Like flotsam and jetsam we landed in shelters and on doorsteps in places that other people called home – flopping on couches or floors and gratefully accepting the kindness of both strangers and distant friends.
Many of us who were St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans area Katrina refugees, had evacuated from homes which were turned into mucky rubble. When we could return home after more than a month, we found that swampy waters had marinated the contents of our homes, wood floors had buckled, and moldy sheetrock had fallen down to piles of slimy debris covering all of our ruined possessions.
Outside, an eerie gray pallor lay heavy like a filthy blanket over everything, and a deep, dark, colorless stillness pervaded. Streetlights were out; stoplights didn’t work, and a mournful silence ruled. No dogs barking, no birdsong, not even the hum of electricity. Barely any sounds of life in St. Bernard. Worse, No Music – an essential ingredient of our diet in this part of the world. Sadness on top of devastation.
I couldn’t believe the music had really died. I liked to believe that as someone said, “Down deep in the mud and slime of things, something always, always sings.” I kept listening for it.
Eventually, soon after we found a tiny apartment in Uptown New Orleans, I heard on the grapevine rumors of music. The Voodoo Music Experience festival would be happening at the River. It was designed especially to thank all the volunteers who had come to help make some sense out of the devastation we all faced, but for me and many displaced locals who joined in that night, this was in itself what gave us most hope of climbing out of the chaos.
Music filled the night. We bumped into friends and other locals, recognizing them most by their inability to stand still while the city’s music played. We danced and broke out into a truly heartfelt second line. Instant celebration! From one stage came the hot, vibrant, rallying horns of Bonerama. Those horns reached into the deepest part of my soul and pulled out a rebirth of joy and a confirmation that when all else fails, if you have music in New Orleans you can survive.