There was a time when The Radiators were considered part of a new wave of New Orleans music. The Meters were done. Professor Longhair was done. The Neville Brothers were taking a break.
But The Radiators stretched their rock roots and dug into the town's stirring soul—Zydeco boogie and blues—and made those forms part of their own. Flavors started to mix, a spicy reflection of that gumbo mindset. "Fish head music," they called it. Unlike so many New Orleans groups, they've never gone away; this year, they'll celebrate year 30 with the original lineup. Over that span, The Rads, as they're known to fans, have gained a following comparable in its devotion if not size to The Allmans or The Grateful Dead: People travel all over the country to see them. "Fishheads" trade live recordings of the band, which helped the band's music and reputation dovetail with the younger American jam-band scene.
The Rads and their fans are lucky, though: Bands like The Radiators keep on keeping on because they can, never detached from what's happening in their struggling but hopeful home. Even if the triumphant Radiators are out on the road, they know what's back in the Big Easy—bands who once made their livings from music but now are sitting on their thumbs because they don't have instruments. Bandmates are scattered around the country. Many have had to get other jobs. Like delegates representing those left at home, though, The Radiators remind us of a music scene inevitably affected by the storm, and why paying cover and buying a CD isn't enough for the struggling musicians there. Donations to organizations like the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund (www.nomhrf.org), better known as Renew Our Music, helps in concrete ways by offering grants to leaders in the music community, extending financial assistance to New Orleans musicians of all genres, and helping connect musicians and educators with instruments and gigs. After all, what does it mean when a flagship New Orleans band like this comes to your town after Katrina? They're still ambassadors of "bon temps rouler," but like the song says, "Do You Know How It Feels to Miss New Orleans?" They're bound to make it known, too—as you bounce to their groove, the kind inherent in this roots music—that their town and its musicians are still trying to bounce back.
The Radiators play Lincoln Theatre Saturday, Feb. 23, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $17-$20. Backyard Tire Fire opens.