“We opened a water park just a few miles out town,” explains Glen over a drink in the hotel courtyard, casually adding, “about five weeks before Katrina.” Glen was born in New Orleans and moved back with his wife Melissa a few years back. It’s one of the hundreds of ordinary stories about an extraordinary event – and having seen the exhibit detailing the hurricane, it’s fascinating and humbling to meet someone who’s prepared to share their own individual story with a complete stranger.
Melissa didn’t always run a visitor attraction. She was also a radio DJ in a small military town, “back in the day when radio stations were run by people rather than computers.” I can relate to that. Like the UK, much of American radio is run by huge corporations with just a token nod to local output. There are exceptions : WWOZ is New Orleans’ most famous jazz station. But like most independents, it relies heavily on public donations.
But tonight isn’t about jazz : because Brian Wilson in town.
Surrounded by eleven of his closest friends – including original Beach Boy Al Jardine – this is a singalong show like no other. The second half includes a complete performance of the Pet Sounds album, plus an encore to fill in any of the songs that weren’t played in the first half.
Once again, New Orleans comes up with yet another surprise. And it’s a performance every one of the 3,000 crowd will always remember, not least because of the stunning setting of the Saenger Theatre. Built in 1927, it’s now listed as a nationally important building. Though over the years, it’s had its fair share of problems. In the sixties, the Saenger was divided into two separate performing areas. Eventually, new owners we found and a huge restoration programme got underway. Only for the building to suffer some of the worst water damage during Katrina.
Today, it’s back in action, complete with its fantastic flamboyance. Not dissimilar to the songs of Brian Wilson.