My Chicago/New Orleans Revelation March 11, 2010 I used to write a column in “today’s chicago woman” about chicago entertainment, nightlife, culture, art,… similar to what I do on this blog I guess (but in a glossy magazine with an editor)…. And after being in new orleans for the last 24hours, I thought of one of my favorite articles I wrote post-katrina after returning from a very impactful trip just after the disaster- as you can see me internally destroyed above, amongst all the destruction in the 9th ward, the part of new Orleans hit the hardest. In light of coming here direct from vegas yesterday (read and you’ll understand), recent disasters in Haiti & chile, and having hung out with all my local friends here who really enlightened me about their recovery when they described what it was like to win the recent superbowl I happened to be at, I had to rerun the article here. Please read it and let me know what you think, I really think you will like it… I used to write a column in “today’s chicago woman” about chicago entertainment, nightlife, culture, art,… similar to what I do on this blog I guess (but in a glossy magazine with an editor)…. And after being in new orleans for the last 24hours, I thought of one of my favorite articles I wrote post-katrina after returning from a very impactful trip just after the disaster- as you can see me internally destroyed above, amongst all the destruction in the 9th ward, the part of new Orleans hit the hardest. In light of coming here direct from vegas yesterday (read and you’ll understand), recent disasters in Haiti & chile, and having hung out with all my local friends here who really enlightened me about their recovery when they described what it was like to win the recent superbowl I happened to be at, I had to share the article here. Please read it and let me know what you think, I really think you will like it… InSide With Billy Dec The POWER OF Entertainment I NEVER REALLY UNDERSTOOD the power of entertainment until I recently visited New Orleans and saw the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. It was an experience that I’ll never forget. A local New Orleans businessman, Robert LeBlanc,contacted me for advice to strengthen his post-Katrina nightclub business, Republic New Orleans, and more importantly, to lend a Chicago perspective on how he and other business owners, could better rebuild the city’s entertainment industry as a whole. Trust me, when I initially heard the request, my jaw dropped. That really uncomfortable moment-of-silence thing happened, followed by a weird stutter that made no sense, all while I tried to figure out how to respond. The letters “O” and “K” finally came out. And then my flight was booked. The day came quick when Robert picked me up from the very empty New Orleans airport. From a distance, he looked like a strong 6-foot 6-inch athlete type, but up close, there was something very different about him. It was all in his eyes. They were piercing, like he was in the middle of a fight, had a million things on his mind and wanted something from me. It was intense, and at first, a little scary. Immediately he handed me a detailed itinerary. I was shocked; this trip was no joke. I knew I was helping the entertainment business at night, and I’d requested that my days be full of physical charity work, but this itinerary had me all over the city almost every hour of every day. And it hit me: panic. I felt that for every time slot blocked with a huge commitment, I had to seriously make a significant contribution or I’d be letting many people down. To make matters worse, first stop out of the airport parking lot was the 9th Ward, one of the worst hit spots. Chicago As Example Let me just say that I was knocked senseless by the destruction. I’d seen it on TV, but now was feeling it. It hurt. The horizon was lifeless as far as you could see, and the “better” hit areas where houses were still standing, were incomprehensible — boats on land, cars on houses, houses on cars, personal belongings on the outside of homes, gigantic trees with their roots facing up. It was a mess. Initially I became so numb I couldn’t do anything but sit there. But as every second went by, my head was racing with horrific thoughts of not knowing what I could ever give Robert and these people that would remotely even matter! As I freaked out internally, I began to just spill whatever advice I could give Robert about the entertainment business to hopefully compensate in quantity chatter where I thought I’d be lacking in quality advice that actually makes a difference. And interestingly enough, that’s what sparked the conversation that completely enlightened me. Robert explained that he and many around him thoroughly appreciated my advice because I was “part of a city, part of a culture, that not only at one time rebuilt after the destruction of the Chicago Fire, but was strong enough internally to rebuild so that it was better than it was before, to the point of being one of the greatest cities in the world.” And a lot of that success came from similar characteristics that they feel New Orleans shares, like our “strong sense of community, pride, energy, integrity and character.” Robert agreed with many out there that when looking at other cities to model their recovered structure after, “Chicago was the perfect prototype for New Orleans to follow.” He said that many there felt those similar characteristics that show unity and identity in our two cities were in part created, maintained and strengthened by our long history of integrating our unique blends of music, food, hospitality, and most of all, entertainment, into our individual cultures. On The Move I also found myself in the business and tourist areas. Hotels, restaurants, and live music venues were all operating at the highest of levels. The food was amazing, the jazz was outstanding, the shops went on and on with unique finds, and that palpable historic city feel was as moving as ever. And yes, the infamous French Quarter looked perfectly intact. Most importantly, the locals were so full of positive energy and support for their fellow community members that they projected this amazing love and pride for the lifestyle and culture they’ve always lived and enjoyed—and were sure to get back even better than it was before Robert and his staff at Republic New Orleans put on an amazing fashion show fundraiser the first night I was there. Reopening launch parties and fundraisers were everywhere. I watched people who’d never been in the hospitality business before fill gaps wherever they could just to keep the entertainment venues staffed right to ensure the customer was having a perfect experience. It all made sense; these people were fighting to recapture the life that they once had. Rebuilding the entertainment was necessary to doing that, as it defined them, brought visitors, empowered them to live the lifestyle that they loved. And they were happy that I was there. I could feel it. Why? They showed the love to every single person there to visit, help, enjoy, whatever. You came to join them and that meant everything. Never Bored Here I saw school groups flying in to clean. Tourists were helping the economy financially. Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker” left Vegas to film in New Orleans raising awareness an money for them at the same time. Random people from everywhere around the country came to just show their support. I even bumped into our very own Chicago NBC 5 news anchor Don Lemon down there, who was taking his week off to simply volunteer. It was beautiful. We realized that we were working in the same area the next day, so we decided to go together. It was there that I met the most amazing person who embodied everything about New Orleans. He was a little 80-year-old man named Oliver Williams who’d lost his home, one that he’d built with his own two hands over 50 years ago. He stood in a completely gutted room stripped of everything he had, with only tools in his hand and his son by his side trying to put it all back together. As we started talking, I asked him if he left the house when he heard about Katrina. Oliver said in his New Orleans accent, “Oh ya, you always leave when you hear the hurricanes are coming!” Trying not to offend, I ask him why he just doesn’t just find a new home somewhere else at this point in his life. And that’s when he summed it all up for me with the greatest smile ever that reflected a lifetime of great experiences: “I’ll never leave New Orleans. I love it. I never get bored here. I love the entertainment!” Wow. I got it. Time To Entertain Empowered with that, I knew it was time to do my thing. Yes, I helped where I could, showed support, contributed as a tourist, but I was asked down as an entertainment consultant, and couldn’t leave that part out. I thought it was only right to host a big party on my last night at Republic New Orleans to contribute to the much-needed entertainment spirit. Celebrity friends like singer Macy Gray and actress Robin Tunney happened to be out there supporting too and joined us that night on stage in front of more than a thousand people. I gave as many smiles, greetings, hugs, handshakes, support, advice and help as I could, but I have to admit, New Orleans had it going on no matter what! Everyone was enjoying a good time with their fellow neighbors and guests and having a blast! And from what I learned on this trip, that’s very important, if not critical, too. My ride home obviously was filled with great thoughts of New Orleans, and a firm commitment to return very soon. In fact, I sincerely hope you’ll pick up and leave for New Orleans after reading this article—you’ll make a difference just by being there. I will say, however, that once there, I couldn’t wait to get back to Chicago. I couldn’t wait to do more to support and build the entertainment industry here, ultimately strengthening our culture and community, so that whatever kept Robert, Oliver and all those in New Orleans fighting to keep the spirit of their city alive, will always be there for us too, if not stronger. 2 Responses Meghan Callaghan March 11, 2010 Great post-it gave me chills. I’ve also been to NOLA post Katrina (for the first time) and fell in love with not only the city but its people. You’re right, those who live there, love it there. And I see why. It has such a different aura and gives me such a great feeling of hope and just awakens my senses of what if feels like to be truly alive. It’s quite an enchanting city and I can’t wait to go back and also try to help in some way. We were told by a concierge at our hotel that the best way to help was to be a tourist and bring business to the city. That’s so cool that Chicago was mentioned as a prototype…we also live in a great city. Reply Astra March 11, 2010 Great article! Makes you appreciate what you have at home – wherever one’s home may be. The people in New Orleans are truly exceptional. No matter the hardships they have endured, they still bond together, believe, and march forward. That takes real strength and courage. An example we can all learn from and an attitude we should emulate in our own lives. On a side note and from a marketing perspective, I know that New Orleans was once a “hub” for trade shows – in fact, myself, I visited the city for a business conference the year before Katrina hit. I have to be honest in that I am not up-to-date with the financial/business health of the city but bringing the “trade show culture” back to the city will generate revenue and definitely rev up the entertainment/hospitality industry. Just some of my thoughts on a Thursday evening… Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.