Louisiana floods — and music

A casket is seen floating in flood waters in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, August 15, 2016.

Credit:

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

The Red Cross has called it “the worst storm since Superstorm Sandy.”

After Louisiana faced catastrophic flooding this past week, 13 are dead, 40,000 homes are damaged and over 86,000 are seeking aid. And now, Louisiana is expecting more rain.

One huge loss to Louisiana has been the damage to parts of the state’s cultural heritage. For example, the beloved Dockside Studio Recordings in Maurice, Louisiana has hosted music legends like B.B. King, Irma Thomas, Dr. John and even Arcade Fire. Co-owner Cezanne Nails says the water damage is threatening to put it out of business.

“Around the world, people have been calling, seeing if there was anything they could do to help,” Nails says. “We had so many musicians come with their tool belts on, carrying equipment and tearing down walls and drying things. They tell me that Dockside is their home away from home, and they can't stand to see it closed and soaking wet and in the condition that it’s in.”

For some New Orleans musicians, like jazz clarinetist Dr. Michael White, the disaster is reminiscent of Louisiana’s last emergency: Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s like a nightmare to even see pictures of that. We kind of relive what we went through and what other people in our state are going through,” he says. “But one of the things that’s helped us a lot through the years has been our music and our musical traditions which tend to bind people together, families and neighbors and entire communities.”

White understands how natural disasters can threaten the state’s musical history. When Katrina destroyed his home, he lost more than a place to live. He lost his musical memories.

“I had a massive archive of musical memorabilia and books and videos and a collection of vintage instruments and things that came from jazz legends and music notes, interviews I’d gathered over the years. That was devastating.”

But White believes that Louisiana musicians will respond to this disaster the same way they have to all the others — by making more music.

Randy Newman’s "Louisiana 1927" is one popular song to come out of the state’s natural disasters. Written in the mid-1970s about a flood that covered Louisiana and part of Mississippi and Arkansas, the chorus goes like this: “Louisana, they’re tryin’ to wash us away.”

White himself has written an album with artists affected by Hurricane Katrina, called "Blue Crescent." One of its key songs is named after the storm. “To tell you the truth, I can’t listen to it and I certainly don’t play it any more because it brings back that experience to me.”

And he’s sure Louisiana musicians affected by the storm will come together, bringing their community out of the water with their songs. “They will be closer, their music will be more passionate and certainly tragedies like these inspire powerful musical statements.”

And as for Dockside Studio? Co-owner Cezanne Nails says “It’ll work out in the end. People will be recording in there before you know it.”

This story was first published as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.

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