New Orleans' Waterproof Music
Members of the Savoy Music Center of Eunice at the Louisiana Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, in April 2011. (© Gerald Herbert/AP)
Through it all, New Orleans music has flourished and hard times have just been folded into the city's history.
"I think if you ask the question, 'Is that because of Katrina?' I really think the answer is 'It's despite Katrina,'" Mayfield said. "This is what we do. We would do this regardless."
"When you hear a note by Trombone Shorty, you're hearing a note by Louis Armstrong."
Mayfield has said music continues to help him deal with the loss of his father, Irvin Mayfield Sr., who drowned when the levees failed during Katrina. Since that storm, he's been one of the city's biggest champions -- touting New Orleans wherever he performs and has opened two clubs under the Mayfield name.
"We all recognize we are part of a continuum," Mayfield said. "When you hear a note by Trombone Shorty, you're hearing a note by Louis Armstrong. When you hear Dr. John, you're listening to James Booker. When you listen to Ellis Marsalis, you're listening to James Black. You're listening to all the folks who have come before who may not even still be here."
A festival, says Mayfield, is one of the best ways to celebrate and present to the world the city's unique music, food, art and culture.
An 'outside way of being'
"A lot of our music, primarily jazz music, comes from that outside way of being, the Mardi Gras Indians, the outside culture of what we do during Carnival time," Mayfield said. "We definitely have a unique position of knowing how to do outside stuff and knowing how to do it really well."
French Quarter Festival included more than 100 Louisiana Cajun, zydeco, jazz and blues acts on 22 stages strung throughout the historic French Quarter in such places as Jackson Square, the open-air French Market and the grassy park space along the Mississippi River. Visitors came from all over.
"The diverse bands, the jazz and blues, there's no better place to find that than here in New Orleans," said Ken Louis of Afton, Wis., while sipping a cold beer as a jazz band played in Jackson Square.
"It kind of greases the skids for Jazz Fest and all the other music festivals," said Ron Ondechek Jr. of Denver, who called himself an avid fan of the city's festivals. "There's lots of art, lots of people, lots of music. It's just a great place to relax."
Big fun is big business
But the events are also big business. "Festival season is a lot of fun and a big draw, but in terms of dollars, it is a major economic impact to the city," said Kelly Schulz of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
More than 8 million people visit New Orleans every year.
"Visitors are here," she said. "They're staying in our hotels. They're eating in our restaurants. They're shopping in our stores. They're supporting other businesses too that people might not think of, the bikes, the shuttles, people that rent scooters around the city. There are so many aspects to the tourism industry, and when you've got major festivals like that, it really benefits the entire city."
More than 8 million people visit New Orleans annually, and music is the biggest draw after Mardi Gras, particularly for international visitors, Schulz said. But there are many other attractions, including a vibrant restaurant scene, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and the recently expanded National World War II Museum. An increase in marketing dollars from BP to the city and state have also helped boost tourism in the past two years, Schulz said.
"The city," she added, "is just really hot right now."