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Soul of New Orleans

Cassie Pence
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyNew Orleans musicians jam together to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina during the Big Easy Benefit Saturday at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail.
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VAIL – Sally Austen, owner of Sagebrush in Edwards, hung a sign on her business’s door Saturday that read, “Today is Oct. 1, and we’re closing to support Katrina relief at the concert in Vail. Please come join us.”Austen wanted to be part of the community Saturday, and she was hoping her sign might inspire others to attend the Big Easy Benefit concert at the Ford Amphitheater. She and her 9-year-old twin boys, Watts and Lang, were lounging on the amphitheater lawn enjoying the New Orleans music and perfect High Country weather.

“We all need to do something,” Austen said of the hurricane relief efforts. “I just hope these people aren’t shy in telling us what they need because I think there are a lot of people here today who are very generous.”The Vail Valley community was out in full force for the Big Easy Benefit concert, dancing, donating and supporting the cause, which brought together New Orleans artists Tab Benoit, Anders Osbourne, Henry Butler, George Porter Jr. and Cyril Neville, among special guests like Coolio, Vince Herman and Great American Taxi and members of Little Hercules.

Guitarist Benoit, president of the Voice of the Wetlands, initially organized the concert to take place in Louisiana in September. Its purpose was to raise awareness about the erosion of the Gulf Coast wetlands, the area’s only natural barrier against storms. What Benoit had been fighting so hard against came true when Hurricane Katrina wiped out the wetlands near New Orleans. Benoit felt the show must still go on, and Diane Moudy of Resort Entertainment and Resort Events found the concert a home at the amphitheater. The Big Easy Benefit not only raised awareness about the wetlands, which Benoit continues to be extremely passionate about, but it raised money to help all the Crescent City musicians who were displaced by the hurricane.”Colorado has always been into Louisiana,” Benoit said backstage between performances. “Ever since I’ve been coming here, they’ve treated me like royalty.”

Owner John Blancher of the Rock n’ Bowl in New Orleans, along with some of his employees, were at the concert selling souvenir shirts. Rock n’ Bowl, located in Mid City New Orleans, is one of the premier Big Easy music venues, which is now flooded with water. Blancher said Benoit 2used to drive an hour just to play at the club’s blues jam. It was at the Rock n’ Bowl when Benoit got his first record deal, Blancher said. He came to Vail to support Benoit, the wetlands and New Orleans.”It’s just good to be with Benoit,” Blancher said. “It’s good for them (the musicians) to see us, and it’s good for us to see them.”

The Rock n’ Bowl employees who were at the Vail concert escaped the hurricane to Lafayette, La., where family members have a home. Twelve people are currently living in the home, which can get pretty crazy at times, admitted Rock n’ Bowl employee Jimmy John Hankins. “But we’re not here in Vail to escape Lafayette or family,” said Johnny Blancher, son of the Rock n’ Bowl owner. “We’re here with Tab and to support saving the wetlands. Lafayette’s wetlands protected it from the hurricane. New Orleans has no wetlands.”The New Orleans spirit was alive on stage during the concert. Benoit, who opened the concert, played “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Iko Iko.” Musicians sauntered on and off the stage to collaborate with one another, and it wasn’t unusual to see 13 artists jamming at once.

“Everyone is just jumpin’ on with everyone else,” local sax player Dave Laub said. “It’s much like what happens in New Orleans, but it’s happening here.”

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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