Kevin Goodman reaches for the bright orange feathers and a faint breeze in the garage ruffles them in his fingers. If a helicopter could transport him from New Orleans’ devastation and send him on a chartered flight to Austin, he could uproot pageantry deeply embedded in the culture of the Delta and bring it to heart of Texas. He’d never heard of Austin, much less knew where it was.
In Austin, Kevin Bush is his new second chief, someday to wear the big chief crown. Bush sits in a wheelchair; his own story of lashing himself to an attic rafter with a rope to escape the floodwaters is bone-chilling. Annie Jenkins, another evacuee, is Goodman’s new queen, soon to be mother to their child. His children are learning the ways of the tribe as the Young Flaming Arrows. The hurricane took a lethal toll on the Mardi Gras Indians, yet come next Mardi Gras, they’ll all have another costume, glittering and regal.
Goodman goes to therapy weekly “to work out a lot of stuff.” In seven months, he’s performed around town on New Year’s Eve, at Antone’s, Jovita’s, the airport, local festivals, SXSW, and marched through the Rosewood neighborhood. He toured India, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates, sponsored by the Lincoln Center. Impressed by native Sri Lankan art, he’s busy building a mask inspired by the visit. His newly adopted home has renewed interest in the Flaming Arrows’ funky, wonderfully percussive 1997 CD Here Come the Indians Now! This weekend, he returns to New Orleans to perform at Jazz Fest.
Goodman lifts the poster-board structure of the headpiece, the Chief’s crown, onto his lap. His eyes fix on it, seeing its future, rainbow-hued glory. Its mojo is intact. There’s undeniable irony to this process, that from such rudimentary beginnings come such a fiery display of pride. Though he lost a lifetime of costume history to the elements, two of his suits were preserved in a New Orleans museum exhibit. Back in his hands, they’ve given him a starting point, 500 miles from his home, a triumph of spirit over circumstance.
“We just want to keep the New Orleans spirit alive. Keep the flame going.”