Shine a Light: Mardi Gras' Magnificent Music Machines

I traveled 12 hours to make Mardi Gras 2006. I’d been living away from home and it was the first time in the many agonizing and helpless weeks that I felt I was finally doing something, no matter how small, for my city. 

The parades were bittersweet. The flood lines on each float sublimely showed Katrina’s devastation. The crowds, though small, were filled with a deep spirit of generosity that permeated every square inch of the neutral ground. And the marching bands blended from various high school bands, with their donated uniforms and borrowed instruments epitomizing all that needed to survive.  

Mardi Gras is certainly spectacle and beads, but its sheer passion and joy comes from the beat and blare of its marching bands. And the fact that that spirit survived made me weep with hope.

Richard Barber, a producer for CBS News was also captured by that feeling when he worked on 48 Hours Mystery: "Storm of Murder," an episode that explored post Katrina violence and the murders of filmmaker Helen Hill and musician Dinerral Shavers.

Shavers was helping bring the city back with music by forming the Rabouin marching band when, just a week before the instruments arrived, he was murdered.

Barbers inspired by this story began independently working on The Whole Gritty City, a documentary feature film that looks at the spirit and power of New Orleans’ marching bands.

“I started the film in October 2007, first concentrating on the L.E. Rabouin High School marching band,“ he says. “A year later we shifted our focus to include Derrick Tabb’s new Roots of Music band and The O. Perry Walker High School band. We pretty much completed filming last May, although I was just down there a couple of weeks ago to record a couple of rehearsals.”

The Whole Gritty City is now in post-production. Barber plans for a premier in New Orleans sometime in 2012 and eventually a broadcast on PBS or national cable.

On Lundi Gras, March 7, he will begin a fundraising campaign with a new website and he’s hoping a Kickstarter campaign will drum up enough funding to take him through editing a rough cut of the entire film.

“Making this film has truly been a labor of love,” he says. “Up to now it’s mostly been funded with my own money and fueled by my unpaid labor as I go back and forth between the film and my day job at CBS News.”

If this powerful trailer is any indication of the quality of his work, who knows we might see Barber thanking some academy one Sunday night in the near future and giving a shout out to New Orleans and its magnificent marching bands.

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