When Cayetano (Tanio) Hingle applied for transportation from the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, a family in Baton Rouge had just decided to donate their used minivan so the timing was perfect.
The family gave the brass band drummer their Ford Winstar through NOMRF, and it helped get him to gigs in the French Quarter from his post-Katrina location an hour outside of the city. It also helped transport his two children where they needed to go. On Sunday, the van was stolen from in front of his home.
It was hard enough for a small, grass roots nonprofit to be able to provide a van to a brass band drummer. Doing it twice is going to be daunting. If you're shooting for that warm holiday feeling, skip to the next blog.
"With the music, we're getting by but you know it's the housing and paying the bills that's real, real hard right now," Tanio said about the current economic climate.
Traditional brass bands survive on French Quarter tourism, which is down 40 percent at last estimate, and locals are supporting the music scene as well as they can given their ongoing Road Home challenges.
Tanio's New Birth Brass Band recently lost founding member Kerwin James. After suffering a stroke, Kerwin was in a coma for months out of state. He never was able to move back permanently. At his memorial second line in New Orleans, brass band musicians were arrested for marching without a permit and disturbing the peace.
There are positive stories like 11 year old friend Jake who lost everything to Katrina but still collects toys for his fellow young musicians.
As he says, "We're not Katrina victims, we're Katrina survivors."
But overall the economic condition is desperate on this third post-disaster holiday season. My husband Jeff (pictured giving Tanio the van) decided to start this Fund while we were still displaced so donors could help musicians directly. I said, "I don't know, that seems really hard."
We were both right. Our Fund has been able to send out hundreds of grants, and has helped out with housing, transportation and instruments. Friends like Dr. John, the dB's (Jeff's former band), REM, Ian Hunter and many others provide benefit download tunes and moral support, since it takes someone in the public eye to keep this ball in the air. Case in point, Brad Pitt with his pink houses on Larry King tonight.
Even with all that help, awareness is rapidly dying down. Two steps forward and one step back is the best description for many in the Crescent City right now. Leah Chase, Jr.'s first FEMA trailer was stolen from the front of the historic restaurant Dooky Chase's. It was home away from home for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Freedom Fighters.
Leah sang a stunning "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" at our first Anti-Versary Commemoration, and sings The Kindness of Strangers Has Been My Salvation in Harry Shearer's MyDamnChannel Crescent City Stories linked below.
New Orleans musicians are some of the strongest people you'll ever met. The hardest part of interviewing many of them is knowing it's an uphill climb. Musician Timothea Beckerman made it to the Northeast and used to call me to talk about a film score she hoped to finish.
"I've been an independent woman all my life and I want to continue it. But you can't if you have 10 dozen worries on your mind. I'm homesick like everybody else, but I can't go home. I've got to stay inside. And I don't have portable oxygen anyway."
I told her everything would be okay. She died in 2006 at the age of 55.
We are losing too many from the birthplace of jazz. On the surface the causes are medical, but it's important to factor in the heartbreak of waiting too long to come home. It is still possible to help these musicians through any nonprofit you choose.
Just please help them soon.
(Write the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund (nomrf.org) if you have a good used van you're tired of, an instrument you never mastered or a donation.)
Harry Shearer's My Damn Channel Crescent City Stories: