While this blog post is about a TV show, it is a very musical TV show.
HBO's Treme is from creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer, the same team that brought you HBO's highly successful drama The Wire.
Treme refers to a historically African American neighborhood in New Orleans, and the show centers around musicians returning to the city following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Having lived in New Orleans and been an active musician and music lover before, during (I evacuated and ended up on what my friend referred to as "evacucation" for several months), and after Hurricane Katrina, I can personally attest to the show's accurate depiction of New Orleans music and culture as well as the devastating effect the storm had on both. Read on to learn more about the wonderful array of characters that make up the show, as well as the show's authentic and impressive commitment to the city's amazing music and culture.
One of the central characters in Treme is trombone player Antoine Batiste. Batiste is played by Wendell Pierce, who is a native of New Orleans. "Batiste" is the surname of a well-known family of New Orleans musicians. I believe the show's character does not claim any relation to that family, which includes no relation to the beloved "Uncle" Lionel Batiste, a bass drum player in the real-life and real good Treme Brass Band. "Uncle" Lionel did appear in the show, along with several musicians local and international, but more on that later. The Antoine Batiste character is as likeable as he is ornery.
Another wonderful character is Albert Lambreaux, Big Chief of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe portrayed by Clarke Peters. Mardi Gras Indians are African American groups who "mask Indian" and embody a hybrid of Native American and Afro-Carribean culture in neighborhood "tribes" or "nations" on Mardi Gras Day and "Super Sunday," which falls near St. Joseph's Day in late March. Mardi Gras Indians wear extremely elaborate and ornate costumes while chanting, dancing, and basically owning the streets of their neighborhoods and beyond. Big Chief Lambreaux struggles to keep his tribe, his neighborhood, and his family together following Katrina. He is a proud and stubborn patriarch and one can't help rooting for him and his causes.
New Orleans music itself is a major character in the show. Musicians who have appeared on the show include Kermit Ruffins (several times), Soul Rebels Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, Spider Stacy, Dr. John, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle, Sammie "Big Sam" Williams, Donald Harrison, Jr., Galactic, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Deacon John Moore, The Pine Leaf Boys, Paul Sanchez, Rebirth Brass Band, Treme Brass Band, saxophonist Joe Braun, bassist Matt Perrine, bassist Ron Carter, The Pfister Sisters (Holley Bendtsen, Debbie Davis and Yvette Voelker), clarinetist Bruce Brachman, vocalist John Boutté, singer/guitarist Coco Robicheaux, pianist Tom McDermott, vocalists Lloyd Price and Irma Thomas and fiddler/accordianist Cedric Watson.
The wonderful thing about the music in the show (apart from it being generally awesome) is that all the live music one hears in the show, is actually being captured live on set. The music the viewer watches and hears on HBO is the very take that is used for the soundtrack. Additionally, all the great music in the show is "diegetic," which means that it is actually part of the scene. It is as real to the characters as it is to the viewers at home. New Orleans is likely one of the few locations which TV producers would attempt such a feat! Another thing I like about the show is that it does a respectable job of capturing the extreme exuberance and mayhem of Mardi Gras, a holiday which most out-of-towners are surprised to hear that, for locals, is largely a family-friendly affair.
The show carries the viewer through a difficult time in the lives of its many characters (and I mean characters), offering very real scenes of deep sadness and loss. Yet, through it all, the irrepressible celebratory spirit of New Orleans shines through, expressing jubilation, and resulting in an urge to sing out, and dance the blues away.
One can also connect to freegal to download several selections by the Treme Brass Bandopens a new window and many more New Orleans musicians.