Looking at the images that came out of New Orleans in the weeks and months following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, combined with reading about government policy of deliberate neglect when it came to rebuilding the city, I have to admit to feeling pessimistic about its chances for recovery. What was especially worrisome was reading about the losses suffered by the city's musical community. Not only were many of the bars they relied on for their livings destroyed, but their homes and musical instruments were washed away as well. Further compounding the loss was the destruction of local recording studios and their precious stores of master tapes representing the musical legacy of so many gifted talents.
Concentrated efforts by musicians and organizations dedicated to the welfare of musicians to raise funds for everything from replacing lost sound systems for clubs whose insurance didn't cover so-called "acts of God" to helping struggling musicians pay the rent and put food on their tables was a sign that some recognized how important New Orleans is to the musical soul of America. Yet, would these band-aids be enough? Could the people come back from both the destruction of their homes and the antipathy their government was displaying towards them? Hearing elected officials call the destruction of your home "an opportunity" to revitalize an area is bad enough. But then to watch as they proceeded to tear down public housing that wasn't even damaged by the hurricane in order to make way for expensive convention centres and condominiums would be enough to destroy anyone's spirit.
However, two conversations I had with musicians who had both lived in New Orleans during their careers went a long way to reassuring me that no matter how bleak things might look, the people and the music would be back. Grayson Capps came home from being on tour to find his home gone after Katrina and was forced to relocate after living there since his University days, while the late Willy DeVille had lived and recorded in New Orleans for most of the 1990s. When I talked to both of them about the city's chances for recovery, while naturally saddened by what had happened, they were both positive the spirit of the city could weather even this. In his song "And The Band Played On", on his final album Pistola, DeVille calls out as the music fades, "New Orleans will rise again". So firm was he in his belief in the city's resilience.