Katrina’s Aftermath

The nation and the music industry continued to reel from the effects of Hurricane Katrina a week after the Category 4 storm slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast. But even as 60 percent of New Orleans remained under toxic flood waters and rescue efforts were in full swing, there were signs of recovery and cautious optimism for the future.

Charitable and other relief efforts mounted by those in the entertainment industry are too numerous to count and include more than benefit concerts and telethons from superstars to bar bands. Artists including Prince and Michael Jackson have penned fund-raising singles for airplay on radio stations that are likewise banding together in a $100 million drive.

An abundance of artists took to television, performing for telethons or in benefit concerts. Notables in the immediate aftermath were Kanye West and Celine Dion.

West sparked controversy for his 90-second spot on “A Concert For Hurricane Relief,” a quickly assembled live telethon aired by NBC September 2nd. He went off-script to blast George W. Bush for what was widely perceived as a sluggish federal response to the catastrophe in New Orleans.

With co-presenter Mike Myers looking on in apparent confusion, West angrily chastised the media and ended by saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” before cameras cut away. The comments were edited out of the West Coast feed.

The remarks didn’t seem to hurt West’s efforts to support the cause. He was signed the following week to appear on another telethon and the National Football League and ABC issued a statement of confidence for his scheduled appearance on an NFL season-opening pregame show from Los Angeles.

Dion, who combined with AEG Live / Concerts West for a $1 million contribution to hurricane relief, made an emotional appearance September 4th on a special edition of “Larry King Live.” The French-Canadian diva upbraided King for repeatedly mentioning her donation.

“There’s people still there waiting to be rescued. To me that is not acceptable,” she yelled. “I know they have reasons for it. But I don’t want to hear those reasons. … How can it be so easy to send planes in another country to kill everybody in a second and destroy lives. We need to serve our country.”

Back in New Orleans, the Voodoo Music Experience, scheduled for City Park over Halloween weekend, announced that the show must go on despite having no home venue to play in.

Instead, organizers were seeking an alternate venue and locking in a revised lineup for the massive festival, with proceeds earmarked for Katrina relief efforts.

“We want to be a part of the rebuilding process of New Orleans and we are dedicated to preserving the unique musical identity of our great city,” said Stephen Rehage, founder and producer of the Voodoo Music Experience.

“I am in awe of the generosity and kindness of so many people and cities who are reaching out to provide us a home for this year’s festival, the artists who are offering to perform and our fans and sponsors who are providing their continued support and patience during this difficult time.

“We look forward to harnessing this energy into something truly great for this community that so many of us, our friends and family call home.”

Many of New Orleans’ famed musicians are still without homes. Organizations like the New Orleans Jazz Foundation have launched massive efforts to locate and house musicians and others in the industry missing and displaced by the storm.

A coalition of groups in New Orleans and Houston have created NoahLeans.org, a clearing house for information, contributions and contact information for artists desperately needing paying gigs.

Another such Web site is WWOZ.org, the online home of 90.1 FM, New Orleans’ “Jazz and Heritage Station,” which also provides an extensive list of services for musicians and others, including a list of those who have been located since Katrina hit the city and information about musician housing.

Artists were not the only ones displaced by Katrina or the subsequent flooding of New Orleans. Longtime concert promoter Don Fox of Beaver Productions told Pollstar that his worst fears for his home office in the city were realized in the days after levees broke and flooded the Big Easy. One levee breach occurred two blocks from his office.

“The office is gone, under 15 feet of water,” Fox told Pollstar. “The levee was high enough; it just broke.”

Beaver Productions has operated in New Orleans for 36 years, Fox emphasized, and while he will continue to work out of the company’s branch in Memphis, he has every intention of rebuilding.

“This didn’t just happen to me, it happened to over a million people,” Fox said. “It’s shocking that this can happen today where we’re just wiped out. Not just my business, but everybody’s business.

“I just lost a market. So I have to bring things to Baton Rouge and eventually, after a year or so, we’ll start bringing shows back to New Orleans, which I hope people will come back to,” Fox continued.

“Beaver’s been there for 36 years, and it’s going to take more than a little water to prevent us from coming back and doing more concerts.”

— Deborah Speer