Long-time Sussex County resident Bryan Powers can’t help but reminisce each fall when he sees or hears advertisements for the annual Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival. This popular style of music lives on in coastal Delaware through the annual gathering, which brings thousands to the Delaware beaches every October for several nights of smooth sounds and fun times.
The festival features many local talents, but also attracts musicians from throughout the United States, including from hotbeds of jazz music that include Memphis, Tenn., Kansas City, Mo., and the city of New Orleans.
But the music came very close to dying in the Big Easy after the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina swept through in 2005. Many musicians’ homes were destroyed and some feared, instead of rebuilding, these cornerstones of the community would simply relocate to other areas or states.
Activists and leaders in New Orleans couldn’t let that happen, but they needed help in bringing some much-needed order to the chaos that was southern Louisiana in 2005 and 2006.
“There was a huge fear that New Orleans would lose its jazz flavor; it was a very real concern to the people who lived there,” says Powers, today a Realtor with the Oldfather Group of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s International Realty in Rehoboth Beach. “So, many groups stepped in and decided to do something about that, among them Habitat for Humanity and 84 Lumber, the company I worked for at the time.”
Leaving a high paying job in coastal Delaware, Powers moved his family to New Orleans for a 12 month period beginning in July of 2006. His purpose – to work with jazz musicians Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., on a special project aimed at creating a permanent home for musicians, and their music, in the city of New Orleans.
When the project was complete months later, workers had created 70 single-family homes and 5 two-family homes, as well as the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, which features indoor and outdoor performance spaces, practice rooms and classrooms for aspiring musicians.
The undertaking assured the genre of jazz would remain alive and well in the city of New Orleans.
“It was amazing working on this project because the entire community was kicking in to help, along with hundreds of volunteers from all over the country,” remembers Powers. “It really made me feel proud to be an American, to see this kind of teamwork and togetherness on a project that really meant so much to the people of New Orleans. To this day, the village is a gathering place and just a source of great pride to the people there.”
But just as there are many positive stories that transpire after a catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina, there are also those who seek to take advantage. Powers expected there would be unscrupulous people descending on the area, looking to prey on people’s misery and desperation.
On a personal level, this is the reason he really wanted to be there on-site in the first place, figuring if he could help just one person make a better life for his or her family, that all of his sacrifices and determination would be worth it.
He found that person, his reason for being there, completely by accident one day in an elderly local woman who had lost just about everything she had in the storm.
Powers remembers the woman vividly even today. He remembers the flow of tears as she tried bravely to speak, the despair that resonated throughout her soul as she told and retold her story, the anger as she recalled being taken advantage of.
And he remembers needing to do something for her. He did just that, calling on his many contacts in the construction industry, who supplied materials for her home either for free or for at or below cost.
“As was happening many times over in New Orleans at that time, she had fallen victim to a scam and had lost the $50,000 that she gave a contractor up front to do the much-needed work on her home,” Powers recalls. “It was a sad situation that we needed to remedy. I did many things while I was down there, but I felt like helping that one person made it worth it for me.
“I really feel like I benefitted from this trip is many ways; I received much more than I gave. I just felt like this was my calling at that time and I was doing what I needed to do.”
A native of Baltimore, Powers relocated to the coastal region in 1991 and got to know the area intimately through a long career with 84 Lumber Co. Because of his knowledge of the region and his experience working with builders and contractors, he decided in subsequent years to earn his real estate license and begin working as a Realtor.
He joined the Oldfather Group earlier in 2015.
“Bryan has been a wonderful addition to our team. He is the very definition of a ‘people person’ and genuinely cares about those whose dreams he’s working to make a reality,” says Dustin Oldfather, the company’s chief executive. “If you want a Realtor who goes the extra mile for you and your family, Bryan is your guy!”
Headquartered in Rehoboth Beach, the Oldfather Group specializes in real estate sales throughout coastal Delaware, including Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island.