Wednesday, May 7, 2008

And Grace Will Lead Me Home: Aaron Neville Returns to Jazzfest post by Karen Beninato, Random Blogger, May 3, 2008

Aaron Neville just gave the show of the year at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, closing out the Gospel Tent with Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." It was his second encore, and at the words "What has happened here is the winds have changed," the audience burst into applause. Jazzfest audiences now include a mix of those who lost their houses to the levee failure and have not come back, like Aaron, and those who pioneered New Orleans recovery and offer evacuees a couch when we come home. When he sang, "I Was Born By the River," it became obvious that there is a new gospel now.

Some reacted angrily to the Neville Brothers not closing out Jazzfest the last two years after the storm. Cyril Neville, now an Austin resident, expounded on whether or not New Orleans supported its musicians, even before the storm, and that added to the controversy. Aaron suffers from athsma, and in 2006 I saw an "Athsma My Ass" tee shirt worn on the festival track.

With his warm welcome in the Gospel Tent today ("When I Say Aaron You Say Neville"), it's clear that the town is ready to heal. John C. Reilly was one of the celebrities wise enough to come down and enjoy the set. Next up for Aaron is a tour with Dr. John, hopefully coming to a city near you.

Aaron's inimitable falsetto carried "Amazing Grace" through the tent, dedicated to the late Wille Tee, a great musician who died far from home, and to Aaron's wife who was battling for her life during the last few years.

"This is for those we lost, who are waiting for us," he said.

After Katrina I settled up north to stay with my father as his memory faded. We lost him just after last year's Jazzfest, so quickly I never had a chance to say goodbye. My mother's mind slips a little further away every day. Last week I walked up a set of deck stairs, and turned around to notice that she was walking up the shadow next to them. It's like living with a performance artist. There are as many factors keeping hundreds of thousands of us away as there are drawing us back. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund still exists because so many are still so far away.

Walking across the fairgrounds as familiar faces drift by, this is the line still with me, sung by a man with a voice like an angel and a sword tattooed on his face. New Orleans reconciles opposites.

"Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.

Tis grace that brought me safe so far and grace will lead me home."

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