Gone Pecan

Boozoo Chavis, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Lonnie Brooks planted the seed.

The Lake Charles zydeco legend, the Slidell jazz/blues icon and the Louisiana-born Chicago blues guitarist all played at the Municipal Cafe, a bar that was walking distance from my college apartment. It was the early 1990s in Hartford, Conn., and Louisiana music was the ultimate respite from the brutally cold New England winters. When I wasn’t studying to become a high school English teacher, I’d count the days until someone like Chavis would roll into town and transport me to a world filled with shrimp and okra gumbo, Louisiana trail rides and big-legged women in short skirts.

And it drove me absolutely crazy that none of the newspapers in town would cover these artists or their shows. So I hatched a plan with one of the bar owners, who put me in touch with Lonnie Brooks’ record label. I set up a phone interview with Brooks, felt like a kid in a candy store when he talked to me for 45 minutes, and then wrote up a short article and submitted it to The Hartford Advocate, the city’s alternative weekly newspaper.

To my amazement, they published it — and life as I knew it changed forever. Louisiana and journalism put their hooks into me deeply. As soon as I finished college, I packed up my car and moved to New Orleans — with no apartment, no job and knowing not a single soul in Louisiana, save for incredibly generous and sweet 80-something bed-and-breakfast owner Sarah Margaret Brown. (She accepted my offer of landscaping and office help in exchange for reduced lodging while I searched for a job.)

Within two months, I started interning for OffBeat, the New Orleans music magazine. Over the course of five years, I moved up to associate editor at OffBeat, before leaving to become a staff writer and music editor for New Orleans’ Gambit Weekly. I spent a decade in New Orleans, having experiences beyond my wildest dreams. I interviewed and wrote about Ray Charles, The Meters and The Neville Brothers, John Fogerty, Solomon Burke, and hundreds of other artists, along with indulging my love of sports and covering the New Orleans Saints’ Deuce McAllister, Ashley Ambrose and Ricky Williams.

More importantly, I met my wife Cindy, a Cajun girl and New Iberia native — and I also fell in love with Lafayette and Acadiana on our trips here. We moved with our two sons to Carencro in 2003, and I’ve been with The Independent Weekly since the paper’s launch.

That makes it all the more bittersweet to announce that this is my final column for The Independent, as I’m leaving the paper to become the Communications Director for the Louisiana Democratic Party. My last day is Thursday, July 24, and I begin my new position on Monday, July 28.

Post-Katrina and Rita, Louisiana politics and politicians have been my primary focus, and this fall’s elections, both statewide and national, promise to be historic. After 15 years of working as a journalist and editor, I’ve decided I want to be directly involved in politics in a different role.

It has been an absolute privilege and honor to write for and edit The Independent. Our core editorial team — Senior Editor Leslie Turk, Managing Editor R. Reese Fuller, staff writers Nathan Stubbs and Mary Tutwiler, contributing writer Jeremy Alford and cartoonist Greg Peters — has consistently produced award-winning work which has been honored by the Louisiana Press Association, The Association for Alternative Newsweeklies and the National Newspaper Association. My co-workers are also my friends, and I’m going to miss the hell out of the whole Independent staff.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with incredibly talented editors and writers and committed and dedicated publishers in Louisiana media. Independent publishers Steve May and Cherry Fisher May and Associate Publisher Odie Terry care deeply about giving Lafayette and Acadiana the quality newspaper it deserves, and I’m eternally grateful for the support they’ve given me during my tenure at The Independent. I leave knowing that the paper will always be an informed, passionate voice for Acadiana.

It still feels a bit surreal to imagine life outside of the newsroom, and I know one of the things I’ll miss most is my interactions with you — our readers. You’ve welcomed me into your lives, told me your stories, trusted me with your confidences, and helped me when I needed it. From day one, you’ve made Acadiana feel like home — which is why I’ll be commuting to Baton Rouge during the week, but looking forward to weekend outings at Girard Park or Deano’s Pizza. I hope our paths continue to cross.

And while Boozoo and Gatemouth are gone, if Lonnie Brooks ever comes to town, I’ll be there.