Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Big Easy Music Awards

In many ways the New Orleans recovery scene looks bleak. The progress being made in the Ninth Ward can be measured not by blocks, but by the erection of single houses. Lakeview looks a lot better today, but imagine that one or two houses stand on a single block, while the rest is empty space, sandlots and grass growing where beautiful houses and mansions once stood. The bulldozers and wrecking cranes have had their final say on a conservative 60% of the housing there. While FEMA trailers are for the most part gone from the scene, the homes that were so severely damaged that their tenants have permanently relocated cry out for lack of attention and upkeep in areas like Broadmoor and Mid City. But if the physical progress can be measured at a crawl, the mental return from survival mode to exuberant cheerleaders can best be seen in the arts scene. Last night while President Bush dined at Commander's Palace, the New Orleans arts community feasted on two major events. At Le Chat Noir a packed house enjoyed the Storer Boone Awards that are nominated, voted on and passed out annually by the theatre community. I was not in attendance there as I headed over to Harrah's Theatre for the 20th annual Big Easy Music Awards. The music community honored its own last night with a celebration involving live performances and mixed media. In the end 29 awards were passed out to a widely divergent set of musicians, singers, and promoters of various things having to do with musical New Orleans. Top award recipients included Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, who received the 2008 Music Heritage Award. Johnson still spends much of his time away from the city living in Houston, the city to which he evacuated just prior to Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. WWOZ passed out several honors to volunteers who had helped their radio station survive the terrible times following Hurricane Katrina. Station manager David Freedman was on hand to reveal that Rolling Stone Magazine had tabbed the quirky radio station with worldwide web listernership in addition to local devotees as the Number Two Radio Station in the country. (Only subscribers and you know about this information because the magazine has yet to hit newsstands.) Jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. received the 2008 Big Easy Ambassador of Music Award, while his former partner, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, got the nod as the 2008 Entertainer of the Year, largely based on his Grammy Award winning "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina). Rhythm and blues pianist Eddie Bo received the 2008 Lifetime Achievement in Music Award from local legend Allen Toussaint and Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu. The droll Harry Shearer served as master of ceremonies and much of his banter reflected on his dissatisfaction with the Bush administration's response to the Hurricane Katrina relief on a local level. Newcomer Troy Andrews and veteran performer Irma Thomas received top male and female performer honors for 2007. But it was the live performances that captured the indomitable spirit of New Orleans and Louisiana. For me one of the best was the Big Easy Awards Funky All Star Band directed by Donald Harrison, Jr. and featuring Shamarr Allen, Troy Andrews, "Big" Sam Williams, Matt Perrine, Stanton Moore and Jon Cleary (who won the Best Rhythm and Blues Artist for 2007 as well) that really made me feel that I had arrived back home. There's simply no other way to describe the feeling I had as they churned out "Hey Pocky Way," a Mardi Gras Indian funk classic first popularized by the Meters. The evening ended with Lafayette native hip hopper Cupid singing his popular "Cupid Shuffle" and the entire hall standing up and moving to the directions from the singer ("to the right, to the right, to the right, to the right; to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left; now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick; now walk it by yourself, walk it by yourself.") It was a great night for New Orleans music and an even better night for the city to once again feel proud of all that it has achieved since the storm. My hats off to Awards organizer Gloria Powers and Margo and Clancy Dubos of Gambit Magazine who have sponsored this incredible local awards ceremony for the past two decades!
The last time there was this much media attention in Pennsylvania, it was Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil was looking for his shadow. Whether the Clinton campaign continues or grinds to a halt, only the voters of Pennsylvania can tell. For you Clinton supporters who are not voting in Pennsylvania's primary today, perhaps you will consider voting in our poll at right.

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