Stealing the Show

New Orleans musicians blew into Houston on Katrina's winds and everything was magic for a while

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The New Birth returns: Tanio Hingle (center, with drum) kicks out the jams at a River Oaks gala...
photo: Daniel Kramer
Mitchell says that the shows started to fizzle around the holidays. One factor was the return to New Orleans of rising trad jazz superstar Glen David Andrews, a mighty-voiced 24-year-old New Orleans royal — the Andrews family is both numerous and famous in Big Easy music circles, and his grandfather Jessie Hill authored the R&B classic "Ooh Poo Pa Doo." Andrews fronted the New Birth with fiery, Cab Calloway-style vocals and acrobatic trombone solos, and his natural-born charisma and hard-earned ability to work a crowd drew in the more casual fans. (Andrews's rewritten version of "Stand By Me," which Andrews composed here in Houston, is the final scene in the new Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.)

Andrews's departure was the first of many. The other guys in the band had gigs in Europe, and then Mardi Gras season and Jazz Fest rolled around. For a time, you never knew which New Birth would show up at the Volcano on any given Wednesday. On one fateful night, the band's horn section showed up but the rhythm section couldn't make it, so an electric bassist and a kit drummer took their place. Mitchell says the neighbors complained that night for the first of many times. "They were putting up with it before that, but that was just so electronically loud that it just blew it over the top, and after that it was just any noise, they'd jump the gun."

The Volcano is on Bissonnet and in a primarily residential area, and is not normally a music venue. Mitchell had figured on some flak from his neighbors, so he always ended the shows early. That plan backfired. "The New Orleans people want that shit to start late," Mitchell says. "Even knowing my shows would start early, they wouldn't show up until ten o'clock and they would see the last 30 minutes. For them, ten was early. And even the Houstonians didn't show up until late, for whatever reason. I was just sort of flabbergasted — I was like, man, it's a fuckin' Wednesday. Don't people have to work?"

New Orleans musicians blew into Houston on Katrina's winds and everything was magic for a while
photo: Daniel Kramer
New Orleans musicians blew into Houston on Katrina's winds and everything was magic for a while

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...and Houston.
photo: Troy Fields
Mitchell also believes that the local media missed out on a great story, to some degree. "The public radio stations helped, the Press did an article and Channel 26 came out, but that was it," he says. "I really thought it would get more attention than it did. I'm happy with the attention that it did get, but I guess I was thinking there might be some more people getting into it. Like maybe Majic 102 or something, but I guess those things are just so driven by advertisers and formats now..."

But by this time, the only New Orleans story the local media was interested in was crime. There was a spate of Katrina-related shootings in Houston over Thanksgiving weekend, and in late December, the Houston Police Department released figures showing that the murder rate for 2005 was 23 percent higher than that of 2004.

Houstonians felt they had done the city of New Orleans a historic favor, and many had, either through volunteering their time or donating money or clothes, and this largesse was to be repaid with senseless gang violence on our streets?

For their part, New Orleanians felt stereotyped, condescended to and less than enchanted with Houston. New Orleans is a relatively compact city of tight-knit neighborhoods where many families have lived for decades or even centuries. They didn't like our food, hated our ramshackle public transport system and the sprawl it fails to serve. (The New Birth's members were living everywhere from Pasadena to New Caney, whereas in New Orleans, they all lived a few blocks from each other.) And perhaps most of all, they were sick of being reminded of how grateful they should be.

On his return to town for the Orange Show gala, Hingle was sporting a Rockets hat and a freshly printed New Birth T-shirt that showed a map of both Louisiana and Texas as their base of operations. But if you ask him about fond memories of life in Houston, he's hard-pressed to come up with an answer, save for sincere appreciation of the people he met here, such as Mitchell, John Zotos of St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, Susanne Theis of the Orange Show Foundation and Bob Edwards of Dan Electro's. Houston as a hometown did not appeal to him.

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Lumar LeBlanc of the Soul Rebels Brass Band says Houston is home for good. Now, if he can just get a full band and some steady gigs here...
photo: Daniel Kramer
New Orleans musicians also could not understand our relatively puritanical laws. As is well known to anybody who has traveled to Bourbon Street, in New Orleans you can carry booze from club to club in to-go cups and there is no mandatory closing time. Here, you have to consume all you order on the club premises and all alcohol sales cease promptly at 2 a.m. Here, Mardi Gras is a marketing concept. There, it's a way of life. And New Orleans police were believed to take a more laissez-faire approach to casual pot-smoking than their counterparts in Houston.
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