A Night of Treme To Benefit the Make It Right Foundation Fund Raiser at the House of Blues
Decatur Street, French Quarter
Saturday night, August 28, 2010
Bummer. It looked like I was going miss the biggest music event of the summer, the "Make It Right NOLA" Fund Raiser Brad Pitt’s organization was putting on tonight.
“We’ve been sold out for weeks,” the man said when I blithely walked up to buy a ticket at the box office on Decatur Street.
The A Night of Treme To Benefit the Make It Right Foundation concert featuring Lloyd Price, John Boutte, Jon Cleary, Irma Thomas, Coco Robichaud, Kermit Ruffins, Paul Sanchez, Doreen Ketchens, James Andrews, Rebirth Brass Band, and the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians was a knockout lineup.
There’s gotta be a way, I thought, I’m gonna get inside.
For over an hour I maintained sentry duty, patrolling the 100 feet between box office window and alleyway entrance to the House of Blues. Irma Thomas, “The Soul Queen of New Orleans” emerged from a doorway next to my post after finishing her turn in the rotation at about 9:30 pm. Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, a resident of New Orleans East and major character in HBO’s Treme series, was standing a few feet away having a cigarette with some friends. I was awash in glitterati.
I’ve been watching a very busy, official-looking man in a dark blue suit who’s been pacing back and forth from the box office to the alleyway entrance to the House of Blues and handing envelopes with tickets to groups of well-heeled people.
“I came to New Orleans from Boston for the Rising Tide 5 New Media Conference today,” I started, in an attempt to get some credibility. “Any chance you have tickets?"
“We’re going to release some tickets from corporate sponsors who haven’t claimed them. Head down to the box office.”
Five minutes later, I was inside what felt like one of those phone booths that college students try to fit into in massive numbers to achieve Guinness Book of Records status. Except this booth had fabulous music.
10 pm. Lloyd Price was just singing his last notes. I’d missed a sizable handful of acts but who cared. The energy inside was insane.
“We’re doing a Professor Longhair set,” James Andrews announced and launched into ”Big Chief.” Soon he was joined by his talented wife Karen Andrews for “Oo Poo Pa Doo,” a Jessie Hill song long associated with Professor Longhair (1918-1980), whose songs are indelibly associated with New Orleans.
Naturally, everyone in the house knew the choruses. A raucous serve and volley ensued. Andrews is a piece of work - dancing, playing, showing off - and the crowd loved it. “This is Treme talkin’,” he shouts, proclaiming New Orleans the center of the universe.
I hear a voice behind me saying, “There he goes braggin' again,” and felt someone tugging on my shirt.
Kenneth Terry, the great Treme Brass Band trumpet player I talked with at The Candlelight Lounge three nights before shouts, “Hey, how you doin’! I just played with Rebirth earlier tonight, playing with them again at the After Party outside on the patio. Try to get back there!”
The emcee gives a shout out to Shannon Brown, who’s been relentlessly pounding away on a huge drum set. “He was one of the first back here. There were no restaurants open and the only place we could eat was his kitchen. I’ve got to tell you, I love my momma’s cooking but Shannon gives her a run for her money.” Stories like this will be passed down like ones still circulating about Hurricane Betsy that crushed New Orleans in 1965.
Big Al Carson, mainstay of the Funky Pirate on Bourbon Street, romps into “It’s Carnival Time” with a Creole band backing him up. He's followed by John Boutte who sings a beautiful rendition of a gospel song “I’ll See You There” and wraps up with the "Treme" theme song (the one he sings on at the outset of every HBO Treme show), which, of course, everyone sings along with.
The Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleans crown jewel of brass bands, marches on stage (there's Kenneth Terry) with every performer I've seen to finish the Treme song with an avalanche of joyous sound. By this time the Make It Right Foundation’s bash has lifted the House of Blues foundation off its slab.
Earlier in the show, the Make It Right Executive Director introduced a smiling an impeccably dressed Melba Leggett Barnes, whose home at 1744 Tennessee Street Make It Right rebuilt.“I love my new house and want to thank Make It Right for their work.”
In a recent press release, Brad Pitt said, “While Katrina gave us the opportunity to think creatively about how to make green homes affordable for the low-income families who need them the most, it shouldn’t take a hurricane to make that happen in other cities. Our plan is to take what we have learned in New Orleans and help other communities build healthy, safe and affordable green homes. Our hope is to make these homes the norm, not the exception.”
There’s still a long way to go in rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward but it would have been a much longer bleaker road had Brad Pitt not stepped in. Makes you wonder why the hell local, state, and federal officials couldn’t be making such good strides themselves.
More than 4000 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were destroyed by the storm. The surge of water caused by the breach in the Industrial Canal levee washed many homes clean off their slab foundations.The Make It Right Foundation built 50 homes by December, 2009 and will have 150 built by December, 2010.
‘We’re gonna make New Orleans better one note at a time,” James Andrews shouts at the end of the show.
One note at a time, one house at a time, one neighborhood at a time…it will not be easy but if any city has the resilience to do it, it’s this one.
Trumpeter James Andrews...
.gets the house rockin' ...
The Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians Indians chant...
John Boutte sings gospel...
and everyone in a soaring finale singing "Treme"
Fuzzy photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.