Midway through New Orleans’ first major post-Katrina concert – October 29th’s Voodoo Music Experience, featuring Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, the New York Dolls and Kermit Ruffins – Mayor Ray Nagin asked for a moment of silence. “Right after the storm, the rhythm was helicopters and Humvees,” Nagin said. “Now we’re back to what the city is about.”
The seven-year-old Voodoo fest, originally scheduled as a two-day concert in New Orleans, ended up being split between a free show in the city’s Riverview Park on Saturday and a fund-raiser at AutoZone Park in Memphis the next day. (The Memphis show also included sets by NIN, QOTSA and the Dolls – as well as Secret Machines, Cake and many others). More than 20,000 free tickets for the Saturday show were distributed to relief agencies, military personnel, police, fire fighters and local citizens.
NIN’s Trent Reznor, who lived in New Orleans’ Garden District until 2004 and still owns a studio there, lobbied Voodoo producer Stephen Rehage to stage the festival in New Orleans, even though much of the city was still dark and depopulated. Necessary equipment – forklifts, cranes, generators, passenger vans – was in short supply. “Logistically, it was a challenge,” Rehage says. “But if it was just us onstage playing bongos, we were going to do it.”
The Soul Rebels Brass Band escorted Mayor Nagin to the stage with a raucous second-line parade. Marching in its hometown rekindled the band’s spirits after weeks of exile in Houston. “You can wash away buildings and houses,” said bandleader Lumar LeBlanc, “but musicians carry on the legacy forever.”
Josh Homme, who counts many friends among the New Orleans rock community, dedicated a bittersweet version of “Long Slow Goodbye” to the city and also urged attendees to e-mail congressmen encouraging them to “get off their asses” and allocate the necessary funds to rebuild the Gulf Coast’s infrastructure. “It ain’t over down here,” Homme said backstage. “I want to see action.”
After spending the previous day touring decimated neighborhoods, Reznor channeled his emotions into an explosive ninety-minute set spanning “Head Like a Hole” to a final “Hurt.” Closing the show, Jazz trumpeter Ruffins sent attendees home with a final affirmation: “New Orleans,” he exclaimed, “will swing again!”
This story is from the December 1st, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.