Displaced musicians are making their way back home to New Orleans to celebrate their roots at the 37th Annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which runs April 28-30, and picks up again the following weekend, May 5-7.
Jazz Fest usually draws crowds of about a half a million over seven days (this year's festival has been cut to six days), and is second only to Mardi Gras in feeding this city's largest industry, tourism.
Aside from supporting the tourist industry, the festival holds a strong cultural importance, as jazz was born in the Crescent City and music remains dear to the hearts of its residents. The musicians participating this year recognize the importance of the festival to the city and its culture.
Trumpet player and cultural ambassador Irvin Mayfield lost his father during the storm and says he knows the value of musicians to New Orleans.
"The important message of Jazz Fest is that we are trying to do as much as we can to have the musicians come back and understand that this city is not forgotten about and that we understand that they are an important part of this rebuilding process," Mayfield said. "And not just an important part, but the most important part."
Many of the local acts that will fill the festival's stages have struggled to come back or are still displaced, returning only to perform at Jazz Fest. New Orleans singer Marva Wright, still relocated in Maryland, has only returned once.
"[Jazz Fest] should be important for everybody. This will be my second time back in the city. The first was Christmas at Tipitina's [music club]. I cried the whole time I was there. Every time I saw somebody I haven't seen for a long time, I was glad everybody was OK," Wright said.
This year's festival features huge names such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon, along with a host of other local and national acts. Pianist and notable New Orleans character Dr. John, who has been watching the politics of New Orleans unfold while touring the country, has been looking forward to returning.
"The music in New Orleans has always been for the people, and Jazz Fest has always been for the people of New Orleans and Louisiana," Dr. John said. "I would have hoped that they would have just been able to dig up all local acts. The real jazz and the real heritage. But you gotta slip the people in, and I understand business and all that."
George Porter Jr., a founding member of the Meters who continues to perform in New Orleans and tour nationally, understands the need to bring crowds back into the city, which has suffered from the loss of tourist dollars after Hurricane Katrina struck in August.
"There are a lot of people coming in for the festival this year that are coming to show support for the city and the artists that are here," Porter said. "Any year that Jazz Fest happens is a good thing for the local economy as well as for the local musicians that get to play the festival."
Local musicians have always used Jazz Fest to play to larger crowds that come from far and wide. It is some of these fans who have rallied around Marva Wright.
"If it wasn't for Jazz Fest, I wouldn't be where I am now," she said. "People are being so nice to me because they know me from Jazz Fest, even here in the D.C., Maryland area."