Is there anything sadder than a dead blog?

Well, perhaps. Lost puppy? Fry’s dog in Futurama? Losing community TV?

Ok so dead blogs maybe aren’t the saddest thing humanity has to offer.

nevertheless, I am re-invigorating my blog with blah with the idea that it might become a regular thing.

It’s been a while and there’s been a massive shift in focus and energy for me personally. Lately I have been playing for Zeptepi (See here – http://www.zeptepi.info ) and we’ve been very busy.
Also, I am now teaching, like, for a living, at A&B Music (See here – http://www.aandbmusic.com.au ) and I have been fairly sedentary in recent years.

So stay tuned for many bloggy adventures. I’ll try to make them brief, action packed and entertaining. Or failing that verbose and vitriolic.

Mmmm words….

Oh one last thing – September 19-21 2014 – BANJO JAMBOREE at GUILDFORD!! I’ll be doing a workshop on Jazz chords and theory on the 5 string banjo. this year it will be a bit more casual, conversational and much simpler with less content and more focus on chords.

See you there!!

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STOMPDOG album Songs For the Dead out now!

Hello readers!  I’m pretty excited just now.  I’ve been listening to the new Stompdog album since last night.  I’m on it!  So forgive my indulgence just for now.  (Keep a vigilant eye on it though.)  But right now it’s totally appropriate, because it’s possibly one of the best albums I’ve been involved in.

Now, I really, really should put up Stompdog on my bio, but I have been in a retrogade eMercury period recently.  I needed to work on some actual bonafide roots into some nourishing soil for a bit.  And look!  I gots a fruit!  This album!  I’ll post up the Stompdog bio in a few days.  (I pormise Louise!)  but in the meantime, here’s a brief introduction.

Stompdog is the work of Matthew McKenizie and Lousie Nicholas.  Matt writes most of the stuff so far, and he and Louise (on bass) arrange really great harmonies.  Peter O’Shea is a veteran fiddler savant from around these parts, and then there was me for a while on Banjo.  Unfortunately I got too busy to keep up with their rapidly expanding schedule, and was over-committed with another band that also has a release out this year.  But that can wait for a another blog! 

Nevertheless, I made the Album with them and I’m so glad I did. 

The album is definitely hill billy, with a strong Australiana feel all through it.  Matt’s originals are incredibly well written, with local scenery of Victoria prosaically framing stories of intense drama.  And they’re extremely well crafted too, with full harmonies and intelligent, soulful changes. 

But there’s also some proper good Aussie trad arrangemenst too.  Songs like lachlan Tigers and Ryebuck Shearer – complete with kicking bluegrass solos on banjo and fiddle.  if you ever wanted to hear proper trad Aussie songs, by proper trad Aussies presented in a homogenous and contemporary bluegrass way, this album should be in your reference library.

I’ve been lsitening to the album all morning.  I had to steal one off a friend because it’s so fresh I haven’t even got mine yet!  And it has this crazy charm to it.  It rollicks, and you think it’s Saturday arvo and you’re on the farm and there’s dogs and chickens and rolled-up jeans and rolled-up grass and cabbage moths and cockies sqawking in the distance.  the sun is shining and the weeds and veggies are bolting for the sky.  Then, without warning, the album just turns it’s head for a moment, it’s smile flickers for a second and suddenly you’re a long way from home, and it’s dark, and there could be something out there.

The album is like a billy cart ride.  You hurtle down the Dead Grommet Hill, and it even hits bumps and bounces into the air, as though the album is trying to steer the thing without crashing.  but then it has these moments when you get out of the cart and drag it up the next incline in contemplation.

I’m repeating myself now.

Anyway, check it out.  you can buy it online, or in stores, or if you have trouble with that email me here and I’ll sort it out for you.

http://www.stompdog.com.au/

http://www.stompdog.com.au/store.html

The long time between drinks…

Hello readers. I hope you haven’t forgotten me! It has been a very long time since I blogged, and much overdue. but frankly, there isn’t that much inspiration in Australia to write. It’s pretty bleak.

To give you an idea about what you’ll face in my country if you try and play music, hear this anecdote –

While in the USA and doing lots of terrific gigs, I tried, with the help of a few supporters, to line up some gigs when i got back and do a bit of promotion. Unfortunately, the venues I had once had a great relationship with had changed bookers, and they simply wouldn’t reply to any emails I sent. So, I had to actually phone, from the USA, these venues and speak directly to their managers and once again attempt to by-pass their bookers. Unfortunately, they put me back into the hands of their bookers.

I had to ask Serge at the Edinbrough Castle what the deal was with their booker, as it had been 3 months of solid emailing with no response. But the reality is it’s been YEARS trying to deal with their various bookers.

I remember when the EC first opened, and the Black Swans of Trespass had a gig there. We held the record for a LONG time for attendance. The booker, Louise at the time, actually did the door. That means she sat there the whole gig, she saw how many people came in. Now at the end of the gig, when I asked her for another gig, she actually told me to drop in a demo and “we’ll see.”

I was very surprsied and confused by this. Nevertheless I did what she asked. I dropped in not one but several. I emailed her. I phoned her. I got completely ignored. That was the last gig i did at the EC under my own steam. I have played there many times since, always as a session or support.

But that’s the way Melbourne works.

So I had to reluctantly say goodbye to my relationship with the EC. The same sadly was true of the Wesley Anne. Once, we had a great relationship with the Booker there. We did great work for them. We pulled reasonable crowds and did MASSIVE ad campaigns. As soon as the new booker, Damien, came in,. we were snubbed. When we went around him and approached managemnet directly for a gig, we got double booked.

Just recently we were asked to support Andre Camilleri at the Wesley Anne. Since Damien had taken over, that was the first gig I had ever been to there that was not double booked. Prior to that, every gig there I had played as a support or session, or even just gone along to see, had been double booked except for one. The one that wasn’t double booked was an interstate touring band that had just been forgotten about. No listing, no info, no nothing. It never ceases to amaze me the level of professionalism demanded by these venues compared to the level that is reciprocated by the venues.

People wonder why I am reluctant to play in melbourne. Since then I have made terrific, professional relationships outside of Melbourne, and there is just no incentive to really go back there.

Compare the treatment we got from Adelaide’s Wheatsheaf! Ever since I first played there, about two years ago, we have had a mutual repsect for each other. The booker there is awesome, professional and very well organised. And as a result, the business thrives. Compare that to Wesley Anne and the EC. they don’t care so much about the music and rely on fairly expensive food to bring punters in. Yet, without music, the punters would go elsewhere. In fact the only reason these venues have any kind of reputation is from live music. But they treat the musicians like crap.

The Wheatsheaf booker, on the other hand, not only treats musicians with respect, the booker actually goes to the gigs! I have NEVER known this of any venue in Melbourne.

There’s a lot Melbourne can learn from Adelaide, if it would only stop looking down its nose.

Anyway, that’s one little gripe out of the way. Here’s another –

While in the USA we did a lot of internet promotion. We got really warm and positive feedback from the US and UK. What did we get from Australia? Two replies, both were abusive, along the lines of “Ah your band probably sucks anyway, that’s why you have to advertise.”

When some fans asked the two bogans to listen, they got abusive and threatened violence. Albeit in a pathetic way not to be taken seriosuly, but nevertheless, that’s what i was faced with. Knowing that my time in the US was drawing to a close, that it had been massivley succesful, that i was going home to a musical abyss. It felt awful.

However, not all is lost! There have been some developments in many bands I play with. And that has allowed me to focus on their work, and not to push my own. Which is a massive relief! In fact I feel like I can do more for someone else’s music than I ever could have for my own.

ZEPTEPI have been absoluetly exploding. Shows go from strength to strength, and there has not been a week go by when I haven’t gigged with them in some capacity. They are just about to release an acoustic album I am very excited about. (Phil the front man is listening to the finished masters as i type, and then they’ll be off to the printers.) We have built up a healthy circuit in regional Victoria and interstate. We may launch in Melbourne if we get a decent date, but i don’t think that gig will be the priority launch.

STOMPDOG have finished their album which is mighty fine too. I played all the banjo on it. However, as Zeptepi have been very busy, I have been relegated to understudy banjo. It was too hard for us to synchronise dates, and now they have their original guy back. We are still good friends though. The split was amicable! I recommend checking their CD out. Matt Mckenzie is a great soingwriter.

The BLACK SWANS OF TRESPASS has been resurrected in trio from and plays about once every 1-2 months.

And then I am doing the occasional solo gig here and there.

So once I adjusted to the way Australia is, things weren’t so bad. Currently my main focus is on Zeptepi. And there’s been a lot of work in that area.

I’ll try and blog more often, and keep the whinging if not to a minimum then at least make it somewhat entertaining!

There’s a few anouncements coming up too, regarding banjo classes run by myself at a local music school, and a curious tale about busking on the Surfcoast I’m sure you’ll find extremely Kafka-esque. But for now, let it be known, I’m alive, I’m busy. Things here are about as good as they can be.

Stay tuned!

Last Call

The last gig was a quiet, cerebral affair.  It was at a bookshop.  Necessity dictated.  But I still felt compelled to sing.   It was half restaurant style, half dancing pony.  Or talking mule.  I’m not a dancer, but when people come to see you play, you expect that they expect to see you sing and tell them stuff.  But the cosiness of the Innerchapter Book Store and the intimacy of the space made me just want to make fluid, beautiful noise.

There was a surpise crowd.  I had been hitting the Seattle open mics  and was surprised to see an interested audience member from the Q Cafe open mic.  This is an open mic run by the Victory Music people.  I only played one song at this open mic that was very well received nonetheless.  And I also had a picture drawn of me, that has become quite the treasure.  I may add it to photos when I get home, which, sadly, will be soon.

This blog is all about me and frankly I am finding it boring.  Like every other musician with a god awful website and vanity blog  I am touting myself, inflating my works, waxing egotistical about this show, that show.  I expect you to expect me to write about how good I am, and I expect you to hate that, in spite of your expectations.

What I’d like to write about is the long ribbons of dirty concrete that the bus hurtles over on its way from West Seattle to the Downtown area.  I’d like to write to you about how the cranes in the harbour preside like giant emaciated dinosaur robots, standing at attention as though they are on parade.  I’d like to write about the inky blackness of the deep Puget Sound, that is surprisingly clear when you’re up close to it, and how the deceptively placid surface of the water hides a maelstrom of chaotic, perfidious currents.  You think you can simply row from one side of the harbour to the other, but if the tides don’t get you, the iron will.  The mess of boats, cranes, sheds, dirty concrete will roll over you in its sleep and crush you like an insect.

I’d like to write to you about the mountains, and the grand old Mount Rainier, who watches over Seattle, as a constant reminder of the fragility of all this big man’s iron and concrete.  As though the Duwamish people had written into its very orogeny the message  –  change will come to you, as it came to us.  It dwarfs every billboard, every building, and makes the planes seem like gnats.  It’s a volcano, don’t you know?

I’d like to write to you about the hustlers at the bus stop.  The village of scam that bustles during the day, calling out for cigarettes.  The toothless guy that walks down from Pike Street to Union along 3rd avenue, chanting “Cigarette cigarette cigarette…” until the game of numbers falls his way and he gets a response.  He calls like a machine.  He dangles his passionless voice into the street like fishing rod into a river, ever watchful for the sign of interest, then he reels in his catch.

I’d like to write to you about the changing of the guard, as the workers and day shifters leave and the sun is exchanged for the stars (although no one would know as it all happens behind the ever-present grey shroud of the Seattle clouds) and the hustlers are exchanged for the rustlers.  Rowdy groups of raucous young people yelling at each other, all gangster and bravado.  How the crazy folk either hide away, or grow more earnest in the placations for cigarettes, for change, for jesus, for succour or catharsis.

But I am not supposed to.  This is a musician’s blog, about a musician.  It must have no insight or reflection nor  stray from the path of pleasantry.  For that may alienate.  Who it may alienate, I do not know.  But like MacDonalds, or Walmart or prime time TV, I must keep these blogs about myself, my work, my sales.  I must present to you the plainest of flavours, the whitest of breads, so the reader will buy all my play-sets and toys.

Buy all my play-sets and toys.

On the billboards and on all the sides of every bus in Seattle are advertisements for everything.  Each of these advertisements is for a different product.  A retirement village.  A mobile phone company.  A theme park.  A food stuff.  But every advertisement has one thing in common.  They have a random face.

“I use X Brand phones, they keep me talking.”  Random face

“Bread.  It’s for eating sandwiches.” Random face.  Two random faces, smiling.  (What the hell is in that bread??)

“Patriot Homes.  Living life to the fullest.  Or what’s left of it.  Now with new Memory Assist!”  Random face, old.

“Keep Cool.”  Random Face.  “Be This.”  Face.  “Keep up”  face “Get down” face.

Who are these people?  What is it about their faces that tells me so little?  What is it that makes me feel so uneasy?   Why are they looking at me like that?  Why is my right to respond to these faces denied?  I want to ask them so many things.  I want punch their noses and break their jaws.

Ah, see?  Now that is the problem.  That kind of attitude will not sell CD’s.   It’s alien.

So it’s back to my blog.  Strictly business.  I have 3 days left in Seattle proper.  I’m going to buy a T Shirt for someone special.  Maybe go to the market.  But as far as gigs are concerned, it’s aaaaaaaallllllllll over.

Thank so much every body!

Check these out:

Inner Chapter Book Store:

http://innerchaptersbooks.wordpress.com/about/

Victory Music

http://www.victorymusic.org/

Fatal Error

Well god dammit.

 

So today I was supposed to play at the Columbia Farmer’s Market.   But I had an antipodean calendar error file not found.  My calendar dates and days have been very warped since being here due to the fact then when you fly to the USA from Australia you go through an inter-dimensional time fluctuation portal, that results in you landing the day before you actually left.

I was thinking that TOMORROW was the day of the market, and Friday was the final gig in Seattle.

Turns out this is wrong by 24hrs.

So instead of dilligently heading of to the Market to play a few hours, I decided to discover Vashon Island, have lunch there and do some practice, getting ready for the next day’s gig.

There is still a gig tomorrow, just not at the market.  It’s at the Inner Chapter Book Store on Fairview Avenue.  Check the gig list.  And if you have my number, just call me to remind me.

But Vashon Island was fun.  I took the ferry and it rained solidly.  The ferry took about 20 minutes.  I had lunch at the Red Bike Sushi restaurant, that wasn’t serving Sushi, so I had fish and chips instead.  Then I got a coffee and ran through a bunch of finger exercises and some Scott Joplin.

 

Then I came home and friend asked me how the market went.  I looked perplexed, so we synchronised our calendars and I now feel bad.

Really, really bad.

And when I get back, I’ll be arriving much later in Australia than the time it actually takes me to fly there, because I’ll be going in reverse through the Time Portal.  If I went all the way in the other direction instead of turning around and going back the way I came, I would disturb the Earth’s rotation and actually reverse local space time thus saving Margot Kidder from insanity.

 

Stretching Home

The Seasonal Gods are exchanging residences, as per the Persephone Treaty.  Seattle’s skies are grey and heavy, and occasionally leaky.  At some point in their conferencing the Gods take a break, and a little sunlight escapes and runs off with another perfect day.  But in between, Winter strikes its oncoming authority.

I have cheated winter this year, but I’m sure it doesn’t notice this one puny mortal’s irreverence.  In the two weeks I spent in New Orleans a huge Louisiana shaped hole had formed in my heart, and I have only just noticed it now, in the absence of thick, pea soup humidity.

I recall one of my hosts, Rob…

“They say Louisiana is shaped like a boot.  But you look at it again.  It looks more like a toilet.  And that’s what we is.  The toilet of the whole United States.  It all drains out through here, brother!”

And is there a more nobler profession than the shoveller of shit?  You can keep your presidents, your lawyers, your CEO’s and media celebrity.  Without the humble working man to dilligently take it all away, you’d be swimming in it, and all would be equal.  To keep your status, you rely on these king-makers.

But here I am, on the other side of the country.  The air is thin and cold.  Refreshing.

I have been attempting to hit the streets and busk a lot.  But I have noticed a definite lack of smiling compared to when I first arrived.  Maybe it’s seasonal, maybe it’s familiarity, maybe I’m just tired.  There is certainly a lot of competition on the streets.  Maybe Seattle is tired?

SO when I play, I have decided, I will not put out a tip jar or open my case.  I rarely get anything from American streets anyway.  Certainly no abuse, like back home, but also not much money.  So I’m just going to play.  Two days ago I went to Ballard and just played and played for hours.  I made one dollar, but I made a lot of people happy.  A lot of people stopped and listened.  But having my case out made me feel cheap.  Consider the lilly – does it ask for tips?  When birds sing, they may well be trying to get laid, but at least they’re not whores.

So last night, I had my Dubsea gig in White Center.  (The locals call it Not quite white, Not quite centered.  Everything in the USA is race focused.  Black music, white music, this neighbourhood, that group.  Hard to escape from it and just relate to folks.) It was a huge success.

What continually impresses me about Americans is their generosity of heart and their love, enthusiasm and need for music.  Music is a spiritual food.  This is why my country has little time for it.  We have very little spirit, really.  But it is here in abundance.  It’s hard to reconcile the openness and generosity and all-round decency of the American people with the meanness of the American government, and the xenophobic, fear-mongering right wing minority.   It’ll take some time to truly understanding how I’m treated by individuals compared with what is happening to America as collective.  But I don’t deal with the collective directly.  I deal with the individuals, and I’ll take an American audience of individual Americans over an Australian one anytime.

The cafe was packed.  I wasn’t paid for the gig, I only recieved tips.  I was hoping to walk away with maybe $20, or at worst, nothing.  But People generously gave tips.  I ended up with a lot more, and it kind of saved my bacon a bit, as I have been pushing the finances a lot.

Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you about my intimate financial details.  That’s one of those middle class taboos isn’t it?  Like, if you tell your neighbour how much you paid for your house they’ll steal it off you.  But I never understood why it was taboo to discuss money.  Or, for that matter, religion and politics.  It’s as though society has said, look, here’s some really great things, the concept of God(pty ltd), and the science of politics.  Interesting ideas, huh?  Well, shut up about them, don’t ever talk about them.  Talk about the weather.  And obey.  Look, here’s a football.  Get the ball!  Get the ball!  Good boy!!!

Nevertheless, that’s how it went down.  The people dug my stuff, they put their praise in my pockets.

I’m going to spend it on advertising the next gig.

That’s how it goes!

In the meantime, in the week that I have been in Seattle, I’ve been playing some open mic nights and just generally getting about town. Had a great jam at the Paragon Bar.  I bought a pint that took me 3 hours to drink, and nearly left without paying!  the manager had to chase me down the street.  I was ashamed.

Night before last I was at the Gypsy Music Cafe, and some of the stuff there was truly amazing.  Most folks expect very little from open mics.  But the stuff on at this night was worth paying for!  I didn’t though.  Yes, quite the double standard isn’t it?  But nevertheless, there were some awesome acts.

Something that has struck me about America too, particularly Seattle, and is also a great reflection on the qualities of Americans that I can’t stop espousing.  They let dogs in to many venues.  And also on public transport.  Hell, one guy I even saw took a cat on the bus!  Australians, while many are dog lovers, have an extreme and irrational intolerance of these creatures in public spaces.  I guess we feel threatened, like they’re going to take some thing precious away from us. I can recall once, at a Laundromat in Brunswick, I was doing some loads and my very well behaved and people-friendly dog, Boots, was just hanging out with me, lying in the sun.  He is not a big dog, and by no means aggresive.  A woman came in to the Laundromat, took one look at him, stepped back out, and called from the outside – “YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE DOGS HERE!” then ran off in fear and disgust.  Boots and I just looked at each other and shrugged.

At the gypsy bar was a wonderful woman called Katherine who had a very socially well adjusted blue heeler that walked around the venue like he was a person.  No one freaked out, and he copped pats off everyone.  If he could speak, I’m sure he’d do so in an Australian accent.

And I’m sure he’d tell me –

Dude!  I moved here.  Melbourne SUCKS.  They treat dogs like shit.

Saint Bernard Project

While I was in New Orleans I decided to give as much time as I could to a volunteer project that had been recommended to me by a friend of mine.

I did this because I felt it would be a better way to experience the real New Orleans, and learn a lot about it from all the different people I’d be working with. I felt I would learn a hell of a lot more about New Orleans this way than if I had of booked in to a hotel or hostel and boozed it up in the French Quarter every night scrounging for gigs and entertainment. I did do a lot of this however. Not so much the boozing, but I spent a lot of time in the French Quarter and I did investigate as much music possibilities as I could.

But in working for the St Bernard Project I learnt a lot about how N.O. had changed since Cyclone Katrina, the emotions of the locals, the history of the place, and how people live in the real N.O., and its suburbs and neighbourhoods, not just the tourist strip.

For those of you that do not know, some 6 years ago New Orleans was devastated by massive storm. Even after all this time, the scars are very painfully visible. Prior to the storm, New Orleans was a vibrant bustling city. In the St Bernard Parish, down past the 9th Ward, where I lived and worked and where the SBP is located, the population was 67,000 before the storm. It is now at around 20,000. N.O. still bustles, I should mention. It’s still vibrant. But there’s a lot more space, in population and commerce.

Many parts of New Orleans do indeed look deserted. Right behind the SBP office is a huge supermarket/shopping mall. It’s boarded up and abandoned. There just isn’t the people to shop there. All through the 9th Ward and the Parish are concrete blocks where houses once stood but were swept away. In the more central areas sometimes whole neighbourhoods have been abandoned, leaving behind empty house after empty house, with only a few in between with families in them. For me it was kind of fascinating and exciting. But for the locals it must be a painful and stark reminder of what once was.

As an Australian, the most shocking thing for me was how little the government has done for the people of New Orleans. It is as though the Bush Administration simply turned its back, and subsequent governments simply washed their hands. (That means YOU Obama,) Last Summer Australia had some of the worst floods in history. It is inconceivable to imagine the government doing nothing at all in my country.

It was just as inconceivable for the New Orleans residents prior to the storm, too. But now there is a palpable lack of trust and confidence.

Take for instance the story of the guy that donated his workshop to the SBP, that they now use for their office.

He was a fire-fighter by trade that ran a tool shop in an industrial part of the St Bernard Parish. Dyed-in-the-wool flag waving patriot. He was stuck on his roof for 4 days before he was rescued. As a previous government emergency service worker he had absolute faith that the United States government would rescue him. But it was in fact Canadian Mounties that finally came and rescued him, taking him to another roof with other survivors that had to wait even longer to be taken to safety. It destroyed his faith in the government.

Add to that the behaviour and training of the National Guard who were just young kids, given very high powered rifles, and whipped up by their superiors into a frenzy of paranoia. They violently enforced a curfew on the residents after the storm at a time when recovery work and rebuilding was critical.

It drove a huge wedge between the people of Louisiana and their government. And there are many, many more stories of the callous handling and lack of effectiveness displayed by the government.

There were many more horror stories as well. The infamous Super-dome chaos for one. I will spare you the details, as they are readily available on the internet if you want to know more. There were also stories you won’t find on the internet, such as the young recovery worker who reached breaking point when he discovered the body of a drowned 6 year old girl in a back yard. They couldn’t find her family. Maybe they had survived, maybe not. Nobody could tell.

The internet also can’t tell you what it’s like to work alongside these people, and where their hearts and attitudes are today. New Orleans has seen many disasters in its time, and has been wiped out before by fires and other storms. Certainly the force of Katrina was unprecedented, but the hearts of the New Orleans people are incredibly strong. They’re proud of their town, their culture and their community. New Orleans may well change, but that’s all it will do. Just change. It will not be destroyed. And change is just a part of life. New Orleans’ life has been very long.

The people of New Orleans have always been economically challenged compared to their northern sibling states. Some people here are some of the poorest in America. And Katrina took away what little they had left. Insurance companies scammed out of paying up, and left people whose families had lived in the same house and neighbourhood for generations, with absolutely nothing but the clothes on their back. Even after the waters subsided, the clean up was obviously going to take money. Money to clean the mud, to repair walls, windows, and so much more. Many families simply left, and have yet to return. As I mentioned, many houses stand empty and abandoned, filled with ghosts and shadows.

The Saint Bernard Project is a volunteer project that helps to rebuild and repair houses whose residents could not afford to. When I volunteered I did a lot of painting, a lot of wall preparation, some insulation and other various construction jobs. I worked with people from right across America who had come down to simply pitch in. Some had experience, some did not. It didn’t matter. We gave our labour, and that’s what the SBP needed.

There’s actually a lot of these projects in New Orleans being run by Americans who are filling the vacuum left by the Government’s inaction. All of them are non-profit or volunteer programs. Each have a different angle.

Many of these Americans came to work in New Orleans and ended up staying permanently. As they say, people love New Orleans, and New Orleans loves ’em right back!

I really valued my time at SBP, and I will definitely be back to give them more of my labour someday. It’s probably the best thing you can do if you’re staying in N.O. for any length of time. You’ll learn a lot about the people, and if you stay aware of what’s going on around you, a lot about the Louisiana climate, flora and fauna. And you may pick a skill or two you didn’t have before. I recommend it thoroughly.

For further information, check out these links:

http://www.stbernardproject.org/

Other stuff in N.O. –
http://www.habitat.org/
http://www.opportunityhomesneworleans.com/