NEW ORLEANS – Ticket sales have been far from spectacular, but Ivan Neville says performing at the same Hurricane Katrina anniversary concert Tuesday night as Stevie Wonder is going to be incredible no matter how many people are there.
"What an honor," said the New Orleans keyboardist and singer, and son of Neville Brothers singer Aaron Neville.
Besides Ivan Neville and Wonder, the lineup for "New Orleans: Rebuilding the Soul of America ... One Year Later" includes New Orleans trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, New Orleans bluesman Dr. John and gospel singer Yolanda Adams.
The show was spearheaded by Marsalis to benefit the trust he established after Katrina to rebuild the city's cultural infrastructure. The concert was announced earlier this month, but getting the word out hasn't been easy, organizers say.
"With all that's going on, it's kind of information overload," said Bill McFarlin, executive director of the International Association for Jazz Education and one of the organizers. "It's easy to understand how people are distracted."
The concert will take place at the New Orleans Arena, near the Superdome. The original plan called for more than 10,000 seats but was cut to about 6,000 when ticket sales were slow. About 3,500 seats were reserved as of Monday morning, McFarlin said.
If nothing else, Neville hopes the concert will be a boost to the city's cultural recovery efforts and possibly a step toward emotional healing for those who attend.
"It might make someone smile," he said. "It's one small step."
Neville, who has been performing professionally for more than two decades, said he'll sing "Fortunate Son," originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival during the Vietnam War era. Neville recorded the song at a studio in Austin, Texas, with a group of other New Orleans musicians while on hiatus after Katrina.
"That song meant so much when it was originally recorded, but it means as much if not more than it did then," he said.
Neville has been in Austin since Katrina hit last summer. He's returned to New Orleans frequently, and though he's hopeful his hometown will rebound, he says he has many concerns about the city's levee system and how soon residents will return.
Much of his family is still scattered across the country. His father is living in Nashville, Tenn.
Tuesday's concert is scheduled to run about two hours, with most acts performing two or three songs. Wonder will close the event with a 30-minute set.
Earth, Wind & Fire was part of the original lineup but dropped off the bill because of a scheduling conflict, McFarlin said.
After the concert, Ivan Neville will perform at the historic Tipitina's night club, where the Tipitina's Foundation is donating $500,000 worth of instruments to more than a dozen music school programs in the New Orleans area.
Many schools haven't reopened, are under repair or are trying to acquire basics like desks and classroom supplies. Instruments and music programs vital to this city's musical culture have had to be put on hold.
"We're losing a generation of musicians," Neville said. "When you see something like this, you don't want that tradition to miss a generation. We've got to continue to pass it along like it was passed to us."