HBO’s “Treme” kept music a centerpiece in Season 2

Season 2 of the HBO television series Treme just came to a close, and was renewed for a third season.

While one might say that an ongoing theme in Season 1 was immediate recovery and adjustment for the city of New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina, and Season 2 examined issues with violence and corruption a year later, music remained a vibrant focal point throughout.

Far from simply offering an enjoyable soundtrack, Season 2 of Treme shows the overwhelming importance of music in New Orleans on a variety of levels. Keeping with the mission in the first season, Treme continues to use New Orleans musicians as reoccurring characters playing themselves, in venues they might normally be found, as well as great cameo appearances from jazz and folk superstars.

Season 2 featured musical highlights including scenes and performances by NOLA locals and non-locals, including Dr. John, Donald Harrison, Henry Butler, Kermit Ruffins, the Hot 8 Brass Band, Galactic, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ron Carter, John Hiatt and Shawn Colvin.

Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers

These performances and appearances were not only entertaining, but keep in stride with the attempts of the program to offer a certain element of “real”. Kermit Ruffins is regularly found leading groups in NOLA bars and clubs to packed crowds. Donald Harrison is recruited late in the season to perform on a record designed to mix modern jazz with the sounds of Mardi Gras Indians. As KPLU’s Robin Lloyd pointed out to me, this is very appropriate for Harrison. He is the Big Chief of the Congo Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group which keeps alive the secret traditions of Congo Square, but has also spent a great deal of time being involved in everything from smooth jazz to hip-hop.

In the Season 2 finale, hope was offered after a tumultuous season, where Jazz Fest takes center stage, and the program closes out with an emotional montage set to the Louis Armstrong recording of Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.

While the close of Season 2 suggests more optimism than the finale of Season 1 did, several elements of pain and struggle to come for the city of New Orleans in Season 3 are indicated. No doubt that it will be set to the wonderful sounds and music of a city that continues to struggle in recovery.

Henry Butler the photographer

Most people know Henry Butler as a wonderful blues based pianist from New Orleans. I also knew that Butler happened to be a photographer as well, which many might find amazing, as Henry happens to be blind.

I had known this, and even seen some of his photographs, but I had never really figured out how he goes about his photography without the ability to see, until I recently read an article that Butler wrote for The Digital Journalist back in 2005 called The Eye of the Beholder.

In the article, Butler talks about being inspired by the empty feeling he would have after going to museums.

“After going to exhibits, hearing people describe photos and paintings, I felt kind of empty—- I wasn’t getting all that I could get. The best thing, I decided, was to try to become at least an artist who was doing something in one of the visual arts.”

The Mississippi River from Audubon Park, New Orleans - Photo by Henry Butler

So he chose photography. Butler started by taking a bunch of Polaroid pictures so that he could get an immediate response from a sighted audience. From there, Butler learned how to improve his shots based on what he could hear.

“When I take a picture, I listen to the voice, to sound, and try to realize how tall my subject is, relative to my height.”

Mardi Gras 2005, New Orleans: bw shoes - Photo by Henry Butler

Butler admits that he has had an assistant for his photography for several years, helping with details such as angle, distance, and background, but says that the final product needs to be something that is inspiring to him.

“It’s a delicate balance – she could see each image very differently. When Andrea says, “That’s a great shot” if don’t feel that image stimulates me, then I don’t want it. She doesn’t interfere with what I do unless I’m way off.”

Car,on exhibit in New Zealand. - Photo by Henry Butler

Butler suggests that everyone is going to take away something different from his photographs, like each person might take away something unique from one of his piano performances. But like in music, Butler suggests that an audience that is paying attention can at least see part of what the artist was trying to present.

” If the person is attuned, they might have a glimpse of what the photographer had in mind.”

Henry Butler’s Website

The Digital Journalist

New Orleans Invades Austin at SXSW

I am a big fan of the HBO show Treme, and the party that they are going to be throwing at South By Southwest in Austin this year to kick off their second season looks like a lot of fun.

The event, starting at noon on Thursday, March 17th, will celebrate the April 24th Season Premiere of the critically acclaimed series (airing Sundays at 10 pm with same-night encores at midnight). The complete first season will be available on DVD on March 29th.

The party kicks off in front of The Ghost Room at noon as musicians, including the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, come together for a second line led by Dancingman504. The quintessential New Orleans art form will weave down to Sixth Street as SXSW revelers join in the fun. The party then moves inside for exclusive performances by legendary New Orleans and Cajun artists including the evening’s headliner the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as well as Pine Leaf Boys, Henry Butler and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux with DJ Paul Craven spinning throughout. Guests will get an exclusive look at the second season of Treme as they enjoy Cajun food provided by Austin’s own Evangeline Café.