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Posted at 12:18 PM ET, 05/18/2010

The sounds of "Treme" are headed this way

By Lavanya Ramanathan

You may not know Paul Sanchez or "Big" Sam Williams by name, but if you've been watching HBO's "Treme," then you definitely know their songs.

Next month, you can get to know them a lot better when the New Orleans-based musicians -- fresh off "Treme" appearances -- will play a rollicking, Big Easy-style concert at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

The June 3 concert is being billed as both a way to mark this summer's fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and as a benefit for New Orleans label Threadhead Records, which helps the area's musicians release albums using loans from fans. (Sanchez has put out a few records on the label.)

Trombonist and bandleader Williams -- slated to also stop this summer at hipster Tennessee music festival Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits with his five-piece band, Funky Nation -- says performances such as the one in Washington give him a chance to be an unofficial ambassador for the New Orleans musical culture. "Post-Katrina, I'm one of the five musicians really making sure our music gets out there to other people," he said in an interview last week.

"Treme," surprisingly, has taken on the same task. David "The Wire" Simon's show has helped to bolster the profiles of several working musicians who continued on in the post-Katrina days: Sanchez, well-known in the South as a member of the band Cowboy Mouth, joined singer John Boutté to perform their song "At the Foot of Canal Street" on one episode; Williams has a recurring role, playing himself. Boutté's "Treme Song" (already popular) serves as the show's theme song. And hot young star Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews is yet another "Treme"-er (he will play the Western Maryland Blues Festival with his band, New Orleans Avenue, on June 5).

"The show should be a documentary," said Williams, 28. "It's dead-on."

So why are Sanchez and Williams signed on to play a synagogue, rather than one of the major outdoor summer festivals?

Credit a pair of Washingtonians with strong Nola ties: Scott Shalett, a New Orleans native, was once chief of staff for Louisiana Lt. Governor Mitchell J. Landrieu, which put boosting tourism and Louisiana culture squarely on his list of duties. After the pace of rebuilding proved too slow, he and his wife, Karen Sommer Shalett (who penned the Post's Shopper column for a stint), relocated to Washington. Though the couple lost their home and nearly everything they owned, they still carried a torch for New Orleans, and organized the show as a way to mark the anniversary and give back. To support its musical traditions seemed an obvious choice. Tickets are $20-$25.

Sanchez, 50 -- an earnest singer-songwriter whom they'd see every time he played at Iota -- was the first performer they reached out to.

The show will consist of sets by Big Sam's Funky Nation and Sanchez's Rolling Road Show -- a merry band of master improvisers made up of whatever well-known New Orleans musicians have time to jam. The musicians will also play a set together.

"It's wonderful on many levels for me," Sanchez told me last week. "After the flood, playing Washington was a very angry, angry experience. I hated being in D.C."

But then, he added, "the administration changed, and my own life began to gain momentum and New Orleans began to not look like a war zone, but a city again."

Which, Sanchez said, means "the vibe of the evening's special. All of it's special."

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

By Lavanya Ramanathan  | May 18, 2010; 12:18 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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The work that Threadheads is doing to support musicians is so important. Please join us on June 3rd to show support. Tickets can be purchased through ticketmaster or at Sixth and I box office 202-408-3100

Posted by: sshalett | May 18, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

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