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New Orleans’ spirit strong

Stewart Oksenhorn
Mardi Gras revelers crowd the Snowmass mall on Fat Tuesday last year. Expect more of the same today. (Aspen Times file)
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In good times, New Orleans looks to its musicians to lead the way. And now that the city has suffered the worst of times, New Orleans’ musicians are feeling the need to take a prominent position in the city’s recovery.It’s an odd dynamic. New York is the capital of the country’s theater world, but few looked to Broadway to point the way out of the mess of 9/11.”Probably not in America,” said Stanton Moore, a New Orleans area native, of whether there is a similar relationship between a city and its music-makers. “In New Orleans, there’s a strong musical community and culture and heritage. There’s a lot of passion behind the culture. The music’s unique, the feel, but there’s also the passion of the people that supports that.”Locally, Snowmass Village has built its own tradition, of being the spot in the upper valley to celebrate Mardi Gras. For 24 years, the Snowmass mall has become a reasonable facsimile of Bourbon Street, with parades, beads, crawdads and, of course, music. But the 33-year-old Moore, drummer for the New Orleans-based, New Orleans-inspired jazz-funk band Galactic, wouldn’t be anywhere today but southern Louisiana for this oddest of Fat Tuesday celebrations. The town needs him and his music.Galactic is, in fact, taking the day off. But in New Orleans, Mardi Gras isn’t limited to the one Tuesday 40 days before Easter Sunday; it’s a weeks-long celebration. Galactic did its part in the run-up to Fat Tuesday, playing at Tipitina’s, New Orleans’ premier music club, Saturday and last night.

Just because Galactic has a night off doesn’t mean Moore will lay down his drumsticks. Moore, who grew up in the New Orleans suburb of Metarie, has long been in the habit of playing gigs outside of Galactic. Next Monday, for example, he’ll led his own band in a hometown gig at Le Bon Temps Roulet. Since Hurricane Katrina hit six months ago, he’s felt a greater desire to play, putting together gigs with fellow New Orleans players like guitarist Anders Osborne and Rich Vogel, Galactic’s keyboardist.”For me, I’m playing as much as I can, and loaning equipment, helping out,” said Moore, backstage at the Belly Up, where Galactic had a two-night stand earlier this month. “I think it’s important that people don’t hole up in their houses. It’s important to get out and play gigs.”Some pretty well-known musicians are relocating and claiming they never want to go back to New Orleans. They’re feeling they want to cut ties with New Orleans. Other guys are feeling it’s our duty and responsibility to be there.”Moore expected a hearty turnout for today’s festivities in New Orleans. He stressed that things are far from whatever passes for normal there, but people have been gearing up for a celebration.”There was a second line, almost a month ago, that was really strong,” he said, referring to the brand of street parade born in New Orleans. “All the Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs got together, and my girlfriend said it was overwhelming how many people were there. People are dealing by drinking and going out a lot. I don’t know if that’s healthy.”A host of New Orleans musicians have made their contributions by appearing on benefit CDs. The best of these is “Our New Orleans 2005,” a collection of new recordings of old songs by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and others. Highlights include Buckwheat Zydeco ditching his usual uptempo zydeco style for a somber take on “Cryin’ in the Streets,” and Randy Newman and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra teaming up on Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” a stirring memory of an earlier flood.”Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert,” is a recording of the Sept. 17 concert at New York’s Rose Hall that featured New Orleans players Wynton Marsalis and Aaron and Art Neville, and out-of-towners James Taylor and Norah Jones. Dr. John and the lower 911 released “Sippiana Hericane,” centered around “Wade: Hurricane Suite.” Two more upcoming CDs should capture the New Orleans spirit: Due March 14 is Dr. John’s “Right Place, Right Time,” a new release of a concert from Mardi Gras, 1989, at Tipitina’s. Coming in early April is “Sing Me Back Home,” a CD by the New Orleans Social Club, a collective including Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli of the Meters. Guests include Cyril Neville, the subdudes and Chief Monk Boudreaux.Snowmass’ party opens with an event they’d never dream of in New Orleans: the Mother of All Ascensions, an uphill snowshoe race. Mardi Gras also includes a 4 p.m. parade with beads, King Cake, music and more. Snowmass restaurants will feature Louisiana foods, and the Cirque has local band Take the Wheel.There are also chances for Snowmass revelers to contribute to the Katrina relief effort. Jagermeister will raffle off a Jagermeister snowboard, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross. A Jagermeister Party at the Blue Door will donate the $5 door charge to the Red Cross.Moore has been active with Tipitina’s Foundation (tipitinasfoundation.com), which provides instruments to New Orleans musicians in need. But for him, it will be enough for people to remember New Orleans as they drink and party today.New Orleans, he said, “is responsible for so much culture in the States, in the world, and it’s taken for granted,” he said. “If there was no New Orleans, there would be no jazz. There might be blues, but it wouldn’t be the same. Funk, R&B – that stuff’s global now, but it all came from New Orleans.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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