Bayou Blues

Musician Tab Benoit plays to save Louisiana’s wetlands.

Whether he’s playing nightclubs or talking environmental politics, Cajun bluesman Tab Benoit’s passions are grounded in the love and loss of people and places. A native of Houma, Louisiana, the Grammy-nominated artist is a leading advocate for the preservation and restoration of the Mississippi Delta. Benoit’s activism has earned him trips to testify before Congress, gigs at both the Democratic and Republican national presidential conventions, and the 2009 Governor’s Conservation Award from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. Since founding the conservation group Voice of the Wetlands (VOW) in 2003, Benoit has worked tirelessly to keep wetlands loss in the public eye.

How did you get your start as an activist?

I was a flight instructor, and I flew over pipelines all over the coast. Our practice areas were over the swamp. Day after day I saw the adverse effects of messing with nature: islands and wetlands disappearing—we’re losing an acre an hour down here—leaks in the pipelines they wouldn’t fix. So I’ve tried to get the word out about what’s happening and grow support for the wetlands.

What should people expect at the 8th Annual Voice of the Wetlands Festival in October?

It really is our rally, a call to action to get people involved and to see what’s happening in the delta. We give air tours and we give swamp tours, and we also have great music and Cajun food. Volunteers run it all.

What’s the crux of the VOW campaign?

The reality is that we as a country have sacrificed the Mississippi Delta for oil and shipping. That’s the bottom line—that land is in the way of shipping so we have to get rid of it. We have destroyed the delta of the fourth-largest river on the planet for short-term monetary gains. That has to change from the top. That means the President and the Department of the Interior have to determine how we can have shipping without destroying the delta.

For your latest album, Medicine, you went to your bayou camp. Do you write better when you’re on the water?

That was always where I went to do my writing, in the swamp or in my boat or at the camp, somewhere out there. I hadn’t had a camp since hurricanes Lily and Rita destroyed my last ones, so I hadn’t done much writing. Last summer I put out a new floating camp so I can handle the high water. For me, it’s a productive place.