Since long before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the strongest voices for Louisiana’s wetlands has been bluesman Tab Benoit. The 42-year-old guitarist, who was born and raised in Houma, La., is a founder of Voice of the Wetlands, a group of artists and business leaders that since 2004 has called attention to the urgency of protecting South Louisiana’s environment.
Benoit first became aware of the disappearing coastline when he was working as a pilot for a pipeline company. Last year he told New Orleans’ Offbeat Magazine:
You can see things better from the air. Thatâ€™s why we take people flying. I started noticing while I was flying on the coast looking at all those coastal pipelines running through the marshes around the edge of the gulf. Youâ€™d see little islands disappear in a matter of months. Then I got a chance to see it speed up, things that would change monthly were starting to change weekly. When I started talking about it people would say, â€˜Ah, thatâ€™s never going to happen in our lifetime.â€™ I would have to say it looks like itâ€™s happening faster than anybody could imagine. From the air you can see the whole thing. Go talk to the people who fish in the bayous, go talk to the people who fly over the river to the rigs all the time to go to work. Theyâ€™re going to tell you exactly what Iâ€™m telling you. Thatâ€™s why I want people to see it; I want them to form their own opinion and not listen to somebody elseâ€™s opinion about what needs to happen on the coast of Louisiana.
The recent BP spill has sent Benoit into overdrive, of course. Here’s an excerpt from a recent article in The Irish Times:
Louisiana’s wetlands were ravaged long before oil spill, says activist
By LARA MARLOWE in Houma, Louisiana
When Tab Benoit learned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had exploded and sunk off the shores of Louisiana, he felt a mixture of anger and deja vu.
â€œEverything weâ€™ve talked about comes true,â€ sighs Benoit, a well-known Cajun blues singer and environmental activist.
Benoit once worked as a pilot flying pipeline patrols over the Gulf of Mexico in search of petroleum leaks.
We sit on Benoitâ€™s houseboat in Bayou Terrebonne. It is sunset, and mullet fish jump in the water with a soft ker-plunk. Down the road, guards from homeland security have deployed around BP headquarters, literal proof of Benoitâ€™s contention that the U.S. government protects oil companies.
Under supervision by the U.S. Coast Guard, BP yesterday took advantage of a let-up in the bad weather that stalled containment measures to lay protective booms along the coastline.
BP is also attempting to activate the â€œblowout preventerâ€ that sank with its rig, using underwater robots. The company is building huge steel and concrete containers to capture the gushing oil and siphon it off, and it is drilling two relief wells, which will eventually be used to shut off the leak.
For more than a decade, Benoit has campaigned to save Louisianaâ€™s wetlandsâ€”marshes built up over centuries by silt from the Mississippi, the length of the stateâ€™s coastline. In 2003, he founded Voice of the Wetlands (Vow), an association of Louisianaâ€™s best-loved musicians, including Dr John, Cyril Neville, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and George Porter. Vow has done more than any other group to raise awareness of what has become the stateâ€™s existential ecological cause.
Throughout this summer, blues fans in Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Minnesota, Ontario, Quebec, and Colorado can catch Benoit’s music. For details, go to his web site, tabbenoit.com, and click “Tour.”