I've been a bit remiss in keeping you updated on the real time Katrina Refrigerator postings. The one for 9.21.2005 is here, 9.23.2005 as Rita was bearing down is here, and the post-Rita piece 9.25.2005 about who was still missing from Katrina is here. The email about the missing was in our minds on Saturday night.
David and I decided to get something to eat and try to track down some of the great players we knew and loved on Bourbon Street before the storm. There were some incredible musicians, who would more than likely die unknown to all but those of us who had heard them in some joint on Bourbon where they worked mostly for tips. Some of these guys had day jobs, some of them just churned it out every week, or in some cases four or five nights a week, and played transcendental blues, jazz or R&B that was often talked over by the tourists. The tourists in some cases had no appreciation, others had great appreciation and there was a small bunch of us locals who would regularly show up to see this or that guitar player or sax player, or to hear the voice of Jose Francois or Dr. Blues.
We decided we'd start our quest up toward Canal and make our way down the street. We got to the old Blues Club, a horrid dive before the storm, with overpriced drinks, chairs that were mostly broken, and its ambience was one of decaying 1950's chic and Pinesol--if you got there on the one day a week they scrubbed the floor. It was dark, and cavernous, but on any given night the sounds coming out could stop you in your tracks. We found it one night when we heard a female voice letting loose. Turned out to be this beautiful, round, ultra-female black woman named Lady Lois. She lived in the Bywater and had been singing around town for years. We would regularly go back to see her.
The Blues Club is now closed and has been since the storm. Heard that they might re-open next month. So we walked our bikes through the crowd, or what passes for one on Bourbon Saturday nights now. Our friend, Colin, used to manage Sing Sing. We would go there mostly to support him as he had been a buggy driver and quit, taking a big risk to manage the club. The music was okay, but not stellar, and it's a narrow exposed brick place with the stage right inside the door. We knew he'd moved his family to Miami after the storm, in fact, my husband's carriage had gotten stuck behind Colin's moving truck on Decatur, but we thought we'd see what was going on in there.
There stood Rooster. Rooster is an old bluesman who is part of our "buy local musician CD" collection and has been for a long time. He didn't look as jaunty and cocky as he had in years past, but he is now at Sing Sing with his band, and selling his CD's. We got there just as his set ended.
We look to the back of the club and there is Mark Domizio, one of the sharpest, deepest guitar players in town. We'd see him backing up Lady Lois, or sometimes others over the last couple years. He always stood out. Seeing a familiar face is a joy in this city at this time, and it was great to see his. I asked him about the Lady, he said she hadn't played anywhere since the storm. That's too bad. I'd love to hear her again.
But Mark Domizio IS playing, and his covers of Red House and Texas Flood will take your breath away. We stood there grinning and dancing and sweating and it was, we realized, one of the things we had missed most since the storm. We missed just walking into a club and getting blown away by the MUSIC.
It got so hot in there that I went across the street to get David a tshirt. It was Crawdaddy's, a tshirt shop that was a cut above the rest and at one time was a huge presence on Bourbon Street. It's in a tiny little storefront now. I spent some time talking with the clerk. She says the 85% drop in customers that has been written in articles here about the state of businesses is probably about right, that on a good day, they take in about 600 bucks. Think about that. There's barely anything, she said, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then small amounts the weekend days. That's not enough to pay the rent, utilities and paychecks, let alone stock the store. While most locals abhor the tshirt shops, and truth be told, we could certainly use fewer of them, we somehow thought that they, above all other businesses, would be holding their own. Just barely, it turns out.
The French Quarter businesses are struggling, all of them, even the tshirt shops. The musicians are still scattered all over the place, some of the best may never return and those who have are often playing to empty houses. Tipitina's Foundation is doing wonderful things, and there are other groups out there trying to help keep the musicians afloat, and for that we're grateful.
But there was a time that just a walk down Bourbon Street on your way to Frenchman or somewhere else in town, would provide you with sweet notes of every type of music coming from every other door, mixing with the smells of food cooking and drinks spilling, ignoring the chorus of shouts outside and the clink of beads on the sidewalk. It was a guaranteed smile for all but the most jaded.
We watched the tourists on Saturday night and they seemed to be having a great time. They had no idea what it was like there 18 months ago before yet another daiquiri bar, actually named Frat Boys, was part of the landscape.
A German tourist in my husband's carriage one night said, "So everything's okay here now, right?"
Um. . . . . .
We'll continue our quest for the musicians we miss over the next couple months. We are hoping to find some others. Meanwhile, we know we can hear some great blues at Sing Sing.
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