Living Ind

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

by Walter Pierce

Medicine Show has turned tragedy into triumph Medicine Show needs little introduction, but here’s the short form: The annual concert fundraiser at Grant Street Dancehall was first held in December 1997, six miserable, chilly weeks after Dr. Tommy Comeaux, a pathologist at Our Lady of Lourdes, was struck and killed by an SUV while riding his bicycle. The 45-year-old Comeaux wasn’t just a doctor; he was a multi-instrumentalist who played in some of the most influential bands ever to come out of Lafayette — Coteau and Beausoleil chief among them. He was an influential musician and, more important, a best friend to many. In the misery of his loss, those friends and admirers decided to honor his memory by establishing an endowed chair in traditional music at UL.

Friday’s 13th annual Medicine Show at Grant Street lives up to the standard of its predecessors, featuring top-notch performers, many of whom were close to Comeaux.

There was no talking Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and raconteur Steve Conn into making the trip from Nashville to Lafayette for a 75-minute gig in a 1,000-capacity dance hall — he just wonders what took so long. “If you ever knew Tommy, that’s the only reason you need,” Conn says. “Tommy was such a wonderful guy. I’m just insulted that this was the first time I’ve been asked to join,” Conn adds wryly. “How they did the first 12 without me I’ll never know.”

Conn met Comeaux through Beausoleil front man Michael Doucet more than three decades ago when the three were students at LSU. A Pineville native and now a sought-after Nashville session man, Conn says he struck up a friendship with Doucet on the back row of a Shakespeare class; Doucet introduced Conn and Comeaux. When Comeaux was getting his medical degree at LSU Medical School in New Orleans, Conn was a familiar lump on Comeaux’s couch. Through the years, the two collaborated through Beausoleil. Along the way, Conn also befriended the best slide guitarist in the solar system, Sonny Landreth, who will join him on the Grant Street stage Friday. “Tommy was just such a great guy, and so many of my friends are involved in this,” Conn says.

Friday also marks the beginning of what may be called Medicine Show’s lagniappe era: organizers hit their $1 million goal a year ago; the Dr. Tommy Comeaux Memorial Endowed Fund for Traditional Music is taking applications and interviewing candidates right now and may be operational by next fall.

But why stop at a million? “We always hoped, but we never knew if we’d reach the million [dollar goal], and we have now, and we realize it could be a $10 million dollar endowment, or 20,” says organizer and Comeaux Fund Campaign Committee member Todd Mouton. “We realized that the process was the goal, and that we should keep doing what we’re doing.”

An endowed chair in traditional music at UL Lafayette — in the heart of Cajun/Creole country — is long overdue. But there’s little doubt that to a person, every committee member and volunteer and musician would chuck it in a second to have Tommy Comeaux breathing among them. “Tommy’s legacy is so much bigger, broader and deeper, I think, than any of us would have thought,” says Mouton. “I think Tommy, if he could see what we’re doing, he probably wouldn’t want the attention, but I think he’d be impressed by how creative and flexible the whole thing has been.”

Medicine Show 13

A benefit for the Dr. Tommy Comeaux Memorial Endowed Fund for Traditional Music at UL Lafayette

8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18

Grant Street Dancehall

Doors open at 7 p.m.

A smoke-free event

Advance tickets are $15 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts box office or charge by phone by calling (337) 233-7060

Artists, in order of appearance:

Roddie Romero & Beau Thomas

Steve Conn, Sonny Landreth & Friends
(Doug Belote & H.B. Smith)

The UL Lafayette Faculty Jazz Ensemble

The Sons of VooDoo