By Mabel Suen
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By Allison Babka
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The scene at the Schlafly Tap Room on Sunday night seemed like any other late-summer show. Beer flowed freely as the Trailer Park Travoltas worked up a sweat onstage via some Rolling Stones-bluesy licks (they even covered "Miss You") and badass bar-band stomp.
But the show wasn't just an excuse to chug some microbrews and end the weekend on a high note. The Travoltas and three other bands were participating in a "Beat Back Katrina" benefit whose aim was to raise $10,000 for the Red Cross.
Organizer (and Trailer Park Travoltas frontman) John Clements estimates the show raised over $5,000 from the $5 admission price, the sale of raffle tickets and donations accepted in exchange for Upstream/Downstream, a twenty-track benefit CD whose centerpiece is Jay Farrar's acoustic version of Son Volt's "Afterglow 61."
"St. Louis roots rock really came out for this event," Clements says.
But the Tap Room concert was just the start of a flurry of benefits and opportunities cropping up on the local scene to aid hurricane victims.
Frederick's Music Lounge is accepting donations and giving part of its bar receipts to the Humane Society of Missouri (which has been in Mississippi rescuing animals) every Thursday at Noiseday Hootenanny; Mississippi Nights is collecting CDs, radios, CD players and headphones for the displaced -- and giving those who donate a free ticket to a show -- through September 17.
The Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center will hold a "Hardcore Relief" show October 8, and the Tap Room comes back with a blues/bluegrass/zydeco-centric benefit for a New Orleans health clinic October 16. Those up for a little road trip can head to Frontier Park in St. Charles Sunday, September 18, at 2 p.m.; bring food, money and gift cards for hurricane survivors in exchange for sets from LaPush, Shiloh, Bone Daddy and Pleasure Groove, among others.
Kopper, host of KDHX (88.1 FM)'s Wayback Machine and administrator of garagepunk.com, has organized two concerts to aid New Orleans bands affected by the storm. The first of the Rock & Roll Refugee Benefit shows takes place Tuesday, September 20, at the Hi-Pointe and features the Vultures, the UnMutuals, the Missers and the Sinners. The second, on Friday, September 23, at Lemmons, features Long John Thomas & the Duffs, the Morguesmen and Johnny O & the Jerks, plus out-of-town neo-psych rockers New Planet Trampoline.
The Jerks have a particularly immediate link to New Orleans. Johnny O drummer Chris Baricevic studied at Loyola University for a semester this year. Everyone he knows in the city is accounted for, but he's still a little humbled by the scenes ("I didn't expect to have Fats Domino being pulled out of twenty feet of water") -- and heartened by the community's generous response.
"I just think it's really cool that so many musicians came together so quickly to help other musicians," says Baricevic. "It's just cool that two groups of people in two different cities, they've got similar enough interests and lifestyles, you can always count on somebody to help out."
Grizzled New Orleans-based bluesman Spencer Bohren, for one, is grateful for the generosity of the St. Louis music scene.
The artist happened to have a gig scheduled in St. Louis before the hurricane hit -- and decided to stay here after it became apparent he wouldn't be able to get back home anytime soon. Coincidentally, some friends had just moved out of a house in Brentwood, so Bohren, his wife and son moved in and are staying indefinitely; he remains unsure of the fate of his house in New Orleans' Esplanade Ridge neighborhood.
Despite the uncertainty, Bohren hasn't lost his sense of humor. Noting that there's a piano in the house where he's staying, he adds, "I wish I played piano." What's keeping him grounded is his live concerts -- including a gig at the Focal Point on Friday, September 16, and three late-October shows in France.
"That's the biggest thing people can do to help a musician, let his schedule keep happening," Bohren says. "The most important thing is just to continue working and making a living. We still have to pay for the house, whether it's under water or not."
Jeff Beninato, ex-bassist for 1980s twang-rockers the dB's, is another displaced New Orleans resident. He's staying with his wife at her parents' house in Centralia, Illinois. Like Bohren, Beninato was out of town when the hurricane hit, and had with him only his vacation luggage: "Three pairs of jeans, two pairs of shoes, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts," he enumerates.
"What happens is, there's an edge of anger that's hard to shake -- you get through the day all right and you get sort of snappy," Beninato says. "You don't feel sorry for yourself. You just get mad. We don't scream at each other, but we're on edge. It's a change of life."
But Beninato's working out his anger constructively. He's co-chairman of the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund (www.nomrf.org).
"We were in Chicago, in the Sheraton overlooking Lake Michigan, and I woke up and turned on CNN and I wanted to puke," he says, in a New Orleans accent so thick you can almost feel a Big Easy vibe through the phone. "I said, 'We're going to Chase, we're going to get a bank account and get a fund.' We found the closest bank and met with the vice president. He approved us quickly, so we started making calls, made up flyers."
Vintage Vinyl has placed a credit-card donation link to NOMRF on its Web site (www.vintagevinyl.com) and is accepting contributions in its stores. Within the first two days, the store raised $2,000 for the foundation, according to Vintage Vinyl operations manager Steve Scariano. Wilco is also drawing attention to the organization via its Web site (www.wilcoweb.com); the band's guitarist, John Stirratt, grew up in the coastal town of Mandeville, Louisiana, and is a friend of Beninato's.
"Now that the government has finally got its act together, the musicians are gonna need help," Stirratt writes via e-mail. "This will be an ongoing struggle for people, and hopefully people won't forget about the Mississippi and Alabama folks, as well as this major city in America that's been relocated."