spike The Big Uneasy

Hurricane Katrina moved through New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast towns of Biloxi and Gulfport the morning of August 29th but, at least in the Big Easy, the worst seemed to be taking shape a full day later.

Two levees holding back the waters of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain failed, bringing more water gushing into an already waterlogged city and pushing rising flood waters into the French Quarter, home of clubs and concert venues that were previously thought to be safe from the hurricane’s effects.

The SMG-managed Louisiana Superdome stadium in downtown New Orleans served as a shelter of last resort for thousands of residents unable or unwilling to evacuate. That was changing at press time August 30th, however, as Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco ordered a total evacuation of the city, including its shelters and hospitals.

Conditions inside the Superdome had already become miserable, with no power, clean water or air conditioning to circulate the hot, stagnant air. The bathrooms were filthy and barrels overflowed with trash.

National Guardsmen agreed to let some 10,000 bring their bedding out onto concourses and walkways the night of August 29th, but conditions continued to deteriorate.

At least two people died in the Superdome, SMG regional VP Doug Thornton confirmed. One reportedly died after falling from a raised walkway.

As the stadium was being evacuated, the 13,800-seat CAJUNDOME in Lafayette, La., was being pressed into service as a Red Cross shelter for evacuees from New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama, Pam DeVille, the venue’s assistant director of booking told Pollstar by e-mail.

Back in the French Quarter, House of Blues New Orleans was reportedly on dry ground in the hours after Katrina blew through but with the breeched levees and looters descending on the Quarter, it’s far from out of the woods. An HoB spokesman told Pollstar that “everyone in New Orleans is OK.”

However, HoB VP Kevin Morrow said he had no information on the condition of the club immediately after the two levees failed.

“We’re still waiting for news,” Morrow told Pollstar. “I haven’t heard anything in the last four or five hours. Before the levees were breeched, we were OK. And now, if you watch the news, you see the Quarter starting to fill up with water. Since there’s no phones, we don’t know.

“I’m thinking about 300 employees who are out of work for who knows how long. A lot of them are just getting by hand to mouth. So we’re dealing with a lot of stuff,” Morrow said.

Promoter Don Fox of Beaver Productions just missed Katrina when he couldn’t catch a flight back into New Orleans from Chicago when the reorganized storm suddenly blew up into Category 5 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico August 27th.

He is working out of Beaver Productions’ offices in Memphis, and reports that his entire staff evacuated the city safely. But he fears the worst for his New Orleans office, near Lake Pontchartrain.

“New Orleans is in big trouble,” Fox told Pollstar. “I’m up here in Memphis now and I don’t know for sure, but I think my office is gone. Yesterday, I heard from different people it was dry, and so was the French Quarter but now the Quarter even has two or three feet of water.

“It’s going to take six months to get New Orleans back to something like reality. They have no idea what they’re into there. I’ve been in New Orleans a long, long time. But 80 percent of the city’s underwater,” he said.

“All my staff got out and they’re scattered around the country. What we’re hearing is that they’re not going to let people back into the city. We don’t even know if, once they let people back in, when there will even be power. So there’s no rush to get back to the city to even see what we’ve got, if anything at all. So it’s really a nightmare.”

Beaver Productions will remain up and running regardless, with offices in Memphis and Houston.

“We’re going to leave it to Beaver to keep doing concerts until we’re able to get back into the city,” Fox said.

— Deborah Speer