Musicians marched a silent second line through the French Quarter on Sunday to protest the state of New Orleans' famed music scene nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
About 50 musicians carrying trombones, trumpets, guitars and drums drew stares from mystified passersby as they strolled along Bourbon Street without playing a single note.
The second line, or procession, was organized to raise awareness that almost two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, the storm is still giving the local music industry the blues, said guitarist and musicians union president Deacon John Moore.
It ain't easy in the Big Easy anymore, Moore said before the march began at Louis Armstrong Park. Musicians are struggling to survive.
The situation is dire enough to put in doubt the future of music in New Orleans, where jazz began and music-loving tourists contribute heavily to the economy, he said.
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans music? Moore asked.
New Orleans will mark on Wednesday the second anniversary of Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city when it struck on August 29, 2005. Only about 60 percent of the pre-storm population of nearly half a million has returned.
The marchers said Katrina so damaged the local economy that musicians still struggle to find gigs and those they get are often at reduced prices.
Cash-strapped club owners used to pay a guaranteed fee, but now many offer a cut of the cover charge or just what the players get in tips, the musicians said.
I refuse to play for $100, said drummer Tony Oulaboula Bazley, 73. When I was a kid, I used to make $75, and now it's 2007. It's really bad.
Moore said New Orleans had more than 3,000 musicians before Katrina, but now there are about 1,800. Many left and have not returned because they cannot afford to come back, he said.
We're experiencing a cultural diaspora in New Orleans, because our culture has been scattered to the four winds, Moore said.
He urged the city and state governments to offer tax breaks and other incentives to encourage venues to hire more musicians.
Music lovers can help, too, by buying CDs by New Orleans musicians or simply putting money in the tip jar.
Please put a tip in the tip jar, because we need it, he said. Put your money where your ear is.
(Additional reporting by Russell McCulley)