10 p.m. Fri., Jan. 11
Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon Ave., 895-TIPS; www.tipitinas.com At this point, we're all familiar with " and possibly beneficiaries of " the activist vacationers. In an inspiring trend, these students, youth groups, church groups and others spend a week or two shopping on Magazine Street and boozing in the Quarter, but also, and mainly, gutting blighted homes, building in devastated neighborhoods and otherwise performing quick-strike post-Katrina recovery aid. This week brings us a visit from a service-minded group of people who are a little bit different than the norm. The Future of Music Coalition is a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose online manifesto states that its work is in identifying, researching and advocating for musicians on issues of public policy and intellectual property law in situations where new technologies and music intersect. Under the leadership of founding executive director Jenny Toomey (who recently left the group for a post at the Ford Foundation), the FMC also took a solid interest in the rebuilding of New Orleans' depleted musical resources. In November 2006 and May 2007, the group gathered mixed bags of national artists (which included the Indigo Girls, members of OK Go, My Morning Jacket, Steve Earle and Tom Morello) to visit New Orleans on a multifold mission. Two Musicians Bringing Musicians Home events at Tipitina's raised cash for local resource providers including the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and the Renew Our Music fund. The visiting artists also spent time learning about the city and the impact of the disaster on the music community. Instead of parking the van for the night, they spent days touring New Orleans neighborhoods and participating in workshops that, among other things, discussed the FMC's focal issues contextualized in post-Katrina New Orleans.
On Thursday, the FMC is returning for a pair of shows that will benefit Sweet Home New Orleans, the newest of New Orleans' resources for artists in need. Established at the tail end of 2006, Sweet Home " whose goal is to assist musicians with housing issues " has been actively processing cases since June, and in six months, has helped about 250 members of the community return to and stay in New Orleans, distributing $200,000 in aid to about 130 of them.
After a year of working as executive director of the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund (now Renew Our Music), Jordan Hirsch notes that 'the two biggest unmet needs were housing and case management." The most pressing problem was for artists to find somewhere in town to stay while re-establishing a regular schedule of gigs. The second was to somehow handle the myriad of medical, legal and financial issues that the aftermath of the storm had thrown at them. To that end, Sweet Home is an umbrella network of resource providers. The group works together to identify and meet the artists' needs more efficiently than they could as stand-alone organizations. Sweet Home employs five full-time caseworkers and, Hirsch says, will have nine working next week. To enter their system, a musician fills out an imposing stack of paperwork which goes into a database that's accessible by all the partner organizations, and each case is followed by a single social worker. Sweet Home deals with housing directly, and refers other problems to partners dedicated to the appropriate fields.
'If someone comes to us because their car broke down, we can reach out to an agency in Nashville to help with that," Hirsch explains. 'If they need help paying the funeral expenses for a family member, we can call folks in New York to help with that."
The shows this week to benefit Sweet Home bring another impressive, if idiosyncratically matched cast of performers to New Orleans. Bonerama shares the stage with OK Go at Tipitina's on Friday. On Saturday at the House of Blues, the bill includes Jon Langford (pictured) and Sally Timms of the venerable alt-country collective the Mekons, plus members of My Morning Jacket, the Wrens, the Mendoza Line, Freakwater, Bonerama and Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches.
Two years after Katrina, Hirsch sees the storm's impact on New Orleans' musical community as still in an urgent-care phase. As time goes on, he expects the organization to grow in ways that speak to long-term support and development for artists and tradition bearers.
'There's long been a need for a safety net for musicians in this community," he says. 'And unfortunately, we expect there to be a lot of [post-Katrina] needs for a long time."