May 19, 2008 12:00 PM

After years of recovery, the people of New Orleans had something to cheer about May 4: The Neville Brothers—the funk and R&B band that qualifies as royalty in a city rich with rhythms—returned for the first time since Katrina. From the stage of the city’s Jazzfest, the band’s vocalist Aaron, 67, said, “You can tell the home people even from far away. You can tell by how they dance to the music.”

There had been concern that the homecoming might turn sour. Some in the Crescent City complained the Nevilles stayed away too long. But each of the four, who formed their band 30 years ago, has had his own share of Katrina drama to deal with. Art, 70, the oldest, is putting a new roof on the family home on Valence Street, and Cyril, 59, lost his house and resettled in Austin. Aaron, who recovered his four Grammys but little else, came back from new digs near Nashville only to bury his wife of 48 years, Joel, who died of cancer last year. “She was ready to go home,” he says.

In the end their welcome was rapturous. “Not to have been there for three years was strange,” says Charles, 69. Aaron is now ready to move back for good. “We’ve had the good, the bad, the happy, the sad,” says Art. “But the main thing is we got the music.”

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