Normally at this time of year, I do a full show dedicated to Hurricane Katrina, but after doing six such shows it seemed time to adjust. Instead, this week’s show offers one set of music featuring Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
It’s not that I don’t think Hurricane Katrina has lost its significance but with an earthquake in Haiti, frenzied evacuations in Afghanistan and a persistent plague across the globe combined with wildfires and other increasingly dangerous events, it seemed like a good year to tone it down.
And focus on the start of school instead with the help of Davis Rogan’s very funny “Mr. Rogan” about his life as a music teacher during the day and New Orleans musician at night. Larry Williams follows that up with “Little School Girl” and Shamarr Allen returns, this time with his son Jarrel Allen and friend Dinerall Shavers (son of the the late drummer for Hot 8 Brass Band) to do “Ima holla back” about doing your homework before playing on your Nintendo. Check out their video below.
Later sets include New Birth Brass Band, the Original Pinettes and grammy-winning New Orleans Nightcrawlers. I also play a vinyl track from Keith Richards debut solo album from 1988 featuring Ivan Neville, Michael Doucet and Buckwheat Zydeco accordionist Stanley Dural. Another vinyl track offers the hard to find recording of “Drink Jax Beer” by Ramsey McLean & the Survivors (with Charmaine Neville singing).
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Fifteen years ago, New Orleans was literally underwater. And while the city has bounced back, I’m not sure our country has learned very much from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. This week’s show is my seventh annual Katrina recognition kicked off by the Free Agents Brass Band sounding both joyous and angry upon its return to New Orleans after Katrina in “We Made It Through That Water.” Start it now and then read on.
First, the good news. Based on initial reports, evacuations in anticipation of the recent Hurricane Laura, while complicated by the pandemic, seems to have saved lives. It was a different story 15 years ago when despite a mandatory evacuation perhaps as many as 200,000 were left behind and roughly 1,000 died in Orleans Parish alone. Yes, some chose to stay behind. But many others had no transportation or financial means to leave. Public buses that could have been used to aid in evacuation were left idle.
The bad news? The continued erosion of the state’s wetlands and delta lands means even greater damage to populated areas. On this show, you’ll hear James Karst, spokesman for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, describe the threat coastal erosion poses but also of the good work his nonprofit is doing to correct it. On his suggestion, you’ll hear Bonerama’s jamming song “Mr. Go” — a reference to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet channel that contributed to the flooding of New Orleans and erosion of Louisiana wetlands. The channel is now closed.
In Northwest United States, the most immediate effect of climate change appears to be wildfires. In the Southeast, its the ferocity of hurricanes. It’s time we pay attention to what’s happening. It would be nice to have a national plan for controlling carbon emissions but at the very least, we should be aggressively working to mitigate some of the harsher impacts of climate change.
Today’s show includes some of my regular Katrina songs such as Shamarr Allen’s “Katrina and the Flood” and Trombone Shorty’s “Hurricane Season.” But I’ve added some different songs to the mix to make for a show featuring blues, rock, jazz and, of course, lots of brass.
By the way, here’s how you can access my other Katrina recognition shows:
This year’s recognition show of Hurricane Katrina floats downriver to the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana’s coastline. Get it started and read on.
This is my fifth show recognizing the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and this year I chose to address the existential issue of whether our country is prepared to hold on to a critical part of its ecosystem and culture – through music (of course).
Perhaps I was affected by reading recently Mike Tidwell’s book “Bayou Farewell” where he details his experiences hitching rides through the bayous of southern Louisiana, working on shrimp and crab boats along the way and basically embedding himself in the Cajun and Vietnamese communities — two refugee populations who have found a home in the delta of the fourth longest river in the world. I found his culturally sensitive approach to an environmental book appealing but also heart breaking.
Tidwell’s book was written and released a few years before Hurricane Katrina but the specter of what a large hurricane could do to the increasingly barren coast runs throughout the book basically serving as a predictor of the damage that was caused by Katrina’s storm surge. Tidwell is also the founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
One of the most telling stories from his book is when riding out to check crab traps with a local named Tim, he heard the story of how Tim, when he “was a kid” would land his boat by a tree on the bank of a canal dug out by Texaco. The now dead tree trunk stuck out of the water 50 feet from shore. The reference to being a kid stopped the author cold because it made the boat pilot “sound like an old man looking back on a long lifetime. In reality he’s seventeen, looking back maybe ten years. It’s happening that fast.”
Fast . . .At the cumulative rate of about 30 square miles a year. The good and sad part of this story is that unlike climate change, a solution to this problem doesn’t require worldwide buy in, but rather a commitment of resources to increase diversions of fresh water carrying much needed nutrients and sediment into the state’s coastal areas. For less than one-third of the annual cost of occupying Afghanistan, this problem could be largely licked.
The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana has done the research, developed the plan, and has been advocating and actually doing things to move the issue forward. But it needs our support. Similarly, the Voice of the Wetlands, a nonprofit volunteer-based organization with the same goal, has been attempting to raise awareness, particularly through its annual music festival in October.
In telling this story, I play the music of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit, Del Rey, Eric Lindell, Marcia Ball, Sonny Landreth, Helen Gillet, and many others. Thanks for tuning in and please consider subscribing. Cheers.
Thirteen years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the lives of over a thousand New Orleans residents, scattering survivors throughout the country. And yet, based on our abysmal response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, we’ve learned little. Get this year’s annual Katrina recognition dedicated to Puerto Rico started.
Shamarr Allen creates the intensity of a hurricane with the opening track of this show “Katrina and the Flood.” It’s become almost a tradition to play that song as well as Marva Wright’s heart-wrenching “The Levee is Breaking Down” which comes off her post-Katrina album, After the Levees Broke.
This year’s show features the KAOS premiere of “You and Me” a song written to dramatize the story of Tim Bruneau, a New Orleans police officer who was working when the levees broke. Bruneau found the body of 23-year-old Marie Latino after the hurricane had passed but before the city had started to flood. After several attempts to have the body picked up, he put her in the back seat of his car. But after failing to find a hospital to take the body, he was ordered to “undo” what he did. He placed Latino’s body in a body bag and returned it to where he found, where it floated on flood waters until it was picked up a few days later. The song is poignant and haunting. An autopsy later revealed that she had been shot instead of killed by the storm as originally believed.
Sonny Landreth song “Blue Tarp Blues” references President George Bush’s famous looking out from Air Force One and Marcia Ball sings Randy Newman’s ode to the 1927 Louisiana flood. I finish the show with Dee-1 and Shamarr Allen singing about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico titled “Sorry Ain’t Enough No More.”
The 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans has been marked by deadly flood waters around the planet–from Houston to Bangladesh. Today’s show, originally aired on KAOS and presented in edited form below, is dedicated to all flood victims. As weather intensifies in the future, we all run the risk of being weather victims.
This week’s show starts with wetland preservation advocate Tab Benoit, singing “Shelter Me.” Clarence “Gatemouth” “Brown follows with his seminal song “Hurricane.” Mr. Brown died of cancer on September 10, 2005 after having to evacuate his Katrina-damaged home in Slidell (near New Orleans) two weeks earlier. Marva Wright re-enacts the ground level experience in New Orleans during the flooding in “The Levee Is Breaking Down” and the Free Agents Brass Band perform their song of survival “We Made It Through the Water.” Here’s the complete playlist.
An upside to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood was the infusion of New Orleans culture throughout our country. With the city almost completely evacuated, its people, music, cooking, way of talk and style scattered across the U.S. like seeds from a dandelion blowball.
Texas received the largest number of evacuees. Austin, which like New Orleans is a regional music mecca, swelled from the addition of Cyril Neville, the Iguanas, the Radiators and other musicians — some who came to call themselves “Texiles” while playing music and waiting to return to their hometown. The resultant mix was described by Cyril Neville as having the “gumbo spill into the chili.”
Here’s more on how some of New Orleans finest musicians fared:
Fats Domino, the city’s greatest rocker, is a lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth
Ward. He stayed in his home through the hurricane and was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. But he lost all his gold records and memorabilia.
Irma Thomas – The Soul Queen of New Orleans weathered the storm and the aftermath in Austin Texas. She rebuilt her East New Orleans home and she won a grammy for her post Katrina recorded album.
Dave Bartholomew – The home and studio of the man behind many of New Orleans R&B hits of the 1950’s suffered considerable flood damage but he and his family (His son Don B. is a successful hip-hop producer) have bounced back with now three generations of Bartholomew’s making music.
The Radiators – Once described as New Orleans’ longest running and most successful rock band are no longer an act officially–though you can occasionally catch them on special events and Jazzfest. Hurricane Katrina landed on guitarist Dave Malone’s birthday. He and his wife struggled to rebuild their home and ended up living outside of New Orleans.
Al Johnson – The man who made it possible to be “Carnival Time” any time of the year, lost his long-time house on Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward He now lives in the Musicians Village where he penned Lower Ninth Ward Blues
The Iguanas – The members of this latin-tinged roots rock band were on tour at the
time and separated to find evacuated family members. They regathered in Austin and became part of the flexible ensemble of New Orleans musicians known as Texiles. The band has had three CD releases since Katrina.
The Hot 8 Brass Band – This innovative group could be called the Adversity Brass Band. Before Katrina, three of its band members had died — two from shootings. After Katrina, a fourth member was shot to death while driving in his car with his family. Another member lost the use of his legs in an accident. The band scattered across the country after Katrina and could easily have disbanded permanently. But it regrouped, recorded a grammy-nominated album and still perform today.
Dr. Michael G. White – The University professor and clarinetist lost his home in Gentilly, including many valuable jazz documents. But he’s back in town and working as hard as ever.
Henry Butler – Fortunately the talented piano virtuoso was convinced to evacuate his Gentilly home, which was devastated by flood waters. Blind since birth, he can’t tell you what the damage looked like but he can describe the feel of his piano keys as they fell apart in his hands. Last year, he and Steve Bernstein released “Viper Drag” to rave reviews and he regularly performs.
Kermit Ruffins – “What good is a million dollars if you’re not in New Orleans.” The widely recognized ambassador to New Orleans evacuated to Houston with a large extended family and pets. He returned to New Orleans after the storm and continued his routine up until last year. Ironically, his wife got a job in Houston and he now splits his time between New Orleans and Houston.
Donald Harrison Jr.- This lifelong New Orleans resident, Big Chief and heralded jazz saxophonist has a fear of hurricanes borne from his youthful experience escaping from Hurricane Betsy’s flood. But he stuck it out in the city cause his mother-in-law wouldn’t leave. They slept on the ballroom floor of the Hyatt Regency during the storm and aftermath, escaping to Baton Route four days later.
Shamar Allen – This young trumpet player’s home was right next to a levee that broke. He now owns a home in the Musician’s Village. He contributed some key songs to the musical Nine Lives that focuses on New Orleanians who survived Hurricane Betsy and Katrina.
John Boutte was in Brazil at the time and watched almost helplessly the hurricane reports from afar. Fortunately, he finally convinced one of his sisters and mother to evacuate but his other two sisters were stranded on an interstate highway bridge for five days.
Terence Blanchard – Much of this jazz trumpeter’s story was told in the Spike Lee movie “When the Levees Broke.” In the documentary, you can see him and his mother enter her flood-wrecked near Lake Ponchatrain. Blanchard wrote the score for the documentary and won a grammy for subsequent album he released.
Last week and this week, I’m honoring the survivors of Hurricane Katrina who dealt with intense horror, long hot days, and many months and in some cases years of uncertainty about their future. And yet, they returned to New Orleans, their home and rebuilt.
The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina affords us the opportunity to remember and reflect on how devastating nature can be when compounded by human failure.
As often happens, the poor, elderly and vulnerable populations suffered disproportionately because of their inability to get out of harms way and the paucity of their personal resources to recover afterwards.
Sadly, that seems to be a worldwide characteristic. But what Katrina revealed was that a country that could deliver troops anywhere in the world within two days could not come to the rescue of one of its most culturally rich cities and its residents. And the residents that suffered the most were poor.
I love my country and as a 30-year state employee, I believe in the positive power of government. But local, state and federal governments failed in Hurricane Katrina, from insufficient evacuation efforts, to the negligence in building and maintaining the levee system, to the limp rescue and recovery efforts and insufficient relief and restoration programs that followed.
Like most folks who witnessed from afar, I was alarmed and shamed by the failure to evacuate the city’s low-income, elderly and vulnerable population. Roughly 100,000 people were left behind, stranded in a flooded city, fleeing like rats to the Superdome, Convention Center, bridges and rooftops, stuck there for days in insufferable heat with little food and water. Roughly 1,800 residents died.
I had planned to visit my sister that fall. She had moved back to New Orleans from the Northwest the year before. I already had my plane ticket when on that Sunday morning in late August I watched Mayor Ray Nagin on national television urge the city’s evacuation with the words: “We’re facing the storm most of us have feared.”
I was out of town, watching the TV at a hotel. When I got home later that day, a phone message from my sister said she was going to hunker down and stay in the city. I wouldn’t hear her voice again for over a month.
Her message had been left on Saturday night. Nagin’s announcement was made Sunday morning. The hurricane made landfall near New Orleans on Monday morning, August 29, and by Tuesday 80 percent of the city was underwater.
My sister did eventually evacuate. Unlike many of the residents who were left behind, Katie had a car and the financial means to buy gas and survive the many months of uncertainty that followed. She was lucky yet she suffered so much personal anguish and loss that I doubt she will ever live again near the hurricane zone.
I rebooked my flight for Jazz Fest that April which did occur and reignited my love for New Orleans culture. My sister gave me the devastation tour of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth ward, both areas completely submerged by what is now recognized as one of the worst civil engineering failures in U.S. history.
There are a great many things the city and its residents can take pride in achieving over the decade. The city took a death blow and got up off the mat and survived–perhaps even thrived. New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit and live in. But it has changed.
Maybe some of the changes are good, maybe not. But Katrina, like the 1927 flood and Hurricane Betsy, has left its mark.
I’m dedicating my next two radio shows to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
In my next post, I’ll tell brief stories of how some of the New Orleans musicians I play on my show weathered the storm.