The Bogalusa Blues, Rock n’ Roll Royalty, Mr. Mayor and Me
The only thing I knew about Bogalusa is that Buster “Hot, Hot, Hot” Poindexter was supposedly born there.
Most Wednesdays in the late ‘80s, Buster, one of the alter egos of New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, would perform at my Dad’s nightclub, The Bottom Line, in New York City.
As the exquisitely pompadoured and prolific Buster, he would wax nostalgic about being the only child of Beauregard and Beulah Poindexter, born in Bogalusa, LA. In fact, David was born in Staten Island, NY.
When a new friend invited me to the 3rd annual Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival last month, with the promise of VIP passes and access to an air-conditioned VIP tent, I couldn’t resist visiting the fictional digs of one of my favorite musicians (Buster performed at my Sweet Sixteen).
In fact, many musicians lay claim to a history with the small Washington Parish burg named after a Choctaw phrase meaning “dark water.”
Henry Roeland “Professor Longhair” Byrd, Hollis “Red Lane” DeLaughter, Edward “Snoozer” Quinn and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown all spent quality time there, and seemed to share an affinity for nom de Blues.
Venturing 74 miles up country, out of the French Quarter, I didn’t quite know what to expect – hick county fair or Jazz Fest, Jr. What I found was a well-organized, family friendly, 2-stage festival in picturesque Cassidy Park, with access to on-site history museums and canoe rides in the surrounding Bogue Lusa Creek. There were diverse and impressive artisans including Kabuki Hats, Dat Hats, Muddy Water Woodworks and Feltus Wirtz, and about 20 tasty food vendors serving up dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, pulled pork sandwiches, boudin egg rolls, crawfish Monica, shrimp and grits, snoballs and white chocolate bread pudding.
The BBHF had a rocky start. Back in 2012, they sang the Blues in 5 1/2 inches of rain, but the event was dynamic enough to rank as the “Best New Event of the Year” by the Louisiana Association of Fairs and Festivals and one of the “Top 10 Must-See Festivals” by the Louisiana Department of Tourism.
In 2013, attendance grew by 150%, and a study calculated the economic impact to be $250,000. This year, the festival became a 2-day affair with an attendance of 7,500, not including children 12 and under who got in for free.
Not bad for a city with a population of only 12,232.
“Authentic blues music brings international travel and interest, and we’re in the crossroads between New Orleans and the Delta,” Malinda White, founder and executive chair of the BBHF, said. “Our mission is to preserve and promote the blues and the gumbo of music that is our heritage.”
White said media interest in the event has spread as far as Yemen.
“It’s a world class event,” she said, “with quality music, art and food. It’s more than just a music festival. We were a sleepy city there for a while, but the festival awakened a lot of spirit in this city we knew always existed.”
The Blues are defined kind of loosely at the BBHF as it encompasses many interpretations including Delta, Chicago, Texas and more.
This year’s lineup included:
Big Daddy O (a.k.a. Owen Tufts, Southeast Louisiana Blues); Walter “Wolfman” Washington (New Orleans music icon); Paul Thorn (former pro boxer son of a Pentecostal minister and nephew of a pimp, Roots Blues); Big George Brock (81-year-old Blues legend, Traditional Blues); Johnny Sansone (New Orleans Roots music pioneer) with Mardi Gras Indians Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Honey Banister and Kerry Vessel; Mike Zito (electric slide guitar/ Texas Blues); Ruthie Foster (Blues, Soul, Rock, Folk and Gospel); and headliner J.J. Grey & Mofro, known for his down-home Southern Funk and “grimy blend of front porch soul, roots-deep story telling and laying-it-on-the-line shows.”
I really wanted to go to the BBHF to catch Devon Allman’s Saturday, September 27, set. I’ve been a fan of The Allman Brothers ever since I sat on stage behind drummer Butch Trucks, when Dickie Betts was still a guitar-strumming member, during a concert at New York’s Beacon Theatre. So, to me, Devon, son of Gregg and nephew of Duane, was the second-generation Blues rocker royal main attraction.
Devon didn’t disappoint. He played a lengthy set that really showcased his wide range of Blues and moves. He slinked around every inch of the main stage abusing the strings of his Les Paul autographed guitar.
I also want to give a shout-out to the Mandevile High School Jazz Band that performed on the smaller Heritage Stage. Boy, did they sound professional and tight! That stage also hosted The Pretty Bones, Keenan Knight, Trent & Zac and Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers.
The folks at WWOZ 90.7 FM New Orleans even came out to broadcast the acts live, worldwide, and debuted their video live streaming capabilities at the Big George Brock and Ruthie Foster sets. ‘OZ GM David Freedman had the foresight to bring a piece of Jazz Fest with him – a heaping helping of Mango Freeze, which he generously shared with some BBHF-goers.
Another prominent Jazz Fest-er, Bogalusa native and artist Richard Thomas, created the 3-frame poster of Professor Longhair for the 3rd annual BBHF. You may recognize his name – he also created the 4-frame 1989 poster of Fats Domino, which is one of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s top sellers.
Bogalusa Mayor Charles E. Mizell, a gregarious and charismatic leader whom I met walking around the BBHF, expressed bullish enthusiasm for business in Bogalusa.
“While our City is rebounding, the Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival is a great opportunity for people in the area to come visit, and possibly invest,” he said.
In addition to the jobs offered at International Paper, Mayor Mizell said General Dynamics Information Technology added 550 jobs to the area, and 12 new small businesses are now open in Downtown Bogalusa.
“The outlook is excellent right now,” he said. “We’re still challenged financially, but economically we’re moving forward. There’s not a lot of money in our City, but there’s good opportunity here and we’re adding jobs daily.”
The 4th annual BBHF is scheduled for Friday, September 25 and Saturday, September 26, 2015.
The lore of Buster Poindexter’s humble beginnings may have been the impetus of my first Bogalusa odyssey, but next year I’ll need no other enticement than the serendipity of being seduced by the Bogalusa Blues.