Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Atlantis Tells Story How Music and Musicians Are Helping rebuild New Orleans

New Atlantis: Musicians Battle For The Survival of New Orleans
John Swenson
Oxford University Press

Music journalist and scholar John Swenson has authored an important new book about the efforts of New Orleans musicians to help rebuild and restore their city after the "federal flood" that occurred after the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina. After an opening chapter dealing with the Voice of the Wetlands project that Tab Benoit had initiated prior to the Hurricane, and a chapter on the Mardi Gras Indians, Swenson interweaves the rebuilding of the city and music scene and the return of some of the musicians who returned over time.

It isn't an easy recovery. For some who came back, there were others who never would, or would pass away not long after returning. And the early returnees came to a city occupied by the National Guard and terrible street violence with musicians and tourists not being safe from gang related violence. But there are James and Troy (Trombone Shorty) Andrews returning to New Orleans 17 days after Katrina to play at Jackson Square at ceremonies associated with the President's speech and having to deal with what they saw.

Musicians slowly came back and started playing but as Swenson observes they did more than simply make music. Craig Klein of Bonerama started the Arabi Wrecking Crew to help gut ruined houses and then partnered with a group building a musicians community. And then there is music such as that by harmonica player Andy Forest with a recording "Real Story," while Coco Robichaux started playing at Molly's when the lights went back on there, and a group including Walter 'Wolfman' Washington played a concert at the Maple Leaf that the National Guard closed down at 8:00PM after curfew, and James Andrews playing a concert at the Ogden Museum, resuming its concert series that Katrina had interrupted.

Taking us through Halloween and Mardi Gras, Swenson introduces us to a variety of individuals (some famous nationally and others local) such as DJ Davis, the real person who served as the basis for the character on the HBO show "Tremé," Paul Sanchez, Papa John Gros, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Dr. John, Dr. Michael White (the great clarinetist who lost countless and irreplaceable musical artifacts in the federal flood), Theresa Anderson, John Boutté, Evan Christopher, Susan Cowsill, Glen David Andrews, the Radiators and others.

There was a protest against the street violence that the musicians were a major force behind as well as important efforts to revive neighborhoods and communities. He discusses a variety of recordings as well as performances and the unique relationship between the musicians and their fans from not just the city but around the world. Swenson's draws the reader into the rich tapestry of people and events that he so compellingly tells us about. It is a superb and import book of a story that still is unfinished and is recommended to anybody who loves New Orleans and its music.

I received an advance review copy from Amazon.com's Vine program, but had purchased this for my kindle.

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