Though the Big Easy is known as the birthplace of jazz and closely identified with a multitude of genres, including zydeco, blues and rap, its status as a premier music city took a hit last year.
Its musicians scattered in the wake of the August 29 storm, and some clubs where music played nightly went dark.
Having two weekends of the massive Jazz Festival, now in its 36th year, was critical to helping restore the city’s once vibrant music life.
Many of its homegrown stars – including Dr John, Allen Toussaint, Terence Blanchard, The Meters and others – returned to Jazz Fest to help.
Joining them were superstar acts like The Dave Matthews Band, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
“With Dylan, and to have this happen again means everything to us,” said Julie Becker, a native New Orleanian.
“It is what this city is about, it’s what carries the city, it’s the soul of the city.”
“With Dylan, and to have this happen again means everything to us,”
New Orleans resident
Blues legend Etta James, who performed on Saturday, had not been to New Orleans since Katrina and said at first she worried about one of her favourite haunts.
“Now I can go back to Los Angeles and say, ‘There’s not too much wrong with it’,” she said after her performance. “It looks like to me it’s coming back.”
Saturday’s acts delivered other emotional, passionate performances.
U2’s The Edge joined New Orleans‘ NewBirth Brass Band, which has relocated to Houston, as the group sang Stand By Me in honour of its wounded city.
And New Orleans’ native Juvenile also tried to raise the beleaguered city’s spirits.
As the chorus of one rap boomed “Bounce back”, Juvenile yelled to the crowd, “That’s what New Orleans is about to do!”
Bruce Springsteen headlined Sunday’s performances – his first appearance at the festival.
Katrina left many homeless
Noting that he visited the New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, perhaps the most devastated area in the city, Springsteen said: “I saw sights I never thought I’d see in an American city,” and added: “The criminal ineptitude makes you furious.”
With that, he launched into a song titled How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? and dedicated the song to “President Bystander”, in veiled reference to George Bush.
After the hurricane, which killed 1,300 people along the US Gulf Coast and devastated much of New Orleans, organisers worried that the festival would have to be scaled back or cancelled.
Even now, the city’s population is less than half of what it was before the hurricane and flooding it triggered. The city’s pre-Katrina population was about 470,000.
But organisers said numbers were easily in the tens of thousands and on par with other years, despite limits on numbers of visitors to the city by a tourist trade still recovering from the August 29 storm.
The festival has been compressed, with 12 stages being reduced to 10.
An event official said this week that advance ticket sales were about 75% of previous years before the first day.
The festival picks up next weekend with Paul Simon, Irma Thomas, Keith Urban, Jimmy Buffett, Buckwheat Zydeco and Fats Domino, who has not performed in public since being evacuated from his damaged Ninth Ward home after Katrina.