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MIT fetes New Orleans with 'Bayou Bash'

Fall Festival concert planned to benefit victims of hurricane
The Wild Magnolias, a New Orleans-based musical group that chants, sings and plays percussion, will perform at MIT's annual Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 30, in Kresge Auditorium.
The Wild Magnolias, a New Orleans-based musical group that chants, sings and plays percussion, will perform at MIT's annual Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 30, in Kresge Auditorium.
Photo courtesy / Wild Magnolias

MIT's annual Fall Festival will take on a different flavor this year. Titled "Bayou Bash," the weekend will culminate in a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina on Sunday, Oct. 30, in Kresge Auditorium. The event will feature numerous acts from the New Orleans area, including blues and gospel singer Marva Wright, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and special guests the Wild Magnolias, a group of "Mardi Gras Indians."

Known for elaborate costumes designed to resemble Native American dress, the Wild Magnolias are actually, according to their web site, "black working-class groups that are part secret and spiritual society and part neighborhood social club."

During Mardi Gras, the group parades in costume while chanting, singing and playing percussion. Folk, funk and jazz are some of the many different styles that make up the Magnolias' sound.

While the group was able to escape New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit, its members lost nearly everything in the flooding.

"They were able to save their current suits," said Barbara Louviere, a residential scholar at Simmons Hall. Louviere, a New Orleans jazz expert who spearheaded the Bayou Bash weekend, has connections with many musicians from the hurricane-ravaged city. "But the old costumes from previous years were lost. They live in the Ninth Ward. I don't know of one who didn't lose his home and everything in it."

Many musicians, including pianist Davell Crawford, who will perform at Sunday's concert, lost equipment and instruments.

"Crawford is the musical director at a church," said Louviere. "Someone from the church called him and said he saw his piano floating down the street."

This concert will help these New Orleans musicians not only financially but also psychologically, Louviere said.

"They're looking forward to this," she said. "It's really important to them. It's really emotional for them. It's an effort to give them work."

The big event to end the Fall Festival, which runs from Oct. 28 to 30, was originally planned to be a comedy show, said Thomas Robinson, assistant director of student activities. Past performers include Margaret Cho and Lewis Black.

"We were going to bring in some comedians from 'The Daily Show,' but after the hurricane hit, we were contacted by Barbara and thought, let's make more of a difference," Robinson said.

Proceeds from Sunday's concert will go to the performers and other charities, including the Pass Christian High School in Mississippi, Robinson said. The school was heavily damaged in the storm and asked for money to support its music program, he said. The fund-raising goal for the event is between $6,000 and $8,000.

"The whole effort is to help the culture and show the culture by bringing it to MIT," he said.

The "Bayou Bash" weekend will feature numerous other events, including other tributes to the New Orleans music scene. On Friday, Oct. 28, there will be a parade through the MIT campus that ends with a jazz concert in the Stata Amphitheater featuring the Wild Magnolias and the Stooges Brass Band. On Saturday in the Kresge Pit, there will be a barbecue and concert featuring the Christian Scott Sextet and junior chemical engineering major and saxophonist Louis Fouche, who was forced to evacuate his home in New Orleans.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 26, 2005 (download PDF).

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