On a hot September night I found myself eagerly approaching one of my favorite places to grab some delicious oysters. But this was not a normal evening snack. On September 8, The Baton Rouge Blues Foundation hosted the Muddy River Revue: Swamp Blues Revisited. This event hosted a variety of musical acts including Ship of Fools, Ryan Harris, Palomino Darling, Pacifico, and Denton Hatcher that all interpreted then performed legendary swamp blues music. Prior to this event I had the privilege of speaking with Clarke Gernon, the president of the Baton Rouge Blues foundation about the event, the blues, and the foundation itself.
Before attending, I asked Clarke for a few words on the event itself. He explained that this was, “a way to get younger artists that don’t normally play blues to take blues and reinterpret it in their own way.”
Additionally I found out that this event was one of many. He shared more:
“The Foundation does a lot of different projects related to performance oriented events. The idea was to take some of the history of the great music that has come from this area in the blues genre to re-communicate the heritage here. Several times a year we are getting musicians together to cover some great artists of the Baton Rouge blues genre.”
He noted the importance and prevalence of blues music in the Baton Rouge area:
“Blues Music is the heritage music of Baton Rouge. There are other contributors-rock and roll, r&b, etc., but we have had a long history of blues history here…Much like the Jazz scene in New Orleans, the music is a part of the community. We as a community need to embrace and champion-not because we love every blues song ever heard, but because it connects us as a community”
What makes the Baton Rouge blues scene different from others?
“The difference is members are part of a community through intertwined through relationships and bands working together. Players here grew up together-people have been doing this as a career for 50-60s years. Not a case of people doing it [making music] for wealth, but rather folks good at what they do.”
So, as a reader, why should you care about the blues?
“There is a misunderstanding that there isn’t much culture here when there is in Blues. Our efforts of the [Baton Rouge Blues] festival are to showcase the history and range of blues-to that end we are doing it because that is the music born here. We cannot separate music from the city. The more young people we get to see historical value of blues in the area, the better. We would love to see younger performers of music meet up with older blues artists and collaborate, potentially producing something new and exciting.”
I was very grateful to learn all this before heading to this show! Special thanks to Clarke again for his words on the event and the blues. Be sure to check out the Baton Rouge Blues foundation and their upcoming events here.
Image courtesy of Baton Rouge Blues Foundation
Upon arrival I was met with a great sized crowd spilling out of Jolie Pearl. Music was in the air, drinks were in hands, and the room was filled with enough soulful sounds to make one’s heart pop. Being a bit of a socially awkward person myself, I bee-lined to the bar for some liquid courage while tuning into the musicians on stage. I am new to exploring the genre of blues outside of attending the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, so I was delighted to see bands playing music with heart and rich musical accompaniment. They were playing what I later found out were classics by Slim Harpo, a swamp blues legend out of Baton Rouge who performed for around 20 years. Two artists that stood out to me in particular were Denton Hatcher and Palomino Darling.
Denton Hatcher performed so naturally and with such ease, that it seemed like I was floating through his mellow performance. His raspy voice resonated through the air and was dripping with feeling. Every note felt full with rich sound and sentiment seeping into the audience. I couldn’t help but hang on to his words. Denton’s normal musical stylings lean towards an Americana/Soul angle, but this performance had me fully convinced that the blues were made just for him. Be sure to check out his work here.
Polomino Darling brought the haunting vocals of Katie Swetman into the blues universe, and frankly I wish they would visit that universe more often. Much like Denton’s performance, this band left me craving more. Beautifully executed blues chord progressions shot out of the speakers. Audience members were enthralled. This band’s energy and smooth feel couldn’t make me help but wonder if they were destined to produce more blues in their musical future. Be sure to check out their music here.
After producing this article and attending this show, I want to encourage everyone to learn more about Baton Rouge’s blues scene and rich history. I cannot wait to share more that I find with readers this upcoming month and hope you all join me on my journey learning more about this amazing genre. See ya'll at some shows or at the Blues Festival this spring!!