By Laura Cayouette
Alas, the Saints-sponsored Wednesday at the Square benefitting the Young Leadership Council has come to a rousing end. Despite the 110 degree heat index, Soul Rebels and Galactic drew a huge crowd in the mood to dance. The Soul Rebels have a jazz-funk sound that got everyone on their feet and kept them there. Galactic featured special guest and crowd favorite, Cyril Neville, but the show hit a new high with the addition of a massive marching band from the Roots of Music program.
Roots of Music strives to fill the void in New Orleans middle schools in the wake of Katrina and budget cuts. Around 70 of the nearly 100 members filed onto and in front of the stage in sunshine-yellow shirts. You may recognize their faces from the 2009 and 2010 Mardi Gras parades. The kids in the program are educated in music history and theory in addition to working with instruments. Even tutors, busses and hot meals are provided, the latter by parents and the Conwill Family Foundation. Judging by the energy, discipline and talent of the band, it's time and money well spent, these kids are a great investment.
Wednesday at the Square was started eleven years ago by the Downtown Development District (DDD) to introduce the concept of staying and playing downtown after work. The YLC supplied volunteers for the concerts from the start. After Katrina, the DDD wanted to focus on their core mission of developing downtown so the YLC took over the concerts in January 2006 to open March 2006. Amy Collins, executive director of the Young Leadership Council, has been with the YLC since 2006.
"We were able to bring in some new sponsorship, upgrade the talent a little bit, make it bigger and better than it ever has been so the last four years have been amazing for us. This actually now is one of our biggest fundraisers for the YLC."
Asking about favorite shows was like asking her to pick a favorite child, but Ms. Collins confessed, "We do Marcia Ball the week between Jazz Fest every year and it's just such an electric time. I mean the whole city is just into festivals, everybody comes out, Marcia has a ball." We laughed at her pun. "This year, I have to say Trombone Shorty just was amazing."
"We try to mix it up and really do appeal to a broad scope of people and now the event has really become a destination event. You're not just getting people staying downtown, their families are coming to meet them or friends are coming to meet them."
"We have been blessed with a wonderful problem to have, too many people out here some days." As a result, the YLC is looking to expand the space a bit more and, of course, shorten beer lines. "We're not going to mess with it too much because it is really successful."
Ms. Collins continued, "The ability to bring the community together is my favorite thing about doing this. The Young Leadership Council is all about community. You know, we plug people into the community so they feel like they're making a difference as young professionals where they otherwise might not. All of our projects serve to improve the quality of life in our community and so this is just one event that does all of that on a grand scale, times ten, and everybody has such a good time. I've never been involved with an event that is so positive and then having, of course, the Saints out here is just amazing. That's just been a bonus as well, because again, they represent good things to the community and, you know, they do things like yesterday with the oil spill." Geaux Saints!
Though the YLC stays away from political agendas, they did allow a booth at the event for Dredge Baby Dredge, http://dredgebabydredge.com/ a group of concerned citizens seeking to protect our non-renewable resources and assist fisherman affected by the spill. The T-shirts available for sale served as a reminder to enjoy the beauty of our region and our community, even as they have come under siege once again.
The YLC concert series will resume in March, but we can look forward to "Harvest the Music," a Fall concert series on Thursdays sponsored by Second Harvest Food Bank. Like the YLC series, the concerts will be free to the public. I, for one, will be there.