I wrote this 2 years ago and just found it…I like it.
While at most times I’m just another drunken lout, I seem to have accidentally become very thoughtful recently, seeing the big picture in every corner of the city and understanding my love and passion for it. I think it is because of the intensive New Orleans history course that I am taking right now, which has given me a stronger connection to our cities past (Cliffnotes: Incompetence, corruption, and vice seems to be embedded in the swampy ground we walk on, but in an endearing way, of course). Anyway, I seem to see the big picture everywhere I look, and Friday afternoon at French Quarter Fest was better than most.
I managed to actually get out of my house by 3 PM, so I had time to pick up a strawberry daiquiri from Genes before I saw the Treme Brass Band. I can’t get enough of Uncle Lionel. As I said to my friend, if I could be any other person for a day, there is only one I would choose, 75 year old Lionel Batiste. Immaculately dressed, hanky in pocket and gold on his fingers, he has the joy of life flowing through him. Women swoon, always, men gape in awe. After the Treme Brass band played, he stayed out and danced throughout the whole set of the next band, and of course, every girl had a chance to share a dance with New Orleans’ favorite uncle. The greatest moment was when a crowd of schoolchildren, very country, and very white, came over from their field trip to the Aquarium to listen to some Brass music. Those kids were just like everyone else in the city…they ignored the entire crowd and gravitated instantly to Lionel. Crowds of kids…they couldn’t help themselves. The man is electric and is so New Orleans that I always smile thinking about him either crooning or banging his big ole bass drum. (Here’s an old article on him, for anyone interested). Just a part of New Orleans that’s nice to think about when remembering why this city means so much to people.
So anyway, the day, and the pile of pabst cans at my feet, have me in a grand old mood as the Hot 8 Brass band comes out. The story of Dinneral Shavers encompasses everything about New Orleans, its beautiful and the flat out ugly that forces good people to contemplate leaving the city. The short story, a great guy and great musician killed because poor kids who don’t have anytjing don’t like the poor kids from other neigborhoods and projects. Their street is what they have, and like a jacked up West Side Story, it’s what they defend. Sad in so many ways, you can’t count. Dinneral was caught up in the crossfire of one of the skirmishes (The whole debacle here) and the thug who shot him, through horrid police work and a code of silence among the neighbors, was just acquitted. In a TV drama type twist, the main eyewitness when asked to point out the shooter, said “I don’t see anybody, I must need glasses” Wow, but who is to judge her. She may or may not regret her choice when she is older, but when I was 15 I was never asked to point out my neighbor at a murder trial, at the real risk of being shot myself by his friends. Her mother begged her not to testify, and nobody can put themselves in her shoes, but its done, thug acquitted, and the Hot 8 and the show today must go on.
Hot 8 couldn’t have done it better. They came out, they smoked, and without getting into the why’s or what’s of the matter they introduced Dinneral Shavers junior (D.J.) to the stage. Playing a drum, just like his dad did, the kid, maybe 10 years old, just kept the beat going, like his dad would have. 3 songs he stayed out there and played, and everyone in the crowd who knew what it meant was moved. Even better, everyone who didn’t know the story was moved too, it’s always a great New Orleans thing when a kid comes out to play with the bands. They always hold there own, and it says to the world that New Orleans music and culture aren’t going anywhere. Throw all you want to at us, we are passing it on and coming back for more, bitch.
I love this city. And knowing that in 10 years I’ll be marching down some street in a second line behind DJ. Can’t wait.