Getting down and dirty

Sep 162009
Authors: Johnny Hart

As sunlight broke over New Orleans on August 29, 2005, Big Easy musicians Kevin Harris and Roger Lewis were most likely headed south toward home on a tour bus.

At that time, a category 4 hurricane called Katrina washed over the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall and barreling toward the port city.

By the time the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the band in which Harris and Lewis play saxophone — which will perform with the CSU Marching Band during Saturday’s home football game –, reached Mississippi, it was on the edge of a natural disaster that would alter the path of one city and, ultimately, the entire United States.

“First of all, nobody expected the water,” Lewis said in a phone interview with the Collegian. “The flood, you know?”

Lewis, whose concert will raise funds to provide affordable housing for homeless Katrina victims, said his house on the outskirts of New Orleans filled with 9 feet of water during the storm.

Harris said in a phone interview with the Collegian that he lived in New Orleans’ 7th Ward “from the moment my eyes opened up until the moment Katrina sent me packing.”

More than a year before the hurricane hit, Harris’ father had a heart attack, so the New Orleans musician stayed with him in the months leading up to the disaster.

“They lost everything there because they had like 17 feet of water in the apartments (where my father) was staying,” Harris said.

Harris, whose house was also destroyed in the disaster, now lives in Baton Rouge, La. His father and brother were transported to Grand Prairie, Texas — a move that imposed stark lifestyle changes for the family, which had always lived in close proximity.

“We’ve always been together all our life,” Harris said. “I’ve seen either my father or brother every day of my life except when I’m on the road.”

Harris continues to live in Baton Rouge, outside of the city where he grew up, learned to love music in and called his home.

“I didn’t get back into the city until maybe like a year,” Harris said.

Lewis’ house was also destroyed in the disaster.

“Everything was turned upside down. It was a mess,” Lewis said.

Rubbin’ elbow slides with legends for a good cause

In the main hall of the University Center for the Arts Wednesday sat two pots of jambalaya, a traditional Creole-style dish often served in New Orleans.

Two CSU Marching Band members sat behind the pots, ladling out cupfuls to hungry UCA students and faculty.

Early in the afternoon, drum major Shannon Costello informed Chris Nicholas, the associate director of Bands, that the meat jambalaya had sold out, and the band would be serving only the vegetarian.

By the end of the day, the students, led by clarinet section leader Cortney Wooden, raised approximately $380, which will go toward a larger goal of $15,000 for Lewis and Harris’ cause.

It was the third Wednesday they had served.

The charity the band is working for, the St. Bernard Project, aims to provide affordable housing for families bereft of homes after the storm, according to the group’s Web site,

This philanthropic undertaking came to fruition in March, but spawned from a visit to New Orleans from Nicholas, who was touring with Fort Collins-based band the Caleb Riley Funk Orchestra.

Participating in the traditional New Orleans event Jazz Fest, Nicholas and his band mates were astonished at the wreckage that still overwhelms the city’s streets.

“Around the whole festival grounds, the place still looked like it did a week after Katrina,” Nicholas said. “After the water receded, the homes were still destroyed. People were living on their lawns in these FEMA trailers.”

Harris echoed Nicholas’ sentiment.

“A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of people are still not back home, and a lot of people will never get back home,” Harris said.

“It’s crazy to think it was so long ago, and there’s a ton of homes that aren’t built yet,” Wooden said in a phone interview with the Collegian.

Nicholas hooked up with Fort Collins Music Association President and band mate Greta Cornett, along with the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Association to bring the Dirty Dozen to Fort Collins as part of the greater fundraiser and awareness for the St. Bernard Project.

Together, the heads of each organization proposed to the band’s management group to bring the brass band to Fort Collins, drawing up an offer that would put the CSU Marching Band side-by-side with the Dirty Dozen on the field.

“It’s just a perfect fit because they’re really connected to outreach and education,” Nicholas said. ” . This is a great fit for us to be able to give something back to their neighborhood, but for them also to impart their great experience with the group.”

A culmination of several months of arranging music, rehearsal and overall excitement when the Dirty Dozen take the Sonny Lubick Field Saturday during half time.

“It will be a kaleidoscope of sound and pageantry and motion,” Nichols said. “It’s just going to be like a Mardi Gras parade.”

“It would just be an honor to share any kind of stage with them, be it a marching field or anything else,” Cornett said.

Ultimately, the goal for this philanthropic campaign is to raise $15,000 to provide Darrell Betha and his fiancee, Rose, with a house after their St. Bernard Parish home was destroyed in the 2005 disaster.

“What we really want to raise is awareness,” Nicholas said.

“If we can hit our goal, that will be so satisfying. But even better than that is to raise awareness,” he added.

After the game, several members of the Marching Band and the Dirty Dozen will host the benefit concert at the Aggie Theatre. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 dollars at the door.

All proceeds from the event will filter back to the CSU Bands fundraiser. For more information on how to donate and events, visit

Entertainment Editor Johnny Hart can be reached at

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.