December 27, 2013
Thoughts on the End of a Series - 'Treme' Will Live On
By Seth Arenstein
“Treme,” the critically-acclaimed series about post-Katrina New Orleans, ends its four-season run on HBO at the end of December. For Treme cast member and New Orleans native
Wendell Pierce, 47, Sunday’s finale is not so much an ending as the beginning of a new chapter for the series. He predicts when the Treme box set is issued it will find a new crop of fans who will enjoy the music, the food and other elements of the Crescent City’s culture that were the apex of the series. Accordingly, the actor, who plays trombonist Antoine Batiste in the series, learned to play trombone for the part, as he discusses below. In addition to acting, Pierce also is a neophyte grocer
, opening stores that emphasize fresh produce, meat and fish he remembers from childhood. As important, his Sterling Farm groceries are located in urban areas that most merchants avoid and where food stores destroyed by Katrina have not been rebuilt. The busy Pierce, who admits “I live in the airport,” spoke to CableFAX
and other reporters in July during the Television Critics Association (TCA) tour as he was publicizing his role on NBC’s Michael J. Fox Show
Pierce: Those five weekends in December will be a special way to end the show and end the year. And having just a short order like that, it’s going to be more a mini-series, man, because there’s so much we get in those five episodes. It will be a special present to give to the city and it will be a cultural document of where we were at that particular time. People will be able to relate back to it always. I think people are really going to like it.
Are you sad that more people didn’t get to see it?
: No. I think it’s going to grow, just like “The Wire” [Pierce played Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire]. People are going to be turned on by a musician that they hear [in the music-filled final episodes]. They’re gonna go out and get music ‘because it was part of that Treme show,’
it’s just gonna go on and on and on. Especially when the whole set comes out people are really going to get turned on to it.
What do you think will be the message of the series once it’s over and people can see it as a whole?
: It think people ultimately are going to see [Treme] as the importance of culture and the importance of community. And food is included in that culture. The importance of food, culture, our music and how that will service you when neglect, corruption and all that fails you. There’s a humanity in who we are as a community that will bolster us against everything and anything. That that humanity is more important than any sort of obstacle or destruction that may come. Tap into that in your most trying times. Ultimately the message will be that difficult times do not define character, they reveal character.
Your trombone playing on the series seems extremely realistic. How did you do that?
: I worked very hard on it and I had a really good [trombone] teacher, Keith Hart
, who plays the band director [Darren Lecoeur] on the show. Stafford Agee
was my sound double helping me. [Agee was supplying most of the notes coming from the horn played by Pierce’s character Antoine Batiste. Yet Pierce’s playing was also used on occasion.] I wouldn’t call myself a musician yet, but I have played in public with the Rebirth Brass Band…the way we did it is they overpowered my bad playing. I played very low, so in the amalgam of sound I was reduced. But I always knew that I have too many musician friends not to come correct [to the Treme role], they were going to be on me. So I learned every solo and I learned every song, note for note. And I still have my trombone. So one of these days hopefully I will sit in with [some musicians].
What’s the biggest challenge with the grocery store?
Pierce: Getting your name out there and making sure people know we haven’t reinvented the wheel. It’s just a decent grocery store in areas that other people don’t want to go. And that’s what Sterling Farms is all about. People are saying, ‘Oh, you should put grocery in your name.’ We do, we will, but you don’t have to say Nike shoes or Beyoncé
the wonderful singer. They have built their brand. So building your brand and getting people to come to the store is key. We are growing every day, little by little…it’s needed all over…we just did some talking with folks in Atlanta [about opening a store there]...The First Lady of the United States came to the store
. That was a great honor. So Sterling Farms is getting a lot of attention and I’m excited about that.