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Jazz Festival Brings the Music Back to Big Easy


In New Orleans, the sounds of brass bands, Zydeco, gospel, rock and rap this weekend. The city's annual Jazz and Heritage Festival is in its second day. It's New Orleans first major music event since Hurricane Katrina and as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, the city is hoping it will kick start recovery.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

On the Festival stages there are big name acts and home grown musical heroes. Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Paul Simon and Irma Thomas. Music that's as eclectic as New Orleans. On the ground, there are the infectious sounds of second line parades.

(Soundbite of music)

CORLEY: With whistles, blaring horns and pounding drums, the Big Nine Brass Band leads a procession of musicians, marchers and a Second Line of dancing festival-goers. Big Nine's President, Ronald W. Louis(ph), says after months of worry about the squalor and devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina, there is joy and a sense of purpose at this years Jazzfest.

Mr. RONALD W. LOUIS (President, Big Nine Brass Band): You know, we're just here to show that our spirit is still there. That, you know, we're used to adversity.

CORLEY: The big questions have been whether New Orleans could pull this Festival off and whether enough people outside of Louisiana would come here to make it successful.

Ms. MOLLY BLAIR(ph) (Jazzfest Attendee): I'm Molly Blair. I'm from Seattle. My husband and I are actually originally from here.

Mr. NORMAN KAHN(ph) (Jazzfest Attendee): My name's Norman Kahn. I'm from Amherst County, Virginia.

Ms. COLLEEN CHURCH(ph) (Jazzfest Attendee): Colleen Church. Austin, Texas.

CORLEY: There are also plenty of people from New Orleans. Last year, nearly a half million people in all attended. Organizers like Don Marsh are hoping to do as well this year. He says it's been exciting to bring New Orleans' musical community back together, but also costly.

Mr. DON MARSH (Organizer, Jazzfest): In the past we could, you know, tell a local band just to come on over to the festival. Here' your parking passes, be on stage at such and such a time, here's your dressing room. Now it's providing, you know, airline tickets, hotel reservations, a lot of coordination. So the budget has expanded tremendously.

CORLEY: Typically it takes about $10 million to run this two-weekend extravaganza. It's second only to Mardi Gras in terms of its potential to help the area recover economically. Last year, it generated $300 million in business. Kelly Schulz, with the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention Bureau, says that's why so much is riding on this year's festival.

Ms. KELLY SCHULZ (New Orleans Metropolitan Convention Bureau): If it were not for tourism in New Orleans, every family in the State of Louisiana would have to pay an additional $2,000 in taxes. So that should give you some idea of the economic impact of how important this is to the state. Not only to New Orleans, but to the entire state.

CORLEY: Attendance figures won't be released until after the festival ends next weekend. But organizers say advanced sales were running at about 75 percent.

At one of the food tents, festival-goers lined up for fried chicken and spicy jambalaya. Even though Hurricane Katrina had destroyed her restaurant, owner Iva Jones had traveled from Dallas, with a crew of family and friends, to continue her now 20 year tradition of selling food here.

Ms. IVA JONES (Vendor): Jazzfest didn't miss a beat this year, not at all. We all are back on track just like Jazzfest ever. This is a good feeling because it feels like home, like it use to be, you know. So if you close your eyes and didn't go outside of the fairgrounds, you would just think this is another year of Jazzfest.

CORLEY: But this year, the first post-Katrina Jazz Festival is different, and chance for a giant family of musicians, artists, and even festival-goers like high school friends Douglas Millicent(ph) and Veronica Downsoucy(ph), to reconnect.

Mr. DOUGLAS MILLICENT: And this is a special year because there's reconnection after all of the devastation. So, yes.

Ms. VERONICA DOWNSOUCY: And I know they thought that a lot of people weren't coming. But people are just coming to see the city. There are two reasons, come for Jazzfest, and then they're coming just to see, you know, what happened in the city, you know. Yeah. We're glad we're coming back.

Mr. MILLICENT: We're glad everybody's coming back.

Ms. DOWNSOUCY: Want everybody come back.

Mr. MILLICENT: Yeah. Come on back.

Ms. DOWNSOUCY: Come back.

Unidentified Woman: Please, come home.

Ms. DOWNSOUCY: Please, come home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: And as the music plays, that's the message the city wants everyone to hear.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.