Voice of the Wetlands // Putting Louisiana’’s Coastal Loss in the Spotlight

by Ana Pizzolio, Features Editor

Louisianans love to celebrate — everything from food to music to crops. But what many tourists don’t see is we also hold festivals to raise awareness. THE VOICE OF THE WETLANDS FESTIVAL is one of those festivals that brings attention to how coastal erosion and land loss is affecting Louisiana’s ecosystem.

The 2016 VOW, held from October 7 to 9, celebrated South Louisiana’s culture while advocating for environmental awareness. The festival featured local and national performers in two music stages, a taste of typical Louisiana dishes from local vendors and arts exhibits.

The music festival is just one of the initiatives created by the namesake organization. In an effort to preserve Louisiana’s environment and its culture, the Houma-based organization promotes activism through three days of festival celebrations every year.

“We wanted to raise our voices and address the concerns of the people. We were the first organization to go coast to coast saying our wetlands are disappearing.” Rueben Williams, co-founder of the Voice of the Wetlands organization, says. “We are losing over a football field every 45 minutes.”

Tab Benoit, a Louisiana Cajun-blues musician, is the founder of the Voice of the Wetlands organization. The organization is comprised of members who were born, raised and still resides in the wetlands’ region. Williams explains that the organization came to terms after the group realized the wetlands loss was a big problem that wasn’t receiving the attention it should receive.

“Coast to coast nobody really knew what was going on,” Williams says. “There was salt water coming in and no fresh water going out and that’s not how it used to be. Fresh water used to travel from the Mississippi down Lafourche and Bayou Terrebonne and deposit sediment that build our wetlands. There is no rebuilding process anymore, because the river has been turned towards the Atchafalaya. If the river was still in its natural state we wouldn’t be having a wetlands problem.”

Each year, exhibitors from all over the country and, in some occasions, from foreign countries volunteer their times to share their knowledge about coastal land loss and promote awareness of Louisiana’s wetland crisis.

“People from outside Louisiana come and see Louisiana’s worth, all this culture, the food and the music. And all of this is possible because of the wetlands and the people that live here,” Williams says. “Even the music we play has come from this place that we are seeing disappear before our eyes.”

This years festival had its largest attendance ever during the first day of the event on Friday, Oct. 7. One of the night’s highlights, the “Friday Night Guitar Fights”, featured freestyle performances from musicians Tab Benoit, Mason Ruffner, Josh Garrett, Tyrone Vaughan, Bart Walker and Jonathon Boogie Long.

The festivals offers a taste of Louisiana’s Cajun food with traditional dishes like seafood gumbo, andouille sausage, jambalaya and sauce piquante. A selection of classic American fair food, including hamburgers, hot dogs and more is also offered every year.

Along with the musical acts and the traditional food, the Voice of the Wetlands organization had booths set up on the festival grounds to share information about the current situation of the state’s land loss and how people can get involved with the efforts for wetlands restoration.

The event is free and, therefore, is not strictly a fundraiser for the Voice of the Wetlands organization. Its main purpose is to educate the visitors about coastal restoration, and, although this is such timely matter, the goal is to create a laid-back venue where visitors have the opportunity to get in contact with environmental agencies and political candidates and discuss potential solutions to the crisis.

The festival is more than just another opportunity to party it up, it is also a chance to engage in the cause and help preserve the coast, while listening to local music and having some fun.