As the years pass, we think about adding a clause to our New Orleans fund's original mission statement. As it stands, NOMRF gives grants to displaced musicians. We could add that the fund promotes the culture of New Orleans, but New Orleans culture speaks for itself loud and clear.
You just have to get yourself down there to see it.
And if you haven't been down to the Crescent City, nothing anyone could say or do would explain this culture to you. As a sometime artist (blocked since Katrina), the thing that struck me on my first visit was that you cannot be too weird for New Orleans. My best friend not only talked me into moving down, she talked me into singing my strange songs a capella. She was sort of a one-woman come-for-the-art, stay-for-the-love campaign.
One time a couple stopped me on the street and complimented that week's set. It was 10 years ago, but when you write your songs on a napkin, it's the kind of thing you remember. I met my husband, a New Orleans native, that year when he suggested I add at least one musical instrument. A capella napkin songs are not the kind of thing that would get you two fans in most towns.
So get your weird self down to New Orleans with whatever you do or do not play. You will get encouragement, probably sympathy, and life will go on no matter how much baggage you think you drag into your performances. A member of Congress? Come get pampered.
Tennessee Williams, Ellen Gilchrist, more Midwesterners than I can name have floated downstream and thrived. And it flows both ways. Louis Armstrong was his exact self every day of his life and Chicago fell in love with him. Then the universe did.
New Orleans singer and bandleader James Andrews is known as "The Satchmo of the Ghetto," and James puts more into a live performance than any entertainer I've seen since Neil Diamond on his rotating stage. Hanging out with him is not unlike being on a rotating stage, or a blender -- in the good way.
The first rule of New Orleans creativity is that you don't talk about New Orleans creativity. Historically the town has not needed to solicit newcomers. Once Laurence Ferlenghetti was at a Hotel Monteleone writers convention and there was an unrelated sex worker convention the same night. We stood by the front door and tried to guess. Poetry. Porn. Poetry. Poetry. It would have made a good drinking game. That night I met Ferlenghetti, but the Andre Codrescu crowd was headed for the carousel bar downstairs and, well, it spins.
That carousel is still spinning, and it has inspired generations of artists.
So get your weird ass down there.