If you haven’t been watching Tremé on HBO for the last couple of years you are missing out on something special. If you love blues, or just love watching the “behind the scenes” of a musician’s life it’s great viewing.
For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it’s about New Orleans post Katrina. Tremé is actually a working-class neighborhood in New Orleans that was hit hard by the storm and also has a rich musical heritage. Many musicians live in the neighborhood.
The show follows many of the local’s lives after the storm, including politicians, laborers, business owners, but for the most part it’s about the musicians and how they got back on track… or didn’t.
Many Well-Known New Orleans Musicians Play Themselves
You see many of the actual famous New Orleans musicians playing themselves in the show including Dr. John, Allan Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins, Irma Thomas, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Coco Robicheaux, Galactic, The Subdudes, as well as other greats like Elvis Costello, Ron Carter, The Iguanas, Tab Benoit, Steve Earle and many others.
In fact, one of the joys of the show is trying to identify just who is playing as we watch some band in a local club (often Tipitina’s) in the show. And the credits go by so quickly at the end that it’s very much a challenge to figure out who you’ve just seen.
By the way, Steve Earle has a recurring role in the show as local street musician Harley Watt. It’s a very interesting role and his character comes off as one of the bright lights of the city after the storm, and a big supporter of other local musicians. His song, This City was nominated for and Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics in a series. He sings frequently on the show and is part of the storyline about how tough it is being a musician in any circumstance, but particularly in a city that almost was destroyed by a natural disaster. I’ll miss his character… whoops. Sorry I gave something away. You’ll just have to watch to see what I mean.
The show offers some great historical insights. The storyline about the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and their tradition of parading on Fat Tuesday and other special days throughout the year, is both inspirational and bitter sweet as you see how the storm has a huge impact on even the survival of the tradition and continuation of the rituals of the tribes.
The Indian Storyline
Main character, Clarke Peters as Albert “Big Chief” Lambreaux, having returned to his home to find it severely damaged, moves into the neighborhood bar where his tribe practices. He is repairing it while working to bring the other members of his tribe, as well as his son Delmond, a famous Jazz trumpeter, back to the city. His deep depression around the whole situation is probably the most heart-wrenching aspect of the show, in a show with many heart-wrenching storylines.
Actually I take that back. The most heart-wrenching storyline involves Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Batiste-Williams. She owns and runs a tavern in New Orleans. She now, as a result of the storm, commutes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where her and ex-husband, trombonist Antoine Baptist’s sons are living with her current husband, a dentist. She is continually pressured by her husband to move to Baton Rouge, and give up her ties to New Orleans, but she just can’t. The ties are too strong.
She previously took care of her elderly mother, who refused to leave the city when they were trying to locate LaDonna’s younger brother David Maurice (Daymo), who went missing during the storm. The details of what happens to her I will leave out so you can watch for yourself. But leave it to say, she suffers many traumas as she tries to go on with her life and still live in a city that is under siege from many sides. And the music and the musicians are an integral part of her storyline too.
Without going into a lot of detail, some additional story lines and characters include…
Kim Dickens, as Janette Desautel, who is a struggling but highly acclaimed chef trying to keep her restaurant open while waiting for insurance to pay for her losses in the storm. She ends up closing and moving to New York and connecting with many of the great chefs of the city including Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. The “restauant” storyline is one of the most interesting lines in the show. Check out this website to follow the “cooking” storyline. http://www.inside-treme-blog.com/home/2011/5/6/anthony-bourdain-on-his-all-star-chef-line-up.html
Here’s a video from that storyline.
Many of the storylines intermingle without some characters knowing about other characters, even though they live and work and play together. For example, Janette meets up with Albert Lambreax’s son Delmond in New York without realizing they are both part of the same scene back in New Orleans and she has met his father as well.
Well, I’m already giving too much away. I think it’s time for you to check out Tremé for yourself. It’s on every Sunday night at 10:00 on HBO. It’s in it’s third season and some earlier episodes can be seen on DVD and here’s their Facebook Page so you can keep up. I recommend watching the old episodes first though.