My friend GD sent this letter to Keith Spera, Jason Berry, and Lolis Eric Elie. So far, only Elie has written him back, expressing intrigue at the findings.
In the aftermath of the federal flood I was particularly disturbed by negative public comparisons of New Orleans and Austin by Cyril Neville and Marcia Ball. Cyril, as you may recall, informed the world that musicians were never able to sustain a decent standard of living in New Orleans while Austin offered them regular work at high wages. Marcia went a step lower and simply declared New Orleans “a dead end”.
I was curious about the data behind their opinions, so in August I visited the websites of a number of groups that I thought had relocated, at least briefly and/or partially, to Texas cities to assess how well they fared in their new haunts. I reviewed the websites of five bands that I am pretty sure relocated in part to Texas; Rebirth, Soul Rebels, Hot 8, Big Sam, and the Iguanas. I also included a few other artists like Eddie Bo, John Mooney, John Gros, Anders Osborne, Teresa Anderson, as well as Galactic, in my search. I found that the combined number of New Orleans dates listed by all these groups on their websites was 68. The combined number of dates anywhere in the state of Texas was 12. The five bands that had actually relocated for a time to Texas accounted for 48 gigs in New Orleans and 9 in Texas.
These results supported reports from a friend who was forced to relocate to Houston this year because of her employment. A devoted fan of live New Orleans music, she has been unable to find musicians for her hometown playing anywhere in the great Texas megatropolis. Maybe I’ve become a bit obsessed with Texas since August 2005, but least we forget that Texas has given the city of New Orleans crooked contractors, overpriced services offered by all forms of companies, and maybe most importantly, George Bush. Let’s face it, the personal and economic chaos wrought by the events of the last two years has been nothing less than a bonanza to Texas. In the wake of Katrina, overt attempts were made to steal the culture as Texans lusted after Mardi Gras, the Indians, our football team, our best musicians and artists.
Maybe summer was not the best time for a survey of gigs with so many musicians on the road but I would submit to you that Texas has not provided the cultural and economic nirvana predicted by Cyril and Marcia. By the way, I was unable to find a single listing for Cyril in his new hometown on his website.
None of my comments are meant to imply that the current economic and living conditions of our musicians are acceptable. I’m sure that you agree that we need to continue to nurture this fragile element of New Orleans and be responsive to their needs and opinions.