Wednesday, the super-cold day before Thanksgiving, the French Quarter was quiet. Even the eternal party on Bourbon Street was poorly attended. On our way to BlackKoldMadina‘s CD release party, we stopped into the Lost Love Lounge in the Marigny. The bar was promoting Hot Toddies and an American Horror Story-watching party, though it was a re-airing. Lost Love started as a neighborhood bar but has quickly become a destination club with a Vietnamese kitchen, karaoke and comedy nights, TV watching parties for HBO’s Treme, NOLA-shot American Horror Story, Walking Dead and, of course, Saints games.
Next, we headed to Cafe Instanbul in the St. Claude arts district at the New Orleans Healing Center to see BlackKoldMadina’s show. BlackKoldMadina is actually Kimberly Rivers Roberts of Trouble the Water, the Academy Award nominated, Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning documentary about surviving Katrina and its aftermath. Her upcoming CD, Queens, features the same hard-hitting smart-mouthed emotionally-raw rap/hip hop she’s known for.
Though the room was as sparsely populated as the French Quarter and the Lost Love had been, the renamed QueenKoldMadina put on a full-blown show complete with dancers, a guest rapper, a great DJ and a hype man (her husband in the fur jacket he wore to Sundance). During the single she was releasing, Let Me (about spending money on your man), she rapped, “Spend, spend, spend” while dropping dollars from her hand. It was nearly magical the way it kept raining money, punctuating the lyrics and beats. Afterward, in true New Orleanian humor and humility, she joked, “Can someone get me a Winn Dixie bag to scoop all this up?”
My favorite part, as readers of this blog already know, was when she performed a remix of her anthem from Trouble the Water, “Amazing.” I’ve listened to the song many, many times but this was my first time seeing it performed live. Watch the film clip HERE. I know she doesn’t need me to tell her, but Kim continues to be amazing. I hear the film has a sequel in the offing and I look forward to seeing more of this inspiring woman’s story, the story of a 9th Ward resident surviving a childhood that would break most of us before surviving Katrina with the only footage from inside the Storm’s story.
It’s 2008 – 3 years after the Storm, and Obama is elected President. I wasn’t here yet, but apparently the news brought on parties throughout the city. I’ve said before that some of our pot holes need a “no wake zone” and the show finally showed one – a car-eating crater. But, I’ve seen worse – way, way worse and now it’s 8 years since the Storm. And yes, we do have chickens in the city – I know of 2 houses with chickens in the posh Garden District.
Treme often blends reality with fiction by including musicians playing themselves like Kermit Ruffins, Cheeky Blakk, John Boutte (who created the title song) and Ellis Marsalis, Jr. – a modernist Jazz pianist and the father of Branford and Wynton Marsalis. The show also features actors playing versions of real people like violinist Lucia Micarelli’s “Annie” who is loosely based on two women including Tanya of Tanya and Dorise, the popular street musicians.
Kim Dickens’ “Janette Desautel”is also based on a couple of local chefs’ stories of surviving the Storm. In this episode, she visited the very real chef Aaron Burgau at Patois, where I had one of the best breakfasts of my whole life. The line between real and surreal got even blurrier in the scenes between Steve Zahn’s “Davis” and Davis Rogan – the actual inspiration for the part.
There are even musicians playing fictional parts like Galactic trombonist Corey Henry’s daughter Jazz Henry. In real life she plays trumpet with the Original Pinettes, winners of the Red Bull Street Kings 2013. On the show, she plays a high school student in Wendell Pierce’s class – a girl a lot like the sassy girl in the upcoming documentary The Whole Gritty City – Jazz Henry. The point is, sometimes watching Treme is as close as you can come to being here without getting here.
The episode declares 2 things “the next big thing.” The first is the Bywater neighborhood. It’s easy to sound like a fortune teller when you’re writing about the past but the growth of the Bywater has now spilled over into the resurgence of the St. Claude area. The city continues to evolve. The other “next big thing” is the rebranding of local childhood music phenom Trombone Shorty. He’d been great since picking up the trombone at 3 through his time playing in Lenny Kravitz’s horn section, but when he and his band Orleans Avenue started creating the songs that would become the Backatown CD, it was obvious a star was being born.
On the show, Steve Zahn’s “Davis” is handed the CD and told to play it LOUD. Screenwriter and UNO professor, Henry Griffin (playing “Henry”) finds “Davis” in his car jamming to Trombone Shorty’s Hurricane Season and also finds the music irresistible. Click HERE to see a video (INSANE trumpet solo starts around 1:50). The band has released 2 more CD’s since including the new and critically-acclaimed Say This to Say That but Hurricane Season was the first Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue song I ever heard as well and it remains one of my favorites. The show then treated us to a live performance of the song with Shorty recurring as himself.
I’m glad the first episode eased us back into what can often be a dark story of “The City That Care Forgot” long before the Storm ever came along. The great news is that, no matter what darkness Treme shines light on, we can watch this show in the bars where it’s filmed sitting next to the people who are in it listening to the music and eating the food featured in the show. The surreal and real come together throughout the city for 4 more Sunday nights. BUT, next week, we’ll all be watching it on DVR’s since the Saints are having a winning season and the game has been moved to Sunday night. We may all enjoy seeing ourselves reflected in Treme, but nothing beats being ourselves cheering on our Saints. Who Dat!?!