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Street performers are back in New Orleans

Dressed in Dust Bowl-era duds, the ragtag band – clarinet, steel and regular guitar, trumpet, washboard – strikes up a 1920s jazz tune that sounds baroque in a bare-bones way. Heads turn on Rue Royal.

Like New York and most other great cities, New Orleans is defined and remembered by its street life: jugglers, caricaturists, balloon-blowers, mimes, and, chiefly, musicians. Some are bad, some are good. Many, like the Loose Marbles quintet on Rue Royal, are sterling. But the important part for shop owners – who admit to a sometimes uneasy alliance with musicians – is that the city's famous street performers have returned to cheer up the storm-wrecked city.

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"They make New Orleans New Orleans," says shopkeeper Robin Melito, as notes tumble through her open door.

About half the performing force is back to work. One of them is Mike Campbell, who plays decent guitar but admits it's his mutt, Mojo, who's the real star of the show as he picks up dropped dollars and deposits them in Mr. Campbell's upturned hat.

Street performers say they don't make as much as they did before hurricane Katrina. But business is picking up as tourists slowly return.