The advent of spring is also the advent of an unofficial national outdoor festival season that thrives into late fall. Since the turn of the millennium, outdoor festivals have become a destination for live music junkies, especially festivals that include on-site camping. Bonnaroo, Wanee and Coachella serve as home to highly populated, primitive “tent cities” that serve as temporary homes to a multitude of attendees from around the globe.
While these megafestivals’ names are synonymous with the camping experience, the T-Bois Blues Festival in Larose, Louisiana, is one of the best-kept secrets in the music world. For seven years, T-Bois has brought the Southeast a music festival that could be considered the love child of Bonnaroo and Burning Man with a “Rite of Spring” vibe. As far as the festival’s obscurity, organizers seem to prefer to keep it intimate.
Only 1,200 tickets were sold for this year’s event, many to locals or curious music lovers who discovered the festival through word of mouth. Ultimately, T-Bois 2016 became a lesson in good times and preparation, to both the new and seasoned.
The drive to Larose sets the mood. After passing New Orleans, drivers manuever through the lush swamplands of Lafourche Parish. The road drops to two lanes, sandwiched between Bayou Lafourche and fields of young sugar cane. Scarce civilization is eventually traded for a mix of maritime industry, farmland and gas station casinos.
The Falgout Alligator Farm (ground zero for T-Bois) lies off Highway 380 at the end of Hamilton Street, which is barely wide enough for two cars. Attendees are greeted by a huge open field covered with clover and tents and featuring giant effigies of the festival’s mascot, Big Al the Alligator, and the bud of a hop plant, both of which will be consumed with fire before the festival’s end.
VIP access is generally coveted for its complimentary food and drink and while T-Bois had an impressive VIP package, general admission included both lunch and dinner as well as a variety of unlimited beer from the NOLA Brewing Co. In fact, attendees barely made it into the festival without an ice-cold beer being shoved into their hands.
The food was also plentiful and delicious. Dishes such as fried fish, tortilla soup, corn and shrimp, jambalaya and even “pastalaya” were available throughout the day and night. Even though signs advised attendees to take only their portion, no one went hungry. In addition, the limited number of tickets resulted in few to no lines for both food and beer.
The musical philosophy of T-Bois is to keep things rocking under one big tent, no matter what. Nonc Nu & Da Wild Matous was the perfect introduction. Even though Mother Nature tried to interrupt with rain, this band’s mix of rock and Cajun sounds kept the crowd’s spirits high. Dave Jordan & NIA followed with one of the most memorable sets of the day with a swampy style of modern Southern rock. Jordan’s skills as a vocalist and songsmith brought the crowd stageside as guitarist Mike Doussan energetically provided round after round of impressive fretplay. T-Bois 2016 was a first for Doussan, and he was not disappointed.
“We’ve heard about the party for years, so we’re excited to be a part of it this year,” Doussan said. “I feel good about it. I can’t wait for the sun to go down.”
Alvin Youngblood Hart brought his Muscle Theory project to T-Bois. His performance served as evidence of his stylistic versatility. Known for his solo work and as a member of the South Memphis String Band, Hart is a Grammy winner typically known for his work in traditional blues. When his Muscle Theory took the stage, the crowd witnessed another side of Hart’s musical persona. He rolled through song after song of edgy rock ‘n’ roll that was a far cry from the blues he’s most closely associated with. Hart mixed intricate solos, roaring guitar riffs and high-energy ambience.
After a lengthy hiatus, harmonica maestro Jason Ricci has moved back to the area and used T-Bois to get reacquainted with the Gulf Coast. This musician does not simply blow harp. Ricci takes the instrument into another dimension with unmatched runs. Time has not sullied his live show, and he had New Orleans icon John Lisi’s wailing guitar in his musical arsenal as well.
In addition to his harmonica playing, Ricci used his set as reminder of his charismatic vocals and delivery. His explanation of his hiatus was one of the highlights of his set. He kept his story metaphorical and led into a hypnotic cover of Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”
The bands, the food and the atmosphere were all lessons in outdoor festival fun. As stated earlier, T-Bois 2016 was also a lesson in preparation. Outdoor music festivals have a bittersweet relationship with nature. When the weather is pleasant or even tolerable, outdoor festivals are some of the best experiences to be had. However, inclement weather at these events can be miserable and even fatal, and T-Bois provided a tragic lesson: the weather must not be taken lightly.
The first day of the festival was plagued by thunderstorms, which climaxed that night. T-Bois’ open-field environment made it a perfect target for lightning strikes. At one point in the night, two large, explosive lightning strikes shook the property enough to set off a multitude of car alarms in the parking area. Soon after, a fire truck and ambulances arrived on the scene.
According to The Times-Picayune, one of those lightning strikes took the life of 28-year-old Jacqui Stavis of New Orleans, seriously injured two other women and killed a dog. All were using a tent to shelter from the severe thunderstorm, according to the report.
Festival organizers provided the following comment to Lagniappe: “The Falgout Family is deeply saddened by the tragic event that occurred this weekend at T-Bois Blues Festival. Every attendee of this small festival is part of the T-Bois family, and we feel as though we lost a family member this weekend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Stavis family and all those who love Jacqui, as well as the others affected by Friday night’s tragedy.”
While this is a random and tragic event, the lesson of watching the skies is not limited to T-Bois. Something like this or worse could happen at any outdoor music fest, and anyone going to an event of this type needs to be observant of the weather at all times.
Hopefully, this tragedy will not sully T-Bois’ growing reputation, because there were an abundance of positive aspects. However, T-Bois does not need to grow too much. If this festival was any larger, it would run the risk of ruining the intimate and exclusive atmosphere.
Growth might also mean the end of easy access to the festival’s amenities as well as the quality of amenities. In a world where the concept of an outdoor music festival connotes a seemingly endless sea of people, T-Bois has created an exclusive music event that promotes a clean, eclectic environment highlighted by positivity and great music.