NPR logo Voices of The Wetlands: 'Poor Man's Paradise' in Peril

Voices of The Wetlands: 'Poor Man's Paradise' in Peril

Anders Osborne, musician or extra on Southern Comfort? Josh Jackson hide caption

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Josh Jackson

Blues guitarist Tab Benoit, a native of Houma, La., grew up near the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary system, an area of immense natural resources and fishing communities. It's the cultural home to many French-speaking Acadian peoples, otherwise known as Cajuns.

In 2004, Benoit created Voice of the Wetlands, a volunteer non-profit organization that raises awareness of coastal Louisiana's cultural significance, as well as its enormous value to the United States' energy sector. The wetland ecosystem is Louisiana's natural barrier for hurricane protection, and it is currently washing into the sea. Add to that the environmental disaster currently in the news, and you have a delicate region on the verge of total collapse.  

The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars performed at the Acura Stage last Sunday during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, just two days following the Earth Day sinking of British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The problem had not yet reached its current magnitude, but even the threat of coastal erosion will deal a potentially devastating blow to South Louisiana.

The VOW All-Stars included Dr. John, percussionist Cyril Neville, accordion player Johnny Sansone, guitarist Anders Osborne, bassist George Porter, and drummer Johnny Vidacovich, all joining Benoit for a set of swamp-based Louisiana music. Guests included Allen Toussaint, drummer Stanton Moore from Galactic and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles. There were audience members who came simply to trawl for the starpower on that stage, but there were also messages in the music. Johnny Sansone, bending his accordion and belting an original, "Poor Man's Paradise," made a statement of post-Katrina angst that rings a little louder today, when he described a place where "little people suffer and big shots don't compromise."

Look on old Louisiana license plates and you'll see "Sportsman's Paradise." It's my paradise too, and it's worth saving.