New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund off the ground," said co-founder Karen Dalton-Beninato. Karen and her husband Jeff, who grew up playing music in the Ninth Ward, used Web technologies and social media to reach out to music fans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Now, almost exactly five years later, another crisis is hitting the shore, the Gulf oil spill."It's almost impossible to describe how important the Web was for getting the
"With the current state of the economy, we get more used instrument donations than anything else these days, but it's been an amazing ride. New Orleans is going to have a rough summer with Gulf Coast tourism dropping already after the oil spill. Hopefully people will keep the city and its music in their hearts."
Karen and Jeff started the fund in a Chicago FEMA room when it became clear that many musicians and others wouldn't be able to return to New Orleans for weeks if not months. Jeff, who grew up playing in the Ninth Ward and was a member of the 80s pop band the dBs, as well as playing with roots and jazz outfits, turned to the Internet. He and Karen put together a Website with an online donation function.
Podcasts were a powerful way to reach out to both a distributed public and a fractured musical scene, as was the blog they started. They used social media and more old school Web tools to beat the bushes and pass the hat. Straight out donations, walkathons, downloads and t-shirt sales. Money came in to help get people home, to help them repair storm damage and to pay rent and, above all, to give them back their means of making a living: get them back their bones. In addition to money, people donated trumpets and trombones, traps and guitars and even pianos.
Joannie Hughes, a New Orleans native who became a volunteer with NOMRF, said after Katrina, the most disconcerting thing was the absence of music.
"The one thing that struck me in my heart and soul when I returned was the silence. Having lived here all of my life and grown up in a music household I just was not prepared for the lack of live music that usually poured into the streets. The entire city owes (Jeff and Karen) a great deal of gratitude for bringing back our cherished music."
There's a feeling that once a certain amount of time passes after a disaster, people should have the decency to be OK. Unfortunately, given the sheer bulk of the mess, both physically and politically, that's just not been the case with New Orleans, as co-founder Jeff Beninato reminds us.
"If you think this tragedy is over think again. There are still families out there in corners of this country trying to figure out what they are going to do to get their lives back to some normalcy. There are so many musicians who were well known in New Orleans that are totally unknown where they are now. Imagine building your fanbase or your work base in your workplace and suddenly it all disappears."
And now what promises to become the single largest ecological catastrophe in the nation's history, the Gulf oil spill, is bearing down on the city. The travelers and the money they bring are starting to dry up again. The resource economy, fishing, shrimping and crabbing, that all funnels into the city, is faltering. The need to plug in to this newest of technologies - the Web - to save the oldest - music - is pressing, again. There is some truth to the notion that this technology we cover levels and democratizes. NOMRF is using it to make the process of helping the men and women who provide the soundtrack to your hopes and dreams more egalitarian and more direct.
Think trading tracks and files is "peer-to-peer"? Pass the hat at the Green Dragon and buy a guy a trumpet so he can gig and get his kids new shoes. That's peer-to-peer, brothers and sisters. Can I get an amen?
Can I get an amen?