Saturday, Feb. 7

TV was booked.  Like in Boston, stations have a skeleton crew on the weekends, with usually one camera and a priority for breaking news, or in the case of New Orleans that day, the annual Krewe du Vieux parade in the French Quarter.  This is the first in New Orleans’ parade season, so you can’t blame them.

I went to NOCCA to see the space and take a photo of Jemila since I didn’t get one the day before.  NOCCA is a modern, educational complex among a few brick warehouse buildings along the river.  I heard the National Guard used it as a base after Katerina.  Though it didn’t flood, the inside oozed with mold in the following months. 
I had a conversation with a group of parents waiting while their kids auditioned.  They had questions about Berklee, especially about job opportunities after graduation.  One of the parents asked if the City Music Network could come to NOCCA since, in her opinion, the students there were so talented and Berklee could lead them to their maximum potential. Ben, Linton, and Jemila all auditioned and interviewed.  All around the Berklee activity were other students who were involved in weekend dance and acting classes.

After making a lunch run for the Berklee staff, I headed to the Lower 9th Ward.  I had to experience it for myself after reading and watching so much about it.  Like many, I was heartbroken that a city with so much culture that had affected my life took a beating so forceful that it may never recover.  I also wanted to see the Musicians’ Village where Berklee staffers had pitched-in during 2007 and 08.  Couldn’t find an address for the Village, so I made my destination a homemade art gallery I had read about in the New York Times, the L9 Center for the Arts. 

I felt tense, sickened, angry, unsafe, and mesmerized as I drove down the deserted streets on the other side of the bridge from where most tourists visit.  The debris may be cleared, but damaged, abandoned homes remain, but, to my eyes, not too many people.  Lots of large buildings are still shuttered and unaproachable, like a concrete senior center and a KFC.  If KFC isn’t reopening, you know something is wrong. 
When I got to L9, owners Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, artists both, and their son, welcomed me inside.  Part of the display depicted a bygone juke joint scene in the Lower 9th.  Others photos were more recent, the subject still music, and I recognized Nichols Payton in one.  The family had their truck packed for a trip to Texas.  They were interested in what I told them about Berklee, and were grateful for the hand reaching out to the students at Tipitina’s.  They would like for the students to play at their gallery and make an event for the people who live there and for those who should visit.  An old shotgun shack houses L9, with their living quarters in the back.  “Don’t’ worry about taking pictures around here,” the old man said when I expressed that I was feeling exploitive and invasive around there.  “Millions of pictures have already been taken of us.  Can’t imagine what else you could see.”

In June, a third posse of Berklee staff and faculty will head to New Orleans to continue rebuilding in the Musicians’ Village.  I hope they’ll visit L9.  They’ve got new visions in the 9th Ward.