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U2's The Edge helps Gulf Coast music rise again

Guitarist says rock 'n' roll musicians owe debt to region

By Sean Callebs
CNN

Callebs and Edge
CNN's Sean Callebs says The Edge impressed him with his knowlege of conditions in New Orleans.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Those of us in CNN's Gulf Coast bureau were invited to a gathering recently for Music Rising, an organization devoted to helping the region's music scene recover from Hurricane Katrina.

I had worked several days in a row and was inclined to head home for the evening, but this group intrigued me, and since no one else from the office was going to attend, I wanted to make sure I showed my face.

I was at the reception for about 10 minutes when The Edge, U2's guitarist, walked in. For an amateur guitarist like myself, it was a pretty big moment. This guy is a true legend in the guitar-playing community.

He had come to support Music Rising and hear locals play some tunes. I figured I should grab the opportunity to ask his manager if The Edge would talk about his charitable contributions to Music Rising. She gave me the "sure, I will run it by him and see what he says" treatment.

I left a while later, assuming I would never hear from her or The Edge again.

I was wrong. She called the next afternoon and set up an interview for noon Saturday at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. Guess what? It wasn't hard to get my colleagues to come in on their day off to help tape the interview.

At 10 minutes till noon, The Edge pulled up in a black Mercedes van with legendary producer Bob Ezrin, who also is helping with Music Rising. Among the bands Ezrin has produced are Pink Floyd and Kiss.

Throughout the interview, The Edge's knowledge about the situation in New Orleans blew me away. He spoke knowledgeably of the city's inability to rebuild or get people back in their homes, the condition of the Lower Ninth Ward, the fact that emergency teams are still finding bodies, and of course, that most of the 2,500 professional musicians who call New Orleans home were uprooted and many had instruments destroyed in the flood.

Wearing his trademark knit cap, The Edge doesn't waste words. In his mind, anyone who makes a living in professional music owes a debt to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area. He argues jazz, the blues and the roots of rock 'n' roll can all be traced to this region.

He said he is aghast that the Lower Ninth Ward remains in horrible condition and that there are no signs of people being able to return to that area for years to come. He is well aware of Katrina fatigue -- people who are tired of hearing about this story -- but finds such an attitude insulting to the people victimized by the storm..

The Edge is shooting a documentary that he hopes will renew interest in the plight of the people here. And he's continuing to raise money for Music Rising by lending his celebrity and money to the cause.

The Edge can take out a sharpie, scrawl his name on a guitar, which we saw him do, and exponentially raise its value at auction. Other musicians have been helping out, too. Gibson Guitars has created a limited-edition Les Paul guitar made in part from wood indigenous to Louisiana. The proceeds from those sales go to Music Rising.

A few hours after the interview was over, we got a call from The Edge's guitar technician saying the musician was going to a few bars off the beaten path and might be coaxed into a jam session with a local band. Would we want to go? He asked.

We went to Bank Street Bar first. At most, there may have been 30 people inside. The Edge came in and greeted folks, then played a few songs for what must have been one of his smallest audiences in decades.

Then we moved on to Maple Leaf, another music joint, where The Edge hung out with a wildly talented trombone player from New Orleans named Trombone Shorty, who at 20, is already a legend.

Ezrin, the one-time Pink Floyd producer, said The Edge has enough clout to move mountains. But the night I saw The Edge jamming, I got the impression he's happy just doing what he can to help lift this battered city's struggling musicians.

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