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Five years ago: 8/29/2005

Today we celebrate life in, and the continuing existence of, that incomparably wonderful place, the city of New Orleans.

Five years ago today, a fearsome hurricane on the Mississippi Gulf Coast but what should have been a run-of-the-mill hurricane of low-to-moderate strength in the city of New Orleans, came ashore. By the time the force of the hurricane reached the city the winds were only Category 2 and even down to a Category 1. There was some damage and lots of rain, but the city itself weathered the hurricane relatively well. The initial reaction was that “we dodged a bullet.”

Then the levee and floodwall system, designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, failed.

Here’s how it happened, demonstrated via an animated graphic from the Times-Picayune.

A very concise description of how fast things happened once the floodwalls and levees failed comes from the excellent Twitter feed of Crystal Kile, aka DJ Poptart at WTUL in New Orleans:

With all of the breaches, some neighborhoods flooded to the rooftops in minutes.

Even where the flooding was slower, further from the sites of the breaches, the water rose approximately 0.3 m (1 ft) every 10 minutes.

The lake level equalized with the floodwaters at midday on September 1, 2005. [That's three days later.]

The failure of the levees and the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, represent the first time in American history that engineering failure has brought about the destruction or near-destruction of a major U.S. city.

There are five-years-later posts and articles all over the internets — there’s not a lot I can add. I wasn’t there until five weeks later, but I certainly had my own experiences with my family’s home. There are a couple hundred thousand other stories just like it (and, on the five-year anniversary, a hundred times more than that — that’s 20,000,000 — in Pakistan at the moment, which I simply cannot get my head around). Just look around and you’ll find plenty. But I do want to point you in a couple of directions.

First off, continuing to run on HBO this weekend is Spike Lee’s excellent documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise”, a sequel to the one he did four years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Federal Flood, “When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

Then tomorrow is the one-night-only theatrical premiere of Harry Shearer’s long-awaited documentary film “The Big Uneasy,” which we will not miss.

Harry’s film will pull no punches, spelling out the reasons for the disaster (man-made, not natural as it was on the Mississippi Gulf coast), talking to New Orleans residents and whistle-blowers from the Corps of Engineers. As one prominent scientist said, had the floodwall and levee system worked as it was supposed to, the worst that Hurricane Katrina would have inflicted on New Orleans was “wet ankles.”



The odd tidbit of news about “The Big Uneasy” this weekend is that Harry, a longtime contributer to National Public Radio, submitted an ad to NPR for the film, which NPR subsequently rejected. The very brief ad stated that the movie was about “why New Orleans flooded.” According to NPR, “the language violated FCC guidelines.” However, they would allow the ad to say the movie was about “New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.” Harry said, “The bickering went on for days.” I would like to see an explicit explanation of exactly how that language violated FCC guidelines.

Harry calls shenanigans on the explanation as well. “The FCC won’t let you say what your movie is about?” The NPR lawyers declined to offer any further explanation. Perhaps it’s because they’re Nice Polite Republicans?

“The Big Uneasy” plays in theatres tomorrow night only, August 30, in these theatres nationwide and at the following theatres in the Los Angeles area:

The Bridge 18, 6081 Center Dr, LA
The Grove 14, 189 The Grove Dr, LA
The Americana 18, 322 Americana Way, Glendale
The Culver Stadium 12, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City
Foothill Cinema 10, 854 E Alosta, Azusa
Agoura Hills 8, 29045 Agoura Hills Dr, Agoura Hills

Call for showtimes.

New Orleans has come a long way in five years, but still has a long way to go.

 

Vote for Nine Lives

Yes, we’re all still alive over here — traveling again, and more. Let’s jump back in and talk about some important stuff. First …

Some of you may be familiar with Dan Baum’s excellent book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. It traces the true stories of nine New Orleanians from different parts of the city, vastly different circumstances and levels of New Orleans society and culture. Their stories begin 45 years ago with Hurricane Betsy and take them through the disaster of Katrina, the Federal Flood and beyond. It’s excellent, and I recommend it without reservation.

Some of you may also be fans of New Orleans singer and songwriter Paul Sanchez, who’s one of my very favorite musicians. Paul and his wife Shelly lost everything in the flood of nearly five years ago, but after having gone through the heartbreak and difficulties physical, emotional and financial have picked up and carried on with life in an amazing way. Paul’s life and singing are full of joy and love; he’s been making an amazing amount of music in the last five years, and it’s all terrific.

Let’s take a little musical interlude, shall we?



Paul’s been doing some writing with Los Angeles-based writer Colman DeKay over the last few years — they co-wrote the title track of Paul’s album Exit to Mystery Street and several other songs, and now they’re working on a project that’s got me very excited.

Colman and Paul have picked up the rights to adapt Nine Lives into a musical. I’ve heard several of the songs, and they are amazing. Truly amazing.

The first step is to make a CD of the songs, then … “all the way to Broadway,” as Threadhead Records founder Chris Joseph says. Let’s hear a bit more about the project from Chris and Paul:



In order to do this, they’re going to need some money.

Threadhead Records is perhaps the world’s first non-profit, volunteer-run record label. Their sole aim is to raise funding to help get great New Orleans musicians make records and get them out to the people. Threadhead needs our help with this one, folks — it’s a big project.

Fortunately they’re in line for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi’s “Refresh Project,” but in order for them to be eligible for the money, they need our votes! Go to this URL:

http://gulf.refresheverything.com/ninelivesproject

Register at the site. Don’t worry about spam — I’ve been participating in this for a while and I haven’t gotten any. Once you’re registered, vote for the Nine Lives Project. The important thing to remember is that once you click “vote for the project” you’ll be redirected to a login screen. Once you register and log in you will be redirected back to the main page, where you HAVE to click, “vote for the project” AGAIN in order for your vote to count. This is really important — a lot of votes went uncounted until people realized this!

It’s getting down to the wire; only the top ten get the cash and Nine Lives has been as low as #15. We’re up to #8 as of today, so we need to keep the momentum rolling.

UPDATE! Dan Baum himself visited the comments section (wow!) and said that you can vote TEN times a day, as long as you let an hour or so go between votes. So vote early and often! Vote now, and tomorrow, and every day until the end of the month. It’s legal! It’s not as if it were a congressional election in St. Bernard Parish or something.

If we’re successful you’ll be rewarded with a monumental work of New Orleans music, telling some great stories with some great songs. One of the things that’s helped people through the last five years in New Orleans is a ton of great music — mo’ music, mo’ betta!

If you’ve been attentding any of Paul’s recent shows you may well have heard versions of some of the songs. You can also preview one of the songs at Paul’s site — scroll through the music player at the bottom of the browser window until you get to one called “Feel Like A Lady,” with vocals by John Boutté (the song is based on the story of JoAnn from the book and captures one of the character’s pivotal scenes beautifully).

Thanks for helping out, y’all.

 

A musical prep for Tales

Mon, July 19, 2010: UPDATED with 28 more songs!

We’re not going to Tales of the Cocktail this year. (Waah.)

Vacation time and annoying little details like money didn’t quite work out, so I wish all my friends and readers who are going a GREAT time … and I don’t want to hear a single thing about it, or it’ll drive me crazy. Internet blackout for me! No Twitter! What I will do is find a great bar (which will, I hope, have left a few bartenders behind that aren’t going to Tales) and quaff some cocktails.

My friend Stevi, who does the excellent cocktail weblog Two At The Most, asked me if I could come up with a playlist to help people prepare for getting to Tales next week, which I thought might be fun. (I can’t help but shamelessly mention that there was that New Orleans box set I did a while back that was pretty good …)

I thought about how much I and so many other people enjoyed HBO’s superb New Orleans-based TV series “Tremé” this past year, and included a number of artists and songs featured on that show. If you’re a “Tremé” fan you’ll like this little quickie compilation, which I put together on iTunes using their iMix feature. It’s entitled “Tales of the Cocktail ’10 Prep!”

So, you can buy the whole list, or pick a handful that you might want to hear, or if you have an extensive NOLA music collection use the list and drag the songs into a new playlist on iTunes, whichever you like. (Alternately, you can just ignore it and make your own!) One annoying hitch — I made a 100-song playlist, and for some reason iTunes truncated it to 72 the first time I tried to upload it, so I’ve had to break it up into two playlists. There should be widgets below to take you to iTunes, but in case it doesn’t render properly here are the direct links: (Part 1, Part 2) Look for the full printed list after the break.

Continue reading …

Nobody Knows Nothin’

Threadhead Records have released a new single entitled “Nobody Knows Nothin’,” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Clint Maedgen, along with John Boutté, Susan Cowsill, Craig Klein, Bill Lynn, Gregory Menoher, Margie Perez and Paul Sanchez, and written by John Boutté, Bill Lynn and Paul Sanchez. Proceeds will benefit Gulf Aid, a 501(c3) nonprofit corporation established in response to the biggest oil spill in US history just 50 miles off of the Louisiana coast, and are distributed to organizations focused on supporting wetlands/coastal environmental issues & the well-being of fishermen, and the regional seafood industry.

Nobody Knows Nothin'

To purchase the digital download of the song, and to help with the oil cleanup efforts, go to threadheadrecords.bandcamp.com. The song will also be available soon on iTunes.

While you’re at it, check out the song “It Ain’t My Fault,” by Mos Def and Ben Jaffe, along with Lenny Kravitz, Trombone Shorty and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, also to benefit GulfAid.org:



Buy it now on iTunes!

 

“Treme” Explained, Episode 8: “All on a Mardi Gras Day”

I know, I’m late again. Busy week. We were out yesterday so I’m even an episode behind, eek! But let’s just dive right in … ’cause it’s Mardi Gras! (Well, in the timeline of “Treme” it was last week; in real life Mardi Gras was almost four months ago.)

Here’s last week’s installment of Dave Walker’s “Treme” Explained column for Episode 8, “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” Some excerpts, and my annotations:

The episode’s title is “All on a Mardi Gras Day,” a song that describes music and Mardi Gras Indian pageantry on Fat Tuesday.

“All on a Mardi Gras Day” is also the title of two works of interest to “Treme” fans who want to learn more about New Orleans Carnival traditions. One is a 1995 book by Reid Mitchell tracing Mardi Gras history and traditions (its subtitle: “Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival”). The other is a 2003 documentary by Royce Osborn focusing on black Carnival traditions.



Delmond checks into the Loews New Orleans Hotel on Poydras Street. Hotel rooms were hard to come by for Mardi Gras 2006: Almost half of the available hotel rooms during that time were occupied by public safety and recovery workers, as well as residents who’d lost homes and apartments.

The Loews Hotel also houses one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans, Café Adelaide, and one of the city’s better bars, The Swizzle Stick.

Whole Fried Trout with Corn and Crawfish Hash and Watermelon Caipirinha Sauce

Whole Fried Trout with Corn and Crawfish Hash and Watermelon Caipirinha Sauce

 

The Twentieth Century Cocktail

The Twentieth Century Cocktail at Café Adelaide's Swizzle Stick Bar, containing gin, lemon juice, white creme de cacao and Lillet blanc.

You should go there soon.

Antoine’s gig is at the Howlin’ Wolf nightclub in the downtown Warehouse District. The band he joins is Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. Guitarist Ian Neville is the son of Art Neville of the Neville Brothers. Keyboardist Ivan is the son of Neville Brother Aaron.



Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a holiday in New Orleans. Most schools are off all week, hence Sofia Bernette’s availability to take a drive to the lakefront with her father on Lundi Gras, the Monday before Mardi Gras.

When I first moved to L.A., I had hardly ever been outside New Orleans — family vacations in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, a brief stop at Rock City in Tennessee, and a weekend trip to Carbondale, IL to check out a school. Getting to L.A. and finding out that for starters you couldn’t drink on the street was a major culture shock. Then finding out that we don’t get Lundi Gras, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday off from school and work … what kind of heathen land had I moved to?! My SceniCruiser had taken me beyond Baton Rouge and truly into the heart of darkness.

Creighton Bernette displays symptoms of depression, a chronic condition in New Orleans post-Katrina even among residents who were comparatively lucky in the storm.

Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose wrote about his own battle with post-K depression in October 2006.

“My hands shook,” he wrote. “I had to look down when I walked down the steps, holding the banister to keep steady. I was at risk every time I got behind the wheel of a car; I couldn’t pay attention.

“I lost 15 pounds and it’s safe to say I didn’t have a lot to give. I stopped talking to Kelly, my wife. She loathed me, my silences, my distance, my inertia.

“I stopped walking my dog, so she hated me, too. The grass and weeds in my yard just grew and grew.

“I stopped talking to my family and my friends. I stopped answering phone calls and e-mails. I maintained limited communication with my editors to keep my job but I started missing deadlines anyway.

“I tried to keep an open line of communication with my kids to keep my sanity, but it was still slipping away. My two oldest, 7 and 5, began asking: ‘What are you looking at, Daddy?’

“The thousand-yard stare. I couldn’t shake it. Boring holes into the house behind my back yard. Daddy is a zombie. That was my movie: Night of the Living Dead. Followed by Morning of the Living Dead, followed by Afternoon …”



By the way, don’t ever call the streetcar a “trolley” in New Orleans; it’s a dead giveaway that you’re not from there. I’ll cut him some slack as he did say “streetcar line” first.

Chris Rose’s book 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina is a must-get.

Antoine gigs again at Donna’s, a Rampart Street landmark of traditional New Orleans music. That’s oft-irascible bandleader (and WWOZ FM-90.7 DJ) Bob French on drums.

Antoine greets Al Johnson at the bar. Johnson recorded the Mardi Gras classic “Carnival Time,” the lyrics of which describe Fat Tuesday activities in the Faubourg Treme neighborhood, in 1960. He was 2005 King of Krewe du Vieux. “Carnival Time” plays under the later scene in which Janette and Jacques cook for parade-goers on the traditional St. Charles Ave. parade route.

“Milenberg Joys” was recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, New Orleans musicians living and working in Chicago, in 1923, with its composer, Jelly Roll Morton, on piano. The Milneburg entertainment district in New Orleans, located approximately where Elysian Fields Avenue once met Lake Pontchartrain, was a popular entertainment destination for New Orleanians from the 1870s until the 1930s. Many visitors, drawn by the outpost’s dance halls, arrived by a train known as the Smokey Mary. The area was reclaimed and redeveloped, and a lighthouse is the only remnant of the district today. The Pontchartrain Beach amusement park operated near the site through the middle decades of the 20th century. The University of New Orleans now occupies part of the original Milneburg site.

For this and much more, see the rest of Dave Walker’s column in the T-P.

 

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