Life After the Storm

One year later, a glimpse at New Orleans' music scene.

The makeup of the Hot Wings is a lesson in New Orleans' multi-ethnicity. A young Latino man coaxes tones from a Fender guitar; an older, white, biker-looking dude thumps an upright bass; and a middle-aged black man bangs the bongos, while Ding himself — looking like a younger Dr. John — pounds an old upright piano. As heard through a fuzzy PA and inebriated eardrums, the music sounded like a mix of swampy grooves, early rock & roll and gritty soul — and whatever it was, it moved the crowd. Mission accomplished.

Sunday night is traditionally a dead night for many New Orleans clubs, but there was a near-capacity crowd at Mid-City Lanes' Rock 'N Bowl venue. If it's not obvious enough, Rock 'N Bowl is a dual purpose bowling alley/concert hall, and this night it was host to Paul Varisco & the Milestones. Varisco had a regional hit in the late '60s with "Gotta Have Love," a sweet rock & soul number complete with a three-piece horn section. He and the band relished their one-hit-wonder status with the over-50 crowd, playing their signature song alongside "Let's Get It On" and a few Van Morrison songs.

The show was a chance for the crowd to sing, dance and drink: three things highly prized in New Orleans. These are homeowners, New Orleans lifers who can't imagine living anywhere else but are stymied by forces both natural and bureaucratic that keep them from rebuilding.

As is true for many events in this city, Varisco's show was largely about rebuilding community and rebuilding the city. Katrina and her wrath are never far from people's minds one year on; as people try to wash the paint and plaster from their hands, they're constantly reminded of the huge task of healing this badly beaten town. Varisco's show may have only been a brief respite from the daily fight to revive New Orleans, but it may have reminded them what they were fighting for.

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