03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New Orleans, Music, Vampires and Me

I come from a family of musicians. My father is a Julliard trained music professor and pianist, and my grandfather was a flautist for the Pittsburgh Symphony. In his spare time, my grandfather repaired instruments for all the Pittsburgh area high school bands. I have a sepia-toned picture on my desk at home that captures him working on kids' instruments. So when I heard about The Tipitina's Foundation in New Orleans -- and especially the Instruments A Comin' Program -- I had an immediate connection. I know firsthand how music can be the connective tissue in a community, and how here in New Orleans, it is a positive force for young people at an impressionable (and risky) point in their lives. There are shining examples of exactly that on stages and street corners all over the city. If a student has the desire to play, The Tipitinas Foundation makes sure that student has the opportunity to play. It's not about making musicians; so much as it is making people. And that's a cause worth supporting.

The five months I spent filming and living in New Orleans on Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant -- and my five or six trips back in the year since we finished -- have had a profound effect on me, to say the least. When I talk to my friends in NOLA, they nod as I stammer enthusiastically about how the way people live, celebrate, eat, drink, laugh, cry and support each other, unlike anywhere else I've ever been. They recognize the zeal of the converted, and they are kind enough not to smile too broadly while I babble on about their city. New Orleans welcomes the love-struck outsider with open arms (that's how many 'new native' New Orleanians started themselves) and the city rewards humble devotion to its often convoluted ways that only make sense from the inside.

While Cirque du Freak isn't necessarily set in New Orleans (or any particular city for that matter), I think the essential feeling of New Orleans seeped into our collective experience while we were making the movie. So much of what ended up on screen could only have happened because we were immersed in the flavors, sounds, personalities and unique perspectives of this particular place and these particular people. And where better to make a movie about a remarkable, funny, scary and somewhat bewildering world of outsiders and freaks than in a city that is home to the wildest collection of personalities in the country?

I turn the corner on a rainy night, and stumble on 20 people and the Hot 8 Brass band playing an impromptu sidewalk concert for a young girl celebrating her birthday. I ride my bike down a street early on a quiet Sunday morning and suddenly find a Mardi Gras Indian in full regalia walking down the middle of the road. I listen to friends still struggling to rebuild their broken city and themselves years after the storm. No place seems to matter as much. Their struggle is now mine to share. It keeps me coming back, finding time to build houses or help friends pick up tree limbs from their roofs. But I get something powerful in return. I am reminded how to live life to the fullest. The way they do here.

If you feel compelled to help, here's an easy way: Along with Universal, I have organized a special screening of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant at The Prytania and a party at Tipitina's Uptown in New Orleans on October 19th. If you find yourself in New Orleans on Monday 19 October...get your FREAK on for a good cause! There are a limited number of $50 benefactor tickets for sale to the public; these include reserved seats at the screening and access to the VIP reception and concert at Tipitina's featuring fantastic local acts The Happy Talk Band and Caddywhompus as well as a short set from my own band, Cerveris, who are flying in for the occasion, with all proceeds benefiting the Tipitina's Foundation.

For the after party only, tickets to see the bands are available at the door for $10, with profits also benefiting Tipitina's Foundation.

To reserve benefactor tickets, please call: 212-388-7408.

To purchase advance tickets for the party/concert only, go to