Funny. You can live in one place for almost 3-½ decades and never notice what’s right beneath your nose.
After a half-century of covering sports, my semiretirement transition into writing about events falling under the loose umbrella of Out and About in St. Tammany Parish for the past year has been one of great discovery. Such as:
Discovering the quality and quantity of the local cultural environment. Drama, music, dance and art — it’s uniformly good, sometimes very, very good.
And, there’s always a choice. During one weekend in November, all five local theaters had productions going.
Music options are much the same, and much of that is free.
Art events are so plentiful that Kim Bergeron, executive director of the St. Tammany Art Association, has organized the Northshore Cultural Economic Coalition so that there’s less overlap, such as when we had dueling white linen nights in Slidell and Covington.
Do count on continuing dueling Dr. Frank-N-Furters, though, as the Slidell Little Theater and Cutting Edge Theater present different versions of the "Rocky Horror Show" on the same Halloween-season weekend.
At times, such as during the just-finished Christmas season, it was as if things had reached critical mass. But who’s complaining?
Discovering the many talented people — actors, singers, musicians, dancers and artists plus those behind the scenes — who bring these events to life.
They range from the kids in numerous holiday productions to the teenagers in the Big E Brass Band who earned the closing spot in the Slidell Jazz & Blues Festival, to 84-year-old flutist Andy McCune, who kept the Northshore Community Orchestra going when its numbers thinned to only 12 after Hurricane Katrina.
Said McCune, “I want to keep doing this for as long as I can.”
McCune is one of the many folks who do what they do simply because of what in sports is called “the love of the game.”
Or, as Christopher Talley, organizer of the Old Feed Store Music Series, put it so well, “We’re a nonprofit in the purest sense of the word. We’re all losing money.”
Why do it then?
Kayla Barnes, a third-grade teacher who directed "Babes in Toyland" at 30 by Ninety Theater summed it up when she said, “This is the stuff that keeps me alive.”
It’s unlikely any of these folks will ever get rich and famous. But many deserve to be.
There are also those who teach, not just to their pupils, but to those whose cultural education is lacking. Thanks to Jaclyn Warren, of STAA, for explaining abstract art as “color, form and movement capturing a feeling,” plus Susan Thomas, of Southern Youth Ballet, and Kellie Fortier, of Ballet Apetrei, for enlightenment about “The Nutcracker.”
Getting to know so many people who care so much about what they do was the best part of the job.
Discovering the community groups, churches and other organizations responsible for the fairs, festivals, parades, concerts and seasonal events that bring us together, usually aiding worthy causes in the process.
Fire District 1 Chief Chris Kaufmann was right when he said of the Red Beans and Rice Cookoff benefiting the United Way of St. Tammany, “It’s the best $10 you can spend.”
Those who visited the $5 all-you-can-eat Madisonville Gumbo Cookoff might argue the point, along with those who thoroughly enjoyed the $20 all-you-can-drink Kokomo Stroll — that is if they’ve found their way home yet.
And hats off to all of the volunteers without whom most of these events wouldn't happen. You know who you are, even if we don’t.
More hats off to city- and parish-backed events as such as the free outdoor concerts by the Louisiana Philharmonic in Slidell, Mandeville and Covington. When the Holiday of Lights weekend at the Tammany Trace was canceled because a tax issue failed, the parish council reversed course and came through to save it.
Discovering activities that normally might not be associated with the arts, but whose participants are passionate about them all the same. Those are folks like Bea Wise, the litterbug-despising “Bucket Lady” who never misses a week of sprucing up the trails at the Northlake Nature Center, and 87-year-old Violet Chase, who makes at least three crafting classes each week at Pelican Park.
Bless you both. You too, Dr. Jay Saux, the pirate oncologist who has turned his birthday into a Covington street party that raises money for charity, and Rev. William Miller, of Christ Church of Covington, who drove his cancer-stricken terrier mix Nawiliwili Nelson to Las Vegas and back on a combination bucket list/fundraising for animal welfare expedition.
The trip raised more than $13,000 and, of this writing, Nawiliwili, who was originally given three months to live, has survived for more than a year.
“We just don’t know how long these precious gifts are going to be entrusted to us,” Father Bill said before embarking on the trip.
Thankfully, Nawiliwili has been given some more time.
Discovering the entrepreneurs who are not afraid to bring new or revamped events to the north shore adding to the list of established entities. More power to Wilbert Williams and Gordon Carmadelle with their self-funded stage productions.
And here’s to the continued success of the St. Tammany Crab Festival, Falaya Fest and especially the Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival, where Will and Diane Bias didn’t let the approach of Hurricane Nate keep its inaugural show from going on, giving us yet another reason to get “out and about.”
That’s the intent of Out and About — listing as many as goings-on as possible while spotlighting if not the best, certainly the most intriguing and appealing of these opportunities.
Who wouldn’t want to check out the Push-Mow Parade in Abita Springs where the theme was “Dollar Store Dumpster Discoveries”? Come to think of it, is there anything going on eternally quirky, yet totally hometown-feeling Abita Springs that’s not worth checking out?
Abita being named the best small town in Louisiana last year was well deserved. Come to think it, it might be the best town regardless of size, and we’re not just talking Louisiana.
The other part of this message is to support all of these folks. Many of you already do. An exhibitor at the Three Rivers Art Festival said people in St. Tammany “not only love art but likes to buy it, too.”
He could have been speaking for all of the arts. And it's nice to keep your dollars here to help your talented neighbors.
Of course, tastes are going to vary. But as we said in one story, whether it’s the opera, or the opry (Abita Springs version) or something in between, there’s something out there for you.
Happy New Years then. And to all, a healthy and prosperous 2018.
Hope to see you Out and About.