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I’ve spent maybe two months, cumulatively, exploring New Orleans.
But it’s school-level performing arts where the most exciting work is taking place.
“A lot of these kids, their parents weren’t in a band because of the migration to other states,” said Tenell Moore, the band director. Mary’s Academy, an all-female high school, and in 2013 won the Street Kings brass band competition.
“So we’re building new ‘bandheads,’ what we refer to them in New Orleans. Out in the Seventh Ward at a booming local spot called Bullet’s Sports Bar, with no other businesses in sight, the Pinettes played to a packed Friday night house that included the New Orleans funk legend Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. “My friend said, ‘Come out and hang out with some sisters,’ and I couldn’t believe how many white people are here. (Event organizers had to take a marker and cross out “Kings” and write in “Queens.”) Natasha Harris, the saxophonist, told me that none of them are full-time musicians: “We all have families, we all have jobs, we’re college-educated women, but we do this because it’s our passion.” They often have to perform without their full roster because there aren’t enough women instrumentalists around to act as substitutes for members who can’t make certain gigs. Harris said, “is that middle school girls will come up and continue their passion, or that women will see us and realize it’s never too late.
One woman I met at the Pinettes show, Renee Lapeyrolerie, wrote me, “Badly worded, not a crime, just a sin lol enjoy the rest of your stay,” and then advised me to put my phone in a zip-lock bag in case it rained.
The city is certainly in the midst of a post-Katrina upswing, with plenty of new dining and drinking spots (the St.
Jazz Johnson, who teaches a class called Twerk Party, moved back after years of dancing professionally in New York City, because she wanted be a corrective for a school system that stopped nurturing the arts after Katrina.
“The kids, a lot of the ones I work with, they’re failing and all they keep doing is drilling them and giving them tests,” she said.“You take out the arts, it’s like, where’s the passion?” The city’s true currency, though, will always be its people, and while this may sound like lazy reporting, I found no better way to meet New Orleans natives than by riding in Lyfts and Ubers.Among residents’ other regular complaints are the roads, which often seem to be more pothole than concrete, and the water quality, which had much of the city on a “boil water” advisory (including for bathing) due to frozen pipes just days before I arrived.At the satirical Krewe du Vieux, the first major parade of Mardi Gras season, most floats were rebukes of the Sewerage & Water Board, whose failure to maintain drainage pumps resulted in damaging floods this summer.That’s something that the obsessive reporter in me is going to have to come to terms with, as does any traveler to some degree: Try to do everything and you’ll wind up missing the most magical parts of being far from home.“New Orleans is a feeling,” Angelika Joseph, a singer for the city’s only all-female brass band, The Pinettes, told me while chilling on a sidewalk after a show. From the sense I got on the ground, though, the tricentennial ranks pretty far below Mardi Gras as a thing the city is excited about. Charles Avenue, where I was staying, ladders were set up for the purpose of viewing parades that were two weeks out, and strings of beads from years past were dripping off every oak tree like moss.