All Photos by Laura Sedor
A couple of months ago, as I read through an Elmore email, and something caught my eye at the bottom: T-Bois Blues Festival. I had already been looking around for things to do that March weekend, and this really tweaked me. I approached my husband Steve, maybe he’d like to go? Marriage is compromise (don’t let anyone tell you different), but we agreed, let’s do it! We decided to drive down from our Chicago suburb with my small dog Pippi, have fun and get dirty, and come back with some great stories of great music and food. Mother Nature had other plans.
According to the website, back in the mid-1980s the Falgout family owned a crawfish farm in Larose, Louisiana, and every year they’d have a big crawfish boil and invite the whole family, even recruiting some musicians to play. And it grew. Since 2009, “Alligator” Mike Falgout has been organizing this intimate fest, a relaxed event run largely by local volunteers, and it has developed a loyal following (it now has a capacity of 1,200). T-Bois mostly feature acts who play some variation of the blues, and it is closed out each year by famous New Orleans guitarist Anders Osborne. The fest has even been branded the ‘Cajun Burning Man’ in recent years, thanks to the Burning Village, an arts village on the farm where large-scale art gets set ablaze, including a giant sculpture that is burned during the last night of the festival. This year’s sculpture was of a 30-foot alligator wielding a guitar. As if that isn’t enough, food is included, beer is included (and we’re talking real craft beer, not Bud Lite), it’s a dog friendly community, it’s on private property way out in the bayou… what’s not to love!?
Thursday night we were really having a lovely time sitting in front of our tent, listening to the music and loving life. When it started to rain, we just packed it up and brought it inside. We decided to lie down and get in bed, but the rain and the wind picked up to an alarming rate; we both jumped up and held on to the tent, feeling the strength of the wind gusts as they pressed against the fabric. In between cracks of lightning, you could still hear the music, the blues providing a very strange soundtrack to the storm. I thought it was odd that the music didn’t stop or that there was no announcement about the weather, no “Take Cover people!!”– just more music. As we lay in our tent with the dog between us, we listened to the rain and pondered our next move.
When it got light enough out to see, we moved our tent to a higher spot, out of the 4-5” of water we were sitting in. We did fare better than our neighbors though, who ended up with 4” of water inside their tent. They had rigged up an outer tent around their smaller tent, as well as a screened room at the entrance of their tent, and decided to brave the rest of the weekend. We, however, decided not to rough it, and on Friday night found a room at the closest place that had availability– Houma, LA, 40 minutes away. All was well though, and we were thankful to be under a solid roof with solid walls. After we all- including the dog- got a shower and tucked ourselves into civilized beds with white sheets, I opened the door and realized that the lightning had started again, and rain was coming down in buckets; the storm was already pounding the campsites in Larose.
According to the Lafourche Parish Sherrif’s Office website, deputies received a call after 10pm that three people were injured after a lightning strike at the T-Bois Blues Festival grounds. Deputies, volunteer firefighters and EMTs responded to the scene to assist and found 28 year old New Orleanian, Jackie Stavis, unresponsive. Two other females with her were injured, and all three were transported to the hospital for treatment. Tragically, Stavis was pronounced dead on Saturday, in what is, according to National Weather Service records, Stavis, the nation’s first lightning fatality of 2016.
When we headed back on Saturday, in the wake of the previous night’s events, we were amazed at the standing water and mud and other damage from the storm. Walking around and chatting with fellow fest-goers, we heard people’s stories about breaking tent poles and ripping fabric and the incredibly loud lightning. Thankfully, a respite came in the form of a crayfish boil. Steaming hot and fresh caught, it was a delight, and there was also a delicious jambalaya available.
Needless to say, the weekend highlighted the festival’s growing pains. For first time attendees, many things were confusing. Too-small signs became soggy and eventually mud covered. Communication was also sorely lacking, and the Fest needs to figure out a way to reach campers out in the field (perhaps a centrally located message board or texted group alerts). According to many, there was no announcement of severe weather, and similar to the night before, the band never stopped playing, even while the lightning victims were being rescued by emergency services.Even the next day, many people remained uninformed about the tragedy.
Weather, confusion and tragedy aside, the music remained a highlight, and it was truly one of a kind. I don’t think I’ve been to a festival that had such a great line-up, from the opening act to the main attraction. Opening up the show Friday was local favorite Nonc Nu and Da Wild Matous, who took advantage of the last minute replacement to rip though a wonderful zydeco gig, really setting the stage for the rest of the artists to come. Harmonica master Jason Ricci and Niegel Hall both played Friday as well, and the night’s closer was Chicago based Nick Moss Band, who played late with a great set, rolling through jams and making for a great show. Saturday had everyone waiting for Anders Osborne, and he did not disappoint.
All weekend, my husband and I kept telling each other how much fun the T-Bois Blues festival would have been if only the weather had cooperated. After discussing it on the long drive home, we agreed that we’d like to go back next year and give it another shot. I hope this event doesn’t change the Falgout family’s intention to have a wonderful blues fest on their property, and I hope to see an invite for the 8th Annual T-Bois Blues Festival.