President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1976 and countless radio and TV shows and film soundtracks. BeauSoleil’s L’Amour Ou La Folie CD won the 1997 Grammy Awards for the Best Traditional Folk Album.
Contact Herman Fuselier at email@example.com.