Musicians Village

A really big trumpet.
A really big trumpet.

I’ve been complaining about the never-ending media coverage of the Tenth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes seeing all of this coverage reminds of me things I should photograph. That’s a good thing. The Guardian, based in the United Kingdom did that yesterday. I’d forgotten about the Musicians Village. On the other hand, I about choked while I was listening to NPR today. They’ve been talking about Katrina almost every day. Today, some announcer said that he realized that their daily coverage was lacking. But, not to worry. Next week, NPR will really be stepping up their daily stories.

Oh no.

The problem with all of this “big time” coverage is that reporters and sometimes photographers drop in for a week or maybe ten days. They report as if they truly understand the city. They don’t. How could they? Usually, they get all sorts of things wrong. I’m not just talking about little details that get passed around by locals. I’m talking about not asking the next obvious question. The reporter who wrote the story about Musicians Village turned the piece into an over all wrapper for music in New Orleans. That’s great. But, here’s a thing — not so small — that he missed. He was writing about Kermit Ruffins, a beloved trumpeter who used to live in Treme. He evacuated to Houston, Texas during the storm. He played early on in the recovery at a place in the Bywater, called Vaughn’s. For years he had a Thursday night residency there. On his first night back, he mostly played for recovery teams. Most of us had not returned yet.

That’s all true.

What the reporter missed is this. Even though Kermit owns a club here, plays a residency at another club and odd nights at other places, he still lives in Houston with his family. He’s a long distance commuter.

That happened a lot. Maybe not the commuting thing. But, a lot of people who were born and raised here never came back. Once they saw that life after New Orleans was pretty good, they decided to stay where they landed. Let’s face it. New Orleans is a pretty interesting place. It has a very cool reputation. It is a city very different from any city in The United States. But, living here can be pretty hard.

Not coming back cuts both ways. Some people didn’t return because they didn’t want to. Others want to come home and can’t.


Musicians Village. It was the brainchild of  musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. It was mostly built by 70,000 volunteers for Habit for Humanity. It is located in the Upper 9th Ward in a neighborhood that was devastated by the flood waters. There are 72 houses, 5 elder-friendly duplexes, a community center and a toddler park. A couple of these pictures were made at the toddler park. The houses are not always grouped together. Some are hard to find. Mortgages are very reason able, but you must commit to a 20 year note and provide some sweat equity. Construction began in March 2006.  The first three were completed by June 2006. Musicians didn’t just need a play to live. They probably needed everything. Even instruments. Tipitina’s Foundation helped out with that.

The neighborhood is still in various states of repair. I actually found a house that had absolutely no work done to it since the storm blew in. That’s pretty rare these days. The real hulks have been torn down. There are other houses that are in fine shape. Some were being work on as I passed by. Some had work started and stopped. You’ll see some of these buildings in later posts.

It’s a funny thing about the musicians who evacuated. No matter where they landed, they tried to work. I remember going to see Ivan Neville’s — yes one of those Nevilles, the son of Aaron — Dumpstaphunk at a winery somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. They play pure funk. They blew the roof off the place. If I’m not mistaken, they evacuated to Denver. Only a few hours drive from Santa Fe.

The pictures.

  1. A big trumpet. It’s located in the toddler park. I don’t know if it was intended to be, but since it’s kitty corner to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, it seems to be the landmark at the village’s center.
  2. Piano keys. This too, is located within the toddler park. The park ground cover is made of rubber. When a toddler falls down he or she doesn’t go boom. He bounce right back up.
  3. A village house. What can I say? New Orleans colors. Most of the houses aren’t quite as vibrant as this one. This may actually be an earlier house since the paint is starting to show some wear.
  4. The Ellis Marsalis Center is a pretty busy place. There is a musical venue there. You might have guessed that. 150 seats. Look at the prices. VIP gets you a table and dinner.
Step on these piano keys.
Step on these piano keys.
Like a Mardi Gras
Like a Mardi Gras


  1. I must visit your city some day!!! My parents went there one year for Mardi Gras after dropping me off at a week long band camp when I was in 6th grade! They didn’t even bring me a T-shirt!


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