At one point, Mean Willie Green walks in and sidles up next to Osborne whispering in his ear while he's playing. When that song ends, Green moves behind the kit and powers the band through a rambling, funky jam that might be a little too loose but still has its moments. Still, few in the crowd seem to miss the importance of what they're seeing. This is the funky New Orleans they missed. It might not be polished, but it, too, is home.
Walter "Wolfman" Washington played perhaps the most infamous post-Katrina gig, performing at the Maple Leaf Bar with generators supplying the juice. The show went past the 8 p.m. curfew, and Maple Leaf owner Hank Staples is convinced the show would have continued past 9 p.m., when it was closed down, had the sax player not danced second line-style around an Ohio State Police car that was idling outside.
Washington has been omnipresent these days, despite commuting to gigs from Memphis. Many musicians are coming in from Baton Rouge and the Northshore. For Sol Fiya's Boone, who has been playing at the Bon Temps since it opened, his trip to work takes five minutes.
"My house is on Bayou St. John, so I'm staying in the Hampton Inn (on St. Charles Avenue) for a month," he says between sets. "It's all right. I can ride my bike here."
He's also fortunate in that all of his original band mates are back in town because the biggest obstacle that club owners face in trying to book live music is finding musicians. On d.b.a.'s first night of live music -- also with Washington -- managing partner Tom Thayer is talking to violinist Matt Rhody and clarinet player Christopher Kohl about booking the Hot Club of New Orleans. They're up for it, but they have to figure out what to do about guitarist David Mooney living in Brooklyn for the foreseeable future.
At Snug Harbor and the Maple Leaf, Jason Patterson and Hank Staples, respectively, are dealing with the same problem, putting bands together or asking musicians to assemble groups to play gigs. "We're just trying to get the doors open," Patterson says. Staples is trying to return things to normal as much as is possible, so his is one of the few venues currently trying to offer live music nightly. Still, the schedule has some notable changes, the most obvious being Tuesday nights featuring Kevin O'Day, Reggie Scanlan, Eric Traub and Andy Ambrose performing with a rotating series of guests. That's traditionally the Rebirth Brass Band's night, just as Thursday night has belonged to Johnny Vidacovich and George Porter, but none of those musicians are back, so Staples is doing what he can. "Fortunately, all of Papa Grows Funk (which performs on Mondays) are back now."
With a limited pool of musicians, club owners are scrambling to book weekend shows. Few have confirmed gigs for more than a week away, but they're keeping an eye on the holidays. Eric Orlando has booked Anders Osborne and John Gros at Carrollton Station for Thanksgiving, and even though Tipitina's is focused on transforming itself into a musicians' drop-in center for the near future, general manager Adam Shipley has booked Galactic for New Year's Eve. House of Blues is now finding out what staffers are in town or want to return, but it plans to reopen in time for an all-New Orleans New Year's Eve weekend with Dr. John on Dec. 29, then Better Than Ezra on Dec. 30-31.
Like Jason Patterson at Snug Harbor, Orlando at Carrollton Station has modest goals right now. "I'm letting people know we're ready to start booking," he says, and he's focusing on Saturday nights. Even with meager offerings initially, he's got a sense of what live music means to the city.
"That first weekend, people came up and hugged me and said, 'Thanks for being open,'" Orlando says.