14 years after Katrina and Louisiana is still losing its coastline

This year’s recognition show of Hurricane Katrina floats downriver to the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana’s coastline. Get it started and read on.

This is my fifth show recognizing the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and this year I chose to address the existential issue of whether our country is prepared to hold on to a critical part of its ecosystem and culture – through music (of course).

Perhaps I was affected by reading recently Mike Tidwell’s book “Bayou Farewell” where he details his experiences hitching rides through the bayous of southern Louisiana, working on shrimp and crab boats along the way and basically embedding himself in the Cajun and Vietnamese communities — two refugee populations who have found a home in the delta of the fourth longest river in the world. I found his culturally sensitive approach to an environmental book appealing but also heart breaking.

Tidwell’s book was written and released a few years before Hurricane Katrina but the specter of what a large hurricane could do to the increasingly barren coast runs throughout the book basically serving as a predictor of the damage that was caused by Katrina’s storm surge. Tidwell is also the founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

One of the most telling stories from his book is when riding out to check crab traps with a local named Tim, he heard the story of how Tim, when he “was a kid” would land his boat by a tree on the bank of a canal dug out by Texaco. The now dead tree trunk stuck out of the water 50 feet from shore. The reference to being a kid stopped the author cold because it made the boat pilot “sound like an old man looking back on a long lifetime. In reality he’s seventeen, looking back maybe ten years. It’s happening that fast.”

Fast . . .At the cumulative rate of about 30 square miles a year. The good and sad part of this story is that unlike climate change, a solution to this problem doesn’t require worldwide buy in, but rather a commitment of resources to increase diversions of fresh water carrying much needed nutrients and sediment into the state’s coastal areas. For less than one-third of the annual cost of occupying Afghanistan, this problem could be largely licked.

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana has done the research, developed the plan, and has been advocating and actually doing things to move the issue forward. But it needs our support. Similarly, the Voice of the Wetlands, a nonprofit volunteer-based organization with the same goal, has been attempting to raise awareness, particularly through its annual music festival in October.

In telling this story, I play the music of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit, Del Rey, Eric Lindell, Marcia Ball, Sonny Landreth, Helen Gillet, and many others. Thanks for tuning in and please consider subscribing. Cheers.

Show focuses on happier reasons to remember December 7th

December 7th is most recognized in the United States as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day but its also the birthday of two very important New Orleans musicians: Louis Prima and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.  Get the show started and then read on about their music and other features of this episode of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.

LOUIS PRIMA

The attack on Pearl Harbor was 31 years off when Louis Prima was born in 1910. He grew up listening to the nascent jazz of New Orleans, including Louis Armstrong. He formed a jazz band when he was a teenager, moved into swing during the 30’s, led a big band in the 40’s and was part of jump blues scene before settling down in the Las Vegas scene in the 1950’s. Like Satchmo, Prima played the trumpet but it was his singing that made him famous. 

My first real encounter of him was his singing  “I Wanna Be Like You” in the Disney animation “Jungle Book.”  Later, he claimed that voicing the swinging orangutan King Louie in the film was a highlight of his career. You’ll hear that song on this show along with one of his Italian songs.  His daughter, Lena Prima, also sings a song in his set. 

Monk Boudreaux featured on the 2013 OffBeat Magazine Jazz Fest Guide. Boudreaux performed at the first New Orleans Jazz an Heritage Festival in 1970. 

Bombs were dropping on Pearl Harbor when Big Chief Monk Boudreaux was born in 1941.  Of course, he wasn’t the chief of the Golden Eagles then.  As a Black Indian of Mardi Gras Chief, Boudreaux was highly regarded.  But when he paired with his buddy Big Chief Bo Dollis and formed the Wild Magnolias, the recording put the unusual cultural art form of Mardi Gras Indians on an international stage.  Tootie Montana may be the Chief of All Chiefs but Boudreaux is the Chief of all recording chiefs.  I could almost fill a whole show of his performances without ever violating the federal streaming rule that prohibits playing more than three songs from one artist name. Boudreaux performs with a wide range of artists, including Tab Benoit and Anders Osborne (songs featured in this show.)

There’s lots more to the show but why don’t you just let it flow over you.  Hang in there to near the end and you’ll get an encore performance of Chief Boudreaux performing with his grandson J’wan Boudreaux, the spy boy for the Golden Eagles who fronts his own band, Cha Wa.  Thanks for tuning in and consider subscribing.  Thank you.

Louisiana delta-inspired music taking on a cry for help

Thanks to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High and hundreds of others, there is little doubt that our environment influences music.

The waters that flow through Louisiana originate in 31 states.
The waters that flow through Louisiana originate in 31 states.

 So it should be no surprise that musicians who reside at the tap end of North America’s largest drainage system write songs about rivers, wetlands, swamps and bayous.

Draining all or part of 31 states, the Mississippi River creates a powerful structure for creatives of all types to tell their stories.

In Louisiana, its the swamp that inpires many to “pole the pirogue down the bayou” (Jambalaya). These musicians may not really have swamp water running through their veins (Fire in the Bayou) but they know how to use the water’s magnetic pull to enliven a song.

Sitting at the soggy end of the 2,300 mile system, Louisiana and its bayou communities (including New Orleans) use the river, and its essential estuaries, as a lush backdrop for setting the mood–from boogie to blue.

In recent years, the music has been paying back in the struggle to restore and revitalize the delta environment. The flow of sediment of the Mississippi is less than half of what it was a century ago due to engineering the river to serve too many purposes. This means essential delta beds are not being replenished. Combine this steady decline in sediment, with the speed of climate change, and the bayou and the life and music it supports becomes more fragile by the day.

Tab Benoit started the Voice of the Wetlands to raise awareness about the importance of revitalizing the river system.
Tab Benoit started the Voice of the Wetlands to raise awareness about the importance of revitalizing the river system.

Voice of the Wetlands, started by Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit, is a non-profit focused on raising awareness about the loss of the wetlands in southern Louisiana.

And as you might expect by an initiative launched by a musician, it uses the music of the Delta to reach the right ears, including performances before Republican and Democratic National conventions and an annual festival in Houma (about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans in bayou country).

The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars often headlines the festival. Over the years, this recording and live performance ensemble has included Benoit, Dr, John, Cyril Neville, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, George Porter Jr., Waylon Thibodeaux, Anders Osborn and many others. This year’s festival is in October.

Muskrats, alligators, junebugs, and other critters crawl from the swamp into the music.
Muskrats, alligators, junebugs, and other critters crawl from the swamp into the music.

I’ve got close to a full two-hour show of songs about the bayou and bayou country so please tune in this Monday on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa (or catch it on archive) to hear Muskrat Ramble, Bayou Boogie, Swamp Funk and Junebug Waltz and others.

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