The Howlin’ Wolf Music Club in New Orleans is stepping up to help the community after Hurricane Ida tore through the city. Located just steps from the Mississippi River, the independent venue owned by Howie Kaplan has transformed itself into a local hub for free meals for those devastated by the hurricane that threatened more than 2 million people living in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Kaplan tells Billboard that his main focus since returning to the venue on Monday has been collecting, cooking and distributing meals to local residents who lost power and are unable to refrigerator food or cook at home. Due to a citywide outage that began on Sunday, local restaurants have also lost power and have emptied out their refrigerators and freezers by donating the contents to The Howlin’ Wolf.
“There wasn’t a grand plan to start the program,” says Kaplan, who estimates they supplied 3,000 meals on Wednesday and another 4,000-5,000 meals Thursday. “Monday morning we came in, we had a few drinks because we survived a hurricane, and we recognized right then and there that something was going on but we didn’t understand the magnitude of it.”
So far, Kaplan estimates about 75 restaurants have donated food at the venue and they expect to hand out up to 10,000 meals a day by the end of the week.
The Howlin’ Wolf’s ability to assist New Orleans so quickly comes from months of practice during the pandemic. When COVID-19 shut down the nation in March of 2020, the venue and The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic launched Meals for Musicians that took in food donations to help feed the city’s cultural workers, hospitality workers, and first responders during the pandemic. Since its inception, Meals for Musicians has donated 50,000 meals to New Orleans residents.
The venue already had a Rolodex of volunteers to call in and local restaurants also provided staff to help prepare the food on Howlin’ Wolf’s two outdoor grills and smoker. Howlin’ Wolf’s kitchen doors open for easily ventilation and distribution out the back. Kaplan adds that in his 21 years of owning the venue it has never been damage other than minor flooding.
Kaplan says the venue will miss out on this week of shows, but is grateful the group he manages – the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band – is currently safely away from the city.
“Thankfully they are on the road right now and luckily we have a network of venues and promoters that are taking good care of them,” says Kaplan. “The big focus behind all of this is taking care of our culture bearers. This is the time to show up and New Orleans does that really well.”
In addition to the meals, a local resident dressed as Darth Vader shows up daily outside The Howlin’ Wolf with a free charging station for anyone to use. The station gives those without power the ability to charge their devices and reach loved ones.
“We’re doing this all through word of mouth. New Orleans is a pretty small town. We all take care of each other,” says Kaplan. “We have people dancing in the streets. We celebrate misery. We celebrate passion. We celebrate everything. That’s what New Orleans values.”