Born in Baton Rouge, Grammy-nominated bluesman Tab Benoit felt the pull of the Louisiana wetlands as soon as he could walk. “The swamps and woodlands were my playground,” says the guitar-slinging songwriter. “My family taught me how to hunt and fish. Then I noticed that everything has its own language. There was a way to communicate with the animals and the landscape itself.” That Benoit went on to record albums with titles such as Power of the Pontchartrain and Fever for the Bayou was a natural progression. Still, his evolution as a conservation activist was not a given.
Having grown up in the South Louisiana oil patch, Benoit got his pilot’s license at age seventeen and flew pipeline surveys for the oil industry while paying his musical dues in small clubs. “I didn’t learn about this from reading books or listening to scientists talk,” he says. “I had a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening. I could see cypress swamps dying. Pipelines leaking….The beautiful swamp I grew up on is just open saltwater now. If it was killing my backyard, I was going to say something.” So Benoit founded Voice of the Wetlands, a nonprofit focused on protecting Louisiana’s disappearing coastline. He brought in musician friends from New Orleans, including Dr. John, Cyril Neville, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, to record two albums and stage concerts to raise awareness of threats to the region, donating the profits to conservation efforts. He testified before Congress and launched the annual VOW Festival in his hometown of Houma. And as long as there are wetlands worth protecting, Benoit says he will fight for what’s left. “We’re all reliant on this land—not just for our jobs but for our lives.”