The day started with a slice of the 340 ft. oyster po-boy at the 6th annual Oyster Jubilee on Bourbon Street. It takes about 2 hours to set up the block-long sandwich and only a minute or so for it to disappear. We stood in front of the Drago’s section and were treated to a remoulade sauced fried oyster po-boy dressed with lettuce. Yum.
So many events in New Orleans are designed to give back to the community but galas tend to be fancier affairs designed to raise a lot of money quickly. Our first event of the evening was the Paint the Town Green gala benefitting Raintree Children and Family Services and held at Harrah’s Casino. I didn’t wear the requisite green this year, opting instead for a bronze jewel-encrusted floor-length gown, but it was fun seeing all the green suits, ties, shoes and dresses.
Like last year, I loved all the food supplied by restaurants showing off some of their best dishes. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse served a yummy petit filet sandwich and the lobster ravioli from GW Fins was a big hit again. The auctions (both silent and standard) included wonderful items ranging from purses and jewelry to paintings from Terrance Osborne, Michalopoulos and blue dog guy, Rodrigue, as well as a day of golf with my Django Unchained co-star, Samuel L. Jackson.
Raintree (established in 1926) offers services for foster care children, children with disabilities and at-risk children. They also have a home for teenaged girls who were unable to find placement in the foster care system. Ashley, a former resident of the Raintree group home, spoke on a video about the effects living at Raintree had on the course of her life. Then, the beautiful and poised Ashley took the stage and updated us on how her life has been going since the video was shot a year ago. Now 21, she is in her third year of college studying accounting, has her own apartment, just purchased her first car and works as a bank teller. Before living at Raintree, she never even contemplated things like college. Within a year or so, she should be receiving her degree.
Not all of the girls who live at Raintree find their path the way Ashley did, but Ashley does her best to help, serving as a Big Sister to the house and inspiring others to follow their dreams. After her eloquent speech, I met her boyfriend and, from the looks of things, she even found a wonderful (and handsome) young man to share her life. Ashley may not have been born to my advantages, but she is creating her own path and credits Raintree with making the difference. You may not have been able to attend the gala, but you can make a difference too by making a tax-deductible donation to this 85 year old facility.
We danced to 70’s and 80’s hits covered by Burgundy. Turns out that the group is retiring at the end of the month. I hope next year’s band is as good at filling a dance floor! By the end of the night, pretty much everyone hit the floor at least once, including a kilt-clad man and a couple people from the staff of Django Unchained.
As the event wound to a close, we headed over to the recently renovated Hyatt for the Make It Right after-party featuring music from Seal, Snoop and Kanye. The hotel, redesigned to welcome next year’s Superbowl guests, is stunning. It’s hard to believe it’s the same place so ravaged by the Storm. Under an amazing light fixture in the grand lobby, a giant mural by my new favorite artist, Stephan Wanger of Galeria Alegria, filled 30 feet (and 8 feet tall) of wall. Named Sanctuary of Alegria, the Guiness World Book-recognized piece is the largest mosaic ever constructed from beads. Even better, the more than one million beads are recycled from Mardi Gras parades. Best yet, the piece is truly beautiful and extremely intricate, portraying the cityscape of NOLA, and was auctioned off to benefit those who’ve lost their homes to Katrina and other nationwide disasters.
The earlier dinner and show hosted by founder Brad Pitt with guests, Ellen Degeneres and Drew Brees and more, was catered by John Besh and Emeril. Dr. John apparently played and we passed him leaving as we arrived. The after-party was in a grand ballroom with speakers so loud and bass so booming that my clothing vibrated. We ran into friends and neighbors as Soul Rebels played and the room filled up.
Seal was wonderful. Some people look better on TV, sound better in a studio, but Seal is the real deal – handsome as heck with a rich, smooth voice. I was surprised that he shared a little about his recent marital discord then played a heartfelt rendition of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. His heartbreak was palpable. His classic Crazy reminded me that “In a world full of people, only some want to fly. Isn’t that crazy?” He closed with crowd favorite, Kiss From a Rose.
Next up was Snoop Dogg. The stage filled with dancing girls in micro-shorts, hype men carrying a bottle of Hennessy and a gargantuan faux joint, and a man in a dog suit. I’d seen Snoop perform just before leaving L.A. There were only about 300 people in the crowd then and he played for nearly 3 hours non-stop. But sandwiched between 2 other concerts, he turned many of his hits into song-ettes, 2 minute versions of songs I’d seen play out for 5 to 8 minutes at the other concert. I loved getting to hear so many of his songs, but the concert ended far too quickly for my taste.
The evening ended with host Aziz Ansari (Community) bringing out Kanye West. Whether you laughed or gasped or felt redeemed by his Bush-hates-Black-people speech after Katrina, I gotta love a man who puts his money where his mouth is. Not only did Kanye play the hits people wanted to hear, he was joined by the stunning Rihanna for 2 songs. The super-long (it was daylight savings too) evening ended with another special guest as my Django Unchained co-star Jamie Foxx took the extra mic for the over 3,000,000 selling single Gold Digger. Between the festivities and the time change, we danced until 5 am.
The event was intended to raise funds to complete 150 environmentally-friendly homes, both in New Orleans and other areas hard hit by natural disasters and I hope they exceeded their goals. It is not lost on me that Brad Pitt’s celebrity is what gets those houses built. I may have some issues with my years in L.A., but celebrity is not inherently bad and it can be a powerful force for good when used as wisely as the Pitt-Jolie family uses it. I sometimes hear people say that money is the root of all evil. Actually, the Bible quote is, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” I think the same applies to celebrity. There’s nothing wrong with being famous. Some of the people I love most in the world are famous. The problems arise when people forget they are part of a community, a country and a world. I’m so happy that so many celebrities, including many I didn’t list who performed at the dinner earlier, leant their considerable spotlight to a worthy cause.