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The Tremé neighborhood has always held a special place in the hearts of musicians and musical historians for its role in the development of jazz and other African American musical traditions, but it wasn't until more recently that the neighborhood captured the imagination of a much wider audience, thanks to the HBO series Treme. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures that inundated New Orleans, the award-winning team of David Simon and Eric Overmyer (The Wire) decided to turn their lens on the Crescent City. They found the ornate and deeply rooted traditions of working class Tremé to be the perfect focal point for the larger story of recovery and perseverance in New Orleans. With its third season set to air in fall 2013, Treme is widely regarded as one of the best and most accurate representations of New Orleans ever captured on film—which is no small feat for anyone trying to render the intricacies of the social, cultural, musical, political, and socioeconomic dynamics of this city.
"The aesthetic has an anthropological quality," says Henry Griffin, a New Orleans writer, filmmaker, and professor who plays a character in the series based loosely on himself. "They're trying to re-create an exact period of history: the years right after the storm."
To that end, the producers employ a small army of local writers, fact-checkers, and historians to help ensure the script and scene work are as accurate and realistic as possible. The casting team uses locals whenever possible, and the location scouts and set producers go to remarkable lengths to ensure the authenticity of sets, props, and costumes. "What really sets it apart," Griffin says, "is that other shows or films about New Orleans are always made for a bigger audience first, and then later the directors might consider what locals think of it. Treme, on the other hand, is made for New Orleans first, and then developed for the wider audience."
The show has cast a spotlight on many of New Orleans's underground spots. Suddenly, crowds of music lovers swell on Tuesday nights to catch Kermit Ruffins performing at Bullets Sports Bar (2441 AP Tureaud 504/948-4003)—a bar that has long been a staple of Tremé nightlife. Local institutions like Bywater nightclub Vaughn's (4229 Dauphine St. 504/947-5562), the Mid-City café Angelo Brocato's (214 N. Carrollton Ave. 504/486-1465), and the French Quarter restaurant Bayona (430 Dauphine St. 504/525-4455) have also been featured.
Many locals consider Sunday nights, when new episodes air, "Treme night." The R Bar (1431 Royal St. 504/948-7499), in the Marigny, hosts a popular party with its oversized film screen over the bar. Residents also scan Craigslist.com for opportunities to work as extras on the show.
Treme has proved to be a galvanizing creative force in the city of New Orleans, bringing people together to celebrate their own world and traditions. More than that, it's a recognition, a rendering, and a celebration of the perseverance and unique temperament of this city and its denizens in the face of an unprecedented national tragedy—and that has a healing quality all its own.
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