Tipitina’s, NOLA Reborn

Amid the death and destruction in New Orleans are scenes of hope and rebirth. For Tipitina’s Uptown, that could be taken literally.

During the flood in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one of Tipitina’s doormen delivered a baby on the venue’s Walk of Fame, according to promoter Stacy Fortenberry. He’d found the pregnant woman wading in waist-deep water several blocks away, loaded her into a small boat and took her and several other survivors to Tipitina’s, which escaped flooding and had food on hand.

“He had to cut her umbilical cord with a string from a Crown Royal bag!” Fortenberry told Pollstar, laughing.

While the situation was, and remains, extremely serious, New Orleanians see signs of the city’s spirit and are beginning to make plans to raise it back up from the wreckage.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was making plans to reopen the French Quarter at press time, amid numerous reports that some businesses and banks had power and were beginning to reopen.

Tipitina’s escaped Katrina unscathed, according to Fortenberry, but even when power and running water are restored, the legendary club will serve another purpose for some time to come: It’s being converted into a musicians’ community center until further notice, in conjunction with Tipitina’s Foundation and with the help of a series of nationwide benefit concerts.

Four are already scheduled in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Baton Rouge, La., with more on the way.

“We’re going to re-open it as a sort of community center with intake and outreach to help musicians find housing, gigs, instruments, you name it,” Fortenberry explained from her temporary digs in Baton Rouge.

Much of the funding will come from a series of concerts hosted by friends of the club, including venues as well as artists. In addition, the club and foundation Web sites are set up to accept direct online donations.

“We’re going to return to our community musical center (roots) and just try to restore the spirit of New Orleans and the culture, the music culture,” Fortenberry said.

“It’s not even going to be just the musicians, either, that we’re going to help. It’s going to be artists, the Mardi Gras Indians, second liners, anything like that. Any of those people we’re going to help.”

Tipitina’s staff is scattered throughout the Southeast and beyond. Fortenberry is working out of a friend’s office in Baton Rouge, venue GM Adam Shipley is working out of Orlando, Fla., and Tipitina’s Foundation Executive Director Bill Taylor has already begun work on musician housing from Asheville, S.C.

“Once people are allowed back in, there’s going to be a boom of jobs,” Fortenberry said. “If there’s a bartender that’s out of work right now, she or he might not be out of work for very much longer. There’s going to be people in there working and going to construction jobs and at night, they’re going to want to hear music and have a drink!

“There’s definitely going to be a thriving and happening city again on a whole different level.”

– Deborah Speer