"The Whole Gritty City" follows three New Orleans marching bands rising up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As band directors prepare students for Mardi Gras parades, they battle for these children's lives and souls against the lures and dangers of the streets. Scenes of the bands in rehearsal and performance interweave with individual stories: kids and their teachers in their homes, churches, and neighborhoods. It includes footage captured on small cameras by the kids themselves. 11-year-old Bear learns to play the trumpet, while mourning the brother killed at age 19. 18-year-old drum major Skully venerates his school band's founder who was killed before the band's instruments arrived. Celebrated musician Derrick Tabb creates a new marching band to pass on the legacy that saved his own life. The charismatic band director Wilbert Rawlins, Jr., the lone survivor among his closest childhood friends, copes with the loss of the protégé he has loved as a son. Navigating the urban minefield through moments of setback, loss, discovery, and triumph, these kids and their adult leaders reveal the power and resilience of a culture.