ACL Music Fest Saturday Interviews
New Orleans' blind saint of barrelhouse piano
Henry Butler4pm, Wildflower Center stage
Katrina's musical diaspora remains undeniable.
"I'll tell you what," pauses Henry Butler for a moment. "I've played Austin more times after Katrina than I've ever played it before, from the Saxon Pub and Antone's to Threadgill's. Before Katrina, I could count on one hand how many times I'd played in Austin."
Thank God for natural disasters? Hardly. Iron link in New Orleans' piano monarchy, from Professor Longhair and Antoine "Fats" Domino to Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Dr. John, and Harry Connick Jr., the 60-year-old blind barrelhouse pianist now splits his time between Brooklyn and Denver.
"I was in New Orleans at the time of Katrina," confirms Butler. "Well, I left actually a day before Katrina. I wasn't able to go back because I lost the house there and all of my musical equipment, including my piano and all of that. The house is still there, but it's gutted and we're trying to sell it."
And yet, were it not for Katrina, would Henry Butler be playing Austin City Limits?
"Katrina opened some doors for New Orleans musicians that were not opened before," admits the feral, funky, ivory hammer. "As Allen [Toussaint] sometimes says, Katrina was one of the biggest booking agents for New Orleans artists. And I should say Katrina, in that way, did New Orleans artists a big favor in getting 'em out. Maybe not in terms of displacement, but in terms of getting them greater visibility so the world could see and hear why New Orleans music is so unique.
"There was nothing like that model of New Orleans in terms of the kind of music that I could go out and hear. The kind of musicians I could go sit in with. I liked the environment in New Orleans because it was unique. And I have to tell you that the New Orleans I really appreciated is ...."
Gone to ACL.