Matt Perrine plays tuba in the eclectic group called Bonerama. That name says a lot about its makeup.
“The band has four trombones in its front line. And the back line is tuba, which I put through an amplifier so it has a little more of an electronic sound to it, drums and guitar. “
What sort of music do they play?
"Original tunes, and then New Orleans funk standards and classic rock."
In a city famous for its brass bands, Bonarama has become a local favorite. But their growing reputation has meant more touring, and when Katrina struck, the band was on the road in Little Rock, Arkansas. Back in their Orleans Parish home, Perrine’s wife Debbie and their 2-year old son prepared to wait out the storm – as the family had done many times before. Katrina, however, had the last word and Debbie drove to Little Rock.
“Even though we knew this was going to be a huge storm, there’s a great deal of denial that people go through in a situation like this. And it’s amazing the things my wife brought with her and the things she left behind. Then again, in her mind she was only leaving for a couple of days.”
Days became weeks and it will likely be several months before the Perrines return home. They’ve been told their house survived, but Matt is proceding with caution… and a little conflict.
“On one hand I fear for the safety of my family in terms of the poisons that are in the air and in the ground and in the water. On the other hand I recognize that the thing that’s going to get people to come back to New Orleans is when New Orleans comes back, specifically the music and the food. As soon as those two things are happening again people will start returning to New Orleans. So on one hand I don’t want to come back too soon, on the other hand I want to get back right away and be part of what gets New Orleans back on track.”
Early in the aftermath of Katrina… there was discussion in some circles as to whether or not the Crecent City should be rebuilt. That view troubled Perrine.
“I’m really glad to see that the global view seems to be New Orleans must be rebuilt. It’s not a question of can it be. This is part of the cultural fabric of the world. It affects all other musics and all musics affect it. There are only certain places that are plugged in like that. And just for that New Orleans has to be saved. And that will be the impetus behind it’s reconstruction.”
As he and his bandmates start their own reconstruction, Perrine says he’s been deeply touched by the country’s response to Katrina.
"Especially in the private sector, it’s been overwhelming. And all the support, money and kindness and prayers, that stuff really means a lot."
It has also meant a lot for the band during their town out on the road.
"Just the way people’s hearts. People would find out your from New Orleans and they’d just start crying and hugging you. It really helps to know so many people are feeling so deeply about it. I honestly feel like that is the biggest thing that got us through."
Tonight, Perrine will certainly be feeling lots of emotional support when he performs in his old home town. Before moving to New Orleans in 1991, the graduate of Rio Americano High played bass with local jazz artists Steve Homan, Mat Marucci, and Joe Gilman. As a teenager he cut his musical teeth at jam sessions sponsored by the Traditional Jazz Society, and he was a regular at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. In fact, it was the instrument Perrine played at Sacramento’s world famous festival that ultimately lured him away to Louisiana.
"I loved playing with all the musicians in Sacramento, but in the end I really wanted to play the tuba for a living. And I couldn’t find any place else in the world where I could do that than in New Orleans."
Nor, most likely, could you form a band like Bonerama anywhere else but in the Big Easy. But how did Perrine and company know the public would go for brass band playing, among other things, classic rock?
"My personal musical mantra is you never know what people are going to like. And if I had let my preconceptions of what people would like get in the way I would have never pursued this band. Neither would the rest of us. But we all put those jaded feelings on the shelf and gave it a try and people just love it, of all age groups. And it’s really really something to see. And I’m not just saying that cause I’m in it. I really think it’s special and I’m honored to be a part of it."
Matt Perrine perform as a member of the New Orleans band Bonerama tonight from 7 until 10 in a benefit concert by victims for victims at the Radisson Grove in Sacramento.