Stir It Up
Treme and the sounds of revival
Lifeblood of New Orleans rejuvenates with its music
Published: November 9, 2011
Maybe that's why the show Treme has an ensemble cast and follows the stories of about a dozen characters, about half of them musicians. And that doesn't include the guest appearances by real musicians such as Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins, Allen Toussaint and numerous others who play themselves. One exception to the cameo appearances is guitarist Steve Earle, who plays a kindly elder statesman to the street musicians and provides a connection to Cajun music. However his character dies near the end of Season 2.
In the first season, Elvis Costello makes a cameo appearance as a guest at Vaughan's Bar in the Bywater neighborhood where trumpeter Kermit Ruffins is playing. Costello is coy about approaching Ruffins, and the trumpeter is typically New Orleans-centric in not knowing who Costello is.
There are plenty of New Orleans neighborhoods other than Treme with great music history, but it serves well as a vehicle to focus the HBO show. Treme surrounds the area of what was once called Congo Square, a marketplace where free and enslaved blacks congregated on Sundays in the 1700s and 1800s to play traditional African music and trade goods. It's arguably one of the oldest black neighborhoods in America; free blacks bought land adjacent to Congo Square, which, in 1850, was out on the edge of town.
Today Treme is so close to the center of New Orleans it's hard to imagine that this was once outside the main drag. Things change, but other things endure. Treme is no longer and never will be what it once was. Too many people left after Katrina. But as it comes back it is still central to the ideals of New Orleans, and it's a key image for what its revival will be. Let's see, where can we start in Detroit?
For more about "A Night in Treme" see ums.org.
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