Stealing the Show

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

The honeymoon was over, and the marriage had truly begun. Whether this marriage will be a happy one or something that should be on Dr. Phil remains to be seen.

The Soul Rebels are perhaps the most adventurous of all the New Orleans brass bands. While there are others — the Rebirth and Hot 8 come to mind — that throw hip-hop and reggae in the mix, few do it as often or as well as the Soul Rebels, who have been infuriating purists with their update on brass band music ever since their inception in 1991.

The Soul Rebels still play every Thursday night at a bar called Le Bon Temps Roulé; on Magazine Street in New Orleans's Garden District, but today, three of the six members of the band live here in Houston and say they have no plans to move back home.

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


This article was published originally in the Houston Press.

The Soul Rebels at New Orleans Mardi Gras...
photo:courtesy of the Soul Rebels
Bandleader Lumar LeBlanc was raised in the Tremé/Sixth Ward section of New Orleans, where, he says, "jazz is grown like flowers." He is among the more prosperous of the evacuees — he had been a high school teacher, his band makes good money, his wife is a medical professional and he was living in the middle-class area of the Big Easy called New Orleans East, a world away from the tough corners of the Ninth Ward. "We had good neighbors, a good neighborhood, a four-bedroom home," he says. "And then all of a sudden Katrina hit. The whole world as we know it changed."

LeBlanc arrived in Houston with his family, a couple of changes of clothes and nothing else, or at least nothing physically tangible. "When we saw the horrible catastrophe in New Orleans on TV, we started to realize that probably everything was destroyed except for the inner city and the CBD [central business district]," he says. "The music was really the only thing that I had to keep me going financially and to keep my spirits up, and my wife and family."

Right now LeBlanc is viewing Houston more as a base of operations than a true hometown. "I plan to stay here to just commute to wherever I have to do my music," he says. "I've been playing music professionally since 1990, so my life has always been where I have to travel — Europe and Brazil and all different countries. The traveling's really not a big roadblock."

LeBlanc's youngest son is with the family and attending school at Mount Carmel High School, but his oldest son returned to New Orleans to live with his mother's family and finish high school. Next fall LeBlanc hopes his oldest will enroll at his own alma mater — Texas Southern University, where he served as a drum major in that school's Ocean of Soul Marching Band while he was studying to obtain a degree in social work. "When I had to evacuate, Houston was an easy choice for me because I was used to the city," he says.

...and at a benefit for the Ninth Ward.
photo: courtesy of the Soul Rebels
Although they were stricken with the dual tragedy of Katrina and the debilitating stroke of tuba player Kerwin James, the New Birth has probably had their best year from a financial and visibility standpoint. They had more gigs than they could handle here in Houston — both in the clubs and at high-dollar private functions — and on their return to New Orleans, the shows got even bigger. At this year's Jazz Fest, U2 guitarist The Edge joined them on stage, and at the reopening of the Superdome this year, the band performed on stage with both U2 and Green Day in the nationally televised pregame festivities on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

LeBlanc says that something similar has been going on with the Soul Rebels. "The music has been more in demand than ever," he says. "People look at it as some of the last authentic culture from New Orleans that wasn't washed away by the storm."

Only they haven't been playing in Houston much. LeBlanc believes that the city's infrastructure is better suited to his family than to his band. He is very happy with his son's schooling, and his wife was able to get a medical job that was comparable to what she had pre-Katrina. "I think that Houston's a much safer and better place due to what's been stripped away in New Orleans. We're going to settle here." But as of right now, LeBlanc has played most of his music on the road.

New Orleans's tourism industry was in many ways his lifeblood, along with much of the rest of the city. "We're always being asked to play for dignitaries or corporations that come to New Orleans," he says. LeBlanc says the city's compact layout makes life easy for tourists, conventioneers and musicians — the party places are a minute's walk away from the attractions and convention halls. His band has serenaded visitors at the airport, convention centers and at parties, sometimes all in the same day, with minimal driving.

LeBlanc is leery of trying to start out in the clubs here. "I know how the club circuit is — it's a hustle," he says. "And if you don't have a big following, clubs aren't gonna be able to stick with you to build a following. But in New Orleans, the clubs will stick with you for weeks and weeks, because they know that eventually people are gonna start coming." LeBlanc also echoes Mitchell's words about the late-night-loving, hard-drinking nature of the New Orleanian. "In New Orleans, you have the 24-hour drinking, so you might have people come into the club at 12:30, gettin' the party started and staying until 2 or 2:30."

« Previous Page
Next Page »