David Simon’s Treme finishes its fourth and final season this Sunday, December 29th. The show has spent the last several years painting a complex portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans, while exploring the intersection of history, tradition and the modern challenges of playing music in a city that loves music but can’t pay for it — and through that, viewers were treated to the city’s indigenous sound. "I just know that Treme broke ground when it comes to music and film on television," says Wendell Pierce, who plays local musician Antoine Batiste on the show. "I think it is a cultural document, a musical document that people will be able to go back — years from now." In celebrating the show's final send off, Pierce spoke with Rolling Stone and shared some of his favorite musical memories from the series. –KATIE VAN SYCKLE
"This song is so haunting, so beautiful. I think it is a classic. I think it is an anthem. I think it is one of the most moving songs that I've heard in a long time. It gets me every time I hear it," Pierce says. The Emmy-nominated track was written by Earle at David Simon's request for the series, and produced by T Bone Burnett with a horn arrangement by Allen Toussaint. It closes out Treme's first season and appears on Earle's 2011 album I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive.
"We had all the [Mardi Gras Indian] chiefs — who had never been photographed together in New Orleans, or anywhere, — come together to sing 'Indian Red' to memorialize their friend who they found buried in the wreckage of his house in the Lower 9th ward. All of these people who are cultural icons and heroes in the community getting international attention," Pierce says. The scene features several Big Chiefs of local Mardi Gras tribes singing the traditional prayer-chant song including Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles, Chief Darryl Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters, Chief Lionel Delpit of the Black Feathers, Chief Otto DeJean of the Hard Head Hunters, Chief Clarence Dalcour of the Creole Osceolas, Council Chief Fred Johnson, and Spyboy Irving "Honey" Banister of the Creole Wildwest. Two other versions of the song performed by Donald Harrison, Jr. and Dr. John are also heard in the Season One episode.
"Thursday night at Vaughan's with Kermit Ruffins was a staple in New Orleans," Pierce says of the Bywater neighborhood bar where Ruffins had a standing gig and regularly barbecued between sets. "He doesn't do it anymore, so to actually play in Vaughn's, and play one of his signature tunes, 'Skokiaan,' and have it on film, we've captured something that hundreds of thousands of people experienced when they came down to New Orleans. Now people will be able to see it captured on film. That was my favorite with Kermit. That and the fact that Kermit could never remember his lines, so he would just come up all kinds of craziness in between until he got to it. I think one time I was eating some ribs or something, he said, 'Put that pork down and get up here and play.'"
"I was terrified. It was the first time I was really going to sing in public, recorded, and it was from the heart," Pierce says. "I was singing about love, unrequited love, and I felt like I'd achieved something that I have never done before." The song was originally written and recorded by Bing Crosby in 1932 and on the show, Pierce's character Antoine Batiste performs the song with street buskers Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Sonny (Michiel Huisman).
"I was actually at that album release party for Backatown, so it was kind of kismet that here I am, with Antoine Baptiste in the show, and here we are replicating an album release party, and they're playing 'Backatown' that I remembered from years ago," Pierce says. "That was an exciting night, because you knew that Trombone Shorty was going to get the national attention that he so rightly deserves. People found out why we call him Trombone Shorty, because they showed the pictures, he was smaller than the trombone when he started playing. The trombone slide used to drag on the street in front of him because he was so small."
"The musicians didn't quite give in to the idea of the filming process," Pierce says. "They cherished every opportunity to get through a song. I remember one time, John [Boutté] refused to cut. And because he refused to cut, because he's so in the pocket, they didn't cut. They kept rolling. And it was one of the most magical moments on Treme because you saw this performance of John Boutté singing 'It's been a long, long time coming, but I know a change a gonna come,' and it's now documented on film that we'll have for all time. That's one of the great things about Treme: capturing moments that would have otherwise been lost. Capturing moments that happen in the clubs and great performances that people only hear about, now they get to see."