Carol Forsloff – It was one of those special days on the riverbank in Natchitoches, with some of the best of local Louisiana talent stirred together with folks who had traveled for miles to merge their music in that music’s American cradle.
North Louisiana represents the heart and soul of music in many, many ways. The reasons come from the history of this part of the country. It was the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase that brought folks from these early-settled lands to follow the route west along the Oregon trail, transforming 13 colonies to a United States. With that move came the music of people who had settled from various European countries along with the African beats that became one with the other sounds that made American music unique.
In North Louisiana one will find the best of the old-time fiddlers, along with the jazz sounds that folks identify with New Orleans. But there is far more to the music mix than horns and fiddles. This is also the place of the country sound, with Shreveport identified with the Louisiana Hayride, along with the new strains of rock and roll that came from Elvis Presley and others. Louisiana borders Texas and Arkansas, combining the old mountain music of the Arkansas hills, with the Texas twang of cowboys, loves lost and the stories that encapsulated the legends of the times. The slaves who worked the cotton fields sang of hard times, taking their pain and infusing it into their music, which became the soulful sounds of blues and gospel.
Louisiana is central to folk music, country, gospel, blues and jazz. As Natchitoches is the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase, from which people moved to regions west, the core of American music is firmly grounded in its northern Louisiana lands.
This last weekend, musicians of Louisiana honored and shared their musical heritage, bringing once again the magic that comes with spring flowers, the beauty of the winding Cane River, and the sounds of the best variety of music for the crowds who annually enjoy the Natchitoches Jazz Festival.
The North Louisiana Musicians Association has recently formed, with hundreds of members supporting the message of music that is special to the region. So many fine musicians performed this year, but given this author’s experience in Natchitoches, some of the choicest continue to stand out every year.
Billy O’Con is one of those musicians rooted in the Louisiana soil, whose ambling style and lean, taut frame remain identified with the Jim Croce life and legend. Croce’s plane went down those decades ago in a field in Natchitoches, and O’Con played Croce in a film of the famous musician’s life. Croce was the author of “Time in a Bottle” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” familiar tunes for today’s musicians.
Doc Couty is one of those old-time musicians with a history of making music with about every type of musician’s group and style. He can play a guitar and sing strong folk-country, then turn around and do one of those blues numbers that makes a crowd pleaser every year.
Hardrick Rivers is one of the best-known among the local musicians, playing his horn and singing “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” in that sultry way of the South’s expression of the Otis Redding Classic.
John Litzenberg is a sideman with a difference. That difference is his stand-alone style, in that he knows music in every brand Louisiana can produce and adds to this a brand of humor and a voice that can translate country, folk, jazz or blues beyond the ordinary sidekick most bands often have. In other words, the guy can follow or lead, take your pick.
Other musicians included guitarist and NSU professor Luke Brouillette and his quartet, who brought some really great jazz to the Jazz/R&B festival, Waylon Salter (with The Justin Merritt Band), Jarrett Bailey, Matt Bailey and Glenn Rainey (with the Glenn Rainey Band), Henry Reggans Sr. (leading the Sidemen) and so many others.
Rodney Harrington becomes “Johnny Earthquake” in his role as the guy who gets things going; and there is always so much shaking going on when he and his crew take the stage that folks have to hang on tight not to be upset from their chairs. He brings a crew of folks together with their variety of instruments, a motley one most of the time, that includes violin players, guitar pickers, drums and other percussion instruments to get folks dancing on the walkways around the Cane River. He also has a pair of female singers that create a special appeal with their good-looking moves along with their clear and lustrous voices. Many times he surprises the crowd with an Elvis special, with James Burton, the famous guitar sidekick of the King, as a featured performer.
Spend a little time here with a listen to the Sidemen and dream a little dream of being there in the sunshine along the riverbank with the sample of some of the best music America can produce.