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Hurricane Katrina Benefit

Club Congress, Thursday, Sept. 8

You'd think they'd have been too exhausted, too emotionally overwhelmed to venture forth on the day they'd arrived. But a handful of Katrina's refugees, their ID badges dangling on lanyards, were on hand to meet and inspire folks gathered at Club Congress on their behalf.

Organizers Tom Walbank and Luke Knipe were pretty exhausted, too, having pulled the whole thing together during the Club Congress 20th anniversary party while Knipe was stewarding sound, and Walbank stood at the door taking a collection for hurricane relief.

After a short set from DJ Carlos' blues collection, Tom Walbank played a stormy, passionate show from the heart of the Delta. His cover of Muddy Waters' "She's 19 Years Old" drew catcalls and amens from the Katrina survivors in the crowd, who then talked him through John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen." For a few minutes, they made Club Congress sound like an authentic blues club.

Walbank next introduced a guest drummer discreetly as Chris Davis from New Orleans, but Davis' solo in the middle of Walbank's "Bullwhip Boogie" blew the couple hundred folks present back to the walls. Turns out he's long been a go-to drummer in his hometown, often playing two or three gigs daily. He had fled the Ninth Ward through the twisters across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, leaving everything behind, including his drum kit. Thursday was the first time he'd laid hands on sticks since the Saturday before the storm. He played like he needed to, spreading the catharsis through the room. Howe Gelb then joined in on piano for Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom," as did Rainer's Das Combo bassist Nick Augustine, a former New Orleanian still hoping his brothers made it out. The music would have been heartbreaking had it not been so uplifting.

Between sets, Salvador Duran's singing and dancing drummed up business for the benefit's art raffle and sale organized by Laura Murray and Tom Schmalzer in the hotel lobby. Back in the club, the Giant Sand set opened with a Bertholt Brechtian version of "Summertime," followed by an almost comically lilting "Funny How Time Slips Away," with echoes of "Theme From a Summer Place." Asking Knipe to make his amp "sound like Hendrix," Gelb invited Neko Case to join him singing "Wayfaring Stranger," which could hardly have been more appropriate. She followed up with her "Favorite," her clarion sustains calling like a beacon through a storm.

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