Making the scene behind Treme
It’s Thursday night and, as always, trumpet player Kermit Ruffins is getting ready to jam with his band, the Barbecue Swingers, at Vaughan’s in the Bywater section of the city.
A fan of the new HBO series “Treme’’ (treh-MAY) approaches Ruffins with questions. Does he think his career is going to benefit from exposure on the critically acclaimed series? “I think it’s a good thing for all of the musicians in New Orleans,’’ said Ruffins, who was born and still lives in Treme. “It lets people know that we’re still here, still kickin’ it after Katrina.’’
No stranger to fame, Ruffins spent 10 years on the road in this country and abroad playing his music, which is influenced heavily by another local son, Louis Armstrong. “But I missed New Orleans so much, I had to come back.’’ As he said on the first episode of “Treme,’’ he’s happy playing music, barbecuing, and getting high in New Orleans. “Pretty much, that’s enough for me.’’
Created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer (“Homicide: Life on the Street,’’ “The Wire’’), “Treme’’ is set “three months after,’’ and follows characters as they try to put their lives back together in the wake of Katrina’s devastation.
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While welcoming all comers, Freedman reminds visitors to be mindful when visiting the city. “It’s always better to err on the side of caution when you’re visiting an unfamiliar place,’’ he said. “Don’t think this is the city that care forgot.’’ Cabs are plentiful and always a better choice than walking or driving to a non-touristy neighborhood, like Treme.
Ruffins is just one of more than a dozen celebrated musicians from, or influenced by, New Orleans, who have been cast in roles large and small on “Treme,’’ which premiered last month and has already been extended to a second season.
If you’re a fan of the show, here’s a short list of Treme people and landmarks you won’t want to miss the next time you visit:
Kermit Ruffins Catch him every Thursday at Vaughan’s (800 Lesseps St., 504-947-5562) in the Bywater, and most Tuesday nights at Bullets Sports Bar (2441 AP Tureaud, 504-948-4003), the no frills Treme bar where Steve Zahn’s character, Davis McAlary, sent the well-scrubbed volunteers from Wisconsin.
Coco Robicheaux The voodoo-inspired blues musician who sacrificed a chicken on McAlary’s WWOZ radio show is a familiar figure on Frenchmen Street, especially in and around the Apple Barrel Inn (609 Frenchmen). Robicheaux and his band, The Swamp Monsters, appear frequently around town. For the schedule, check www.myspace.com/cocorobicheaux.
Susan Spicer The chef character Janette Desautel, played by Kim Dickens, is loosely based on this James Beard award-winning chef-owner of Bayona restaurant (430 Dauphine St., 504-525-4455, www.bayona.com) in the French Quarter, where she can be found most of the time. A culinary pioneer and now a celebrity chef, Spicer will be in the spotlight May 26-29 at the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience (www.nowfe.com/).
Troy “Trombone Shorty’’ Andrews In episode two, Antoine Batiste, played by Wendell Pierce, meets Andrews in front of Preservation Hall, on the way to a Bourbon Street gig. A fixture in local clubs since he was a kid, Andrews joins fellow alums Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis as a graduate of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. He is currently touring behind his new album, “Backatown,’’ localspeak for Treme, where he was born and raised. Check for gigs at www.tromboneshorty.com.
Treme Brass Band Benny Jones Sr. and “Uncle’’ Lionel Batiste lead this band, which is featured in the show’s opening montage. Active in local jazz funerals and Mardi Gras Indian parades, the band appears every Wednesday night at a friendly local hang out, the Candle Light Lounge (925 North Robertson St., 504-571-1021, www.myspace.com/tremebrassband).
Mardi Gras Indians Kept out of the “uptown’’ Mardi Gras celebrations by Jim Crow laws, New Orleans’s black community and “Black Indian Tribes’’ celebrated in their own neighborhoods. Now recognized as a touchstone of the city’s music and Mardi Gras culture, Mardi Gras Indians — epitomized by “Big Chief’’ Albert Lambreaux, played by Clarke Peters — are often a fixture at parties, weddings, and events. Public parades take place during New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, on Mardi Gras day and Super Sunday, or St. Joseph’s Day, March 19. Read more at www.mardigrasindians.com.
Spotted Cat A regular hangout for “Treme’’ buskers Annie and Sonny, this lively club is the spot for local traditional jazz, often without a cover (623 Frenchmen, 504-943-3887).
Clover Grill McAlary sends the Wisconsin volunteers here for breakfast. Open 24/7, the eatery’s motto is “We Love to Fry and It Shows.’’ The Clover, seen briefly in the 2008 movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’’ is known for its juicy burgers, cooked under a trademark Hub Cap (900 Bourbon St., 504-598-1010, www.clovergrill.com).
Treme A neighborhood, not a tourist destination, this storied area of the Sixth Ward has been central to African-American and Creole culture since the 18th century. Once part of a plantation, the oldest black neighborhood in the United States is home to Congo Square, located in what is now Louis Armstrong Park, the place where slaves gathered on Sundays for market and music. Often credited with the beginning of both brass music and jazz, Treme was home to singer-songwriter Louis Prima, Dixieland pianist Henry Ragas, and Alex Chilton, lead singer of the Box Tops.
Snug Harbor Although pooh-poohed by McAlary, Snug is one of the best places in town for straight up traditional jazz.
Beth D’Addono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.