Coming to Colorado, leaving with a little Louisiana
August 27, 2008
ASPEN ” Delegates at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver are doubtlessly being inundated with reminders of the delights of Colorado. But forgive the delegates if they leave the Centennial State with the sounds of Sportsman’s Paradise ” otherwise known as Louisiana ” in their ears.
On Sunday night, delegates were treated to a two-hour display of Louisiana music ” with an emphasis on New Orleans, of course ” at the Denver Convention Center. The party continued with a nighttime concert at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium, where Louisiana’s finest musicians played a benefit that drew senators and governors, and raised more than $1 million for the rehabilitation of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, which was struck three years ago this week.
“It was Jazzfest in the Fillmore,” said Emily Byram, the executive director of Friends of New Orleans. The group was founded by Aspen Institute President (and New Orleans native) Walter Isaacson and political consultant James Carville.
“To see three of the four original Meters, all these horns, everything. One of the organizers, from New Orleans, told me she thought it was the moment of a lifetime,” she said. “It was a celebration of the city, all the food and music.”
With a huge fleet of musicians already gathered, Friends of New Orleans, which presented the events in Denver, figured why not keep the parade rolling? So the party rolls into Aspen Wednesday, with a second-line parade through the downtown pedestrian malls starting at 12:30 p.m., and another benefit concert Wednesday, co-presented by the Tipitina’s Foundation, at Belly Up Aspen. The tour, known as the New Orleans Traveling Road Show, concludes with a gig on Friday at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts in Wyoming.
“We figured, why send them home?” said Byram of the 30-plus musicians who assembled in Denver to remind politicians that New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast area are still in dire need of attention. “Why not extend the tour and give the musicians a chance to play and a chance for people to see this group? It’s such an incredible group, and they don’t get to do this much.”
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The Belly Up is billing Wednesday night as a one-time-only show, and it does seem unlikely that such a gathering of Louisiana musicians will be found outside of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival ” or possibly anywhere. The main attraction is a reunion of George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste and Leo Nocentelli ” three quarters of the original Meters, the essential New Orleans funk group.
The trio will be joined by Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Herman, guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington and another keyboardist, Henry Butler. Also on the bill is the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars, a group that has been calling attention to the critical state of the Gulf Coast since before Katrina hit; the band, headed by bluesman Tab Benoit, features percussionist/singer Cyril Neville, singer-songwriter Anders Osborne, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians.
The show also features the New Orleans Brass Allstars, the Soul Rebels Brass Band, and local singer John Oates.
Byram says that New Orleans’ music community has been instrumental in spreading the word of what the city needs. Friends of New Orleans arranged for Benoit to go to Washington, D.C., in June, to meet with members of Congress and their staffs; the political talk was followed by a performance and a crawfish boil.
“It was a great way to reach people. Everyone wants to come out and see these musicians,” said Byram, a New Orleans native. “They let people know what is
While the Washington-based Friends of New Orleans clearly enjoys throwing a party, their main focus has been as an organizational tool, connecting small local groups with the national political apparatus.
“After the storm, all these local organizations were doing as much as FEMA and other large organizations,” Byram said. “But they didn’t have the funding, so we formed to try to help out. We’re showing that these are the groups that are doing the rebuilding, that they’re not waiting for a handout.
“Hearing them talk about what happened after the storm, and their plans to rebuild their neighborhoods ” it was hard not to be a part of that. There was so much activity. I knew I had to either move back to New Orleans or find an organization in D.C. that was helping with the situation in New Orleans.”