Some of Louisiana’s best-known musicians have joined forces in an ongoing effort to help save Louisiana’s coast – and fans at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival reaped the benefits Saturday.
Benoit, a Cajun musician, founded the all-star band to help send the message that coastal land loss is as big a national problem as it is a state problem. Coastal Louisiana, which sits atop the 7,000-year-old Mississippi Delta, has lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s.
“We’re still losing an acre of land every hour on the other side of those levees,” Benoit told The Association Press before his set. “We haven’t fixed it.”
Benoit said events like Jazz Fest help raise awareness about the wetlands issue while cultivating fans of Louisiana music.
“Sometimes, it feels as if we’re the only one talking about it,” he said. “But we have to show the effort. Petitions and emails and letters don’t always work as well as phone calls or showing up at a congressman’s office. We have to be responsible for the way we live, for our freedoms. If we don’t educate the people, then everyone loses. This festival brings people from out of state to the heart of the matter, to see why we’re here, why we keep the culture and the music alive and what happens if we don’t.”
Buddy Gourgues, of Thibodaux, La., sat on the fringe of the massive crowd awaiting Benoit’s performance.
“I like his music and his group for what they do for Louisiana,” he said. “I can’t help but support musicians who are supporting such an effort. People definitely need to get behind that.”
“It’s the people that matter and if their efforts get the people involved and get them moving maybe this problem can get solved,” he added.
Wade Mizell, of Bogalusa, La., said the message behind the collaboration is “dead on.”
“Louisiana’s coast is vital to the whole world,” he said. “The wetlands are like none others and if we lose that, we lose an industry, a culture and a way of life.”
But, Mizell said, he doesn’t just like Benoit because of his cause.
“He’s just a hometown, straight-up gentleman and this jam band of his is out of sight,” he said. “There was no way I was gonna miss them.”
Earlier Saturday, crowds enjoyed sets by Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, Luther Kent, Bobby Rush, Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys and Dave Koz.
Ted Knupp and his wife, Irene, grooved to Cleary’s funky, bluesy “Unnecessarily Mercenary” as the sun beamed down. “I love his New Orleans-style,” said Knupp, 62, of Madison, Wis., when asked what drew him to the performance.
The Knupps have attended the festival for years with a group of friends and said the festival is an extension of the city’s magnetism. “We just love New Orleans,” he said. “It really wouldn’t matter who was playing where. We just love coming here.”
With roughly a half-dozen major motion pictures filming in the area, several celebrity fans were expected to attend the festival’s first weekend. On Friday, actor John Stamos appeared on stage with the Beach Boys, whose 50th reunion tour closed out opening day. Thousands in the crowd cheered and screamed for the hunky actor who introduced the group as “America’s band” and later returned to sit in on the drums with them as they sang, “Be True to Your School.”
On Sunday, “The Fast and the Furious” star Paul Walker planned to attend Jazz Fest with his 13-year-old daughter. Walker is in New Orleans working on an independent film, the suspense drama, “Hours.” But he told the Associated Press earlier this week that he wasn’t going to let his stay in New Orleans be all work and no play.
Walker planned to take his daughter to the festival to hear Bruce Springsteen on Sunday.
“I’m really excited,” Walker said. “I’m working on a film I’m really passionate about, but at the same time it’s Jazz Fest. The timing couldn’t be better.”
Walker said this is his first time ever visiting New Orleans, and so far, the experience has exceeded his expectations.
“This city has a cool feel, and the people have a great energy,” he said.