5 years ago today, Katrina made landfall. Around here, they refer to it as, “the storm,” as if there had never been another. Commemorations began all over the city yesterday, despite the most rain we’ve had in months. I chose to attend a free concert by Anders Osborne at my favorite venue, Lafayette Square.
With the incessant rain, I considered not going, sitting home and watching movies. Seems like many people did just that, stayed out of the rain. But Katrina isn’t about rain for me. I was thousands of miles away, dry as a bone excepting my incessant tears. So, I have no PTSD about rain (yet), just don’t drive a semi past my home and rattle it or my ’94 quake flashbacks kick in.
Anders isn’t a native to this region, or even this country. He was born in Sweden and moved here in 1985. But he has adopted this city as his home and the city has adopted him right back. I’ve seen him 4 times in the last year and a quarter without hardly trying. For songs and videos:
It was obvious from the Jumbotron and many tents set up for vendors, that the event organizers, Rebuilding Together, had planned on a huge turnout for one of the city’s favorite musicians. But, the tents were mostly empty and fewer than 60 New Orleanians braved the weather for what became essentially a private concert for people willing to stand in rain while being reminded of Katrina.
There weren’t enough people to keep a beach ball in the air, but there was a man who’d cleverly turned a deflated ball into a beret. There were some children who were excited to luxuriate in walking freely to the front of the stage, only to retreat when the unbuffered sound hurt their tiny ears. There was a couple dancing their butts off, living in the moment and loving every second of it. There were people wearing garbage bags, see-thru rain ponchos as thin as dry-cleaning bags, the proud few in legitimate weather-ponchos and those who were just soaked to the skin. We wore bare feet, flip flops and the ever-popular fun-printed galoshes. Galoshes are a whole ‘nother thing down here. I caught myself the other day fawning over a pair in a store window, black with gold fleur de lis printed on them, as if they were Manolo or Jimmy Choo. A woman wearing a pair of black rubber cowboy boots with red heels and details popped me right out of a funk last week.
There was a mommy with a baby strapped to her chest, there were out-of-towners wearing tell-tale Mardi Gras beads and a couple kissing under umbrellas, closed around them like a clamshell. The NBC Nightly News was there to capture it all and tell their version of how the city is coping with the aftermath of the pre-BP largest manmade disaster in U.S. history. I didn’t watch it, too busy living it.
Anders and his band of two, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar, played as if the saturated muddy lawn were packed with screaming fans. They opened with “On the Road to Charlie Parker” and took us all through about an hour of guitar shredding, hair flying, soulful songs only fans would know, including two from his new CD, American Patchwork.
It was a near perfect experience, intimate and alive and rain-soaked. My only complaint is that I waited the entire set for Anders to sing his beautiful song, rewritten after the storm, “Louisiana Rain,” and it never happened. It’s his love song to this place, written shortly after his arrival here 25 years ago, and it speaks to me at my core as someone who is choosing this as my home, knowing I really never had a choice. Here’s a video someone took of them playing it at the Mid-City Rock ‘n Bowl earlier this year.
I blame myself. There were so few of us, I could have just asked him to play the song, but I kept thinking he was saving it for the end, then he said they were ending with 2 songs from the new album and that was the end of that. Foiled.
Afterward, the Tremé Brass Band played for another hour. By this point, the rain was coming down in sheets, but still no lightning so the show goes on… People simply covered their beers with their hands and gave in to being soaked.
The many volunteers for Rebuilding Together and Americorps joined us out on the lawn and danced themselves silly. And, there were finally enough people to keep a beach ball going for a song. The volunteers did the Charleston and some swing dancing as a Louis Armstrong-like voice crooned, “No use permitting some prophet of doom to wipe every smile away. Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, come to the Cabaret!”
Though it was too inclement to bring my cameras, here’s a video of them singing the song from Satchmo Fest a couple weeks ago.
The band then pulled 2 young ladies from the crowd, a volunteer from D.C. (my own birthplace) and another from Minnesota, and they sang the words to “The Tremé Song.” Dripping, with their clothes stuck to them, the volunteers sang, danced, played tambourine and generally had the good time they were singing about. The band ended with a fun rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
For more about the good works of the charities involved:
I’m not going to make fancy metaphors about baptisms or being washed clean. The truth is it sucks that the rain stopped the crowds from coming out. It sucks that those vendors didn’t make the money they were counting on, the charity didn’t get the local exposure it had hoped for, the camera men had to ask people to stand closer to create the illusion that things were “better” than they were. And it sucks that the rain hasn’t let up because today, the actual anniversary, I had been planning for weeks to attend a pub crawl to benefit the Mardi Gras Indians. But the Indians don’t walk in the rain. Those magical feathered suits can’t take it. So, I’m going to watch my footage shot on St. Joseph’s Day this year of all the Indians out on parade and hope they reschedule for next week. Then I’m going to settle in and watch the second half of Spike Lee’s documentary, “If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise” and remember “what it means to miss New Orleans.”
Enjoy the Indians on a sunnier day!