On a wooded, residential street near the far end of Hoo Shoo Shoo Too Road and a stone’s throw from the Amite River, a new outdoor venue is making music in Baton Rouge.
Buddy’s Backyard is the passion project of Buddy and Karyn Roussel, ages 58 and 48, respectively. Their backyard is the spot for family-friendly house shows in the vein of Bee Nice Music, an outdoor live music venue in the heart of residential Capital Heights.
Meanwhile, Buddy’s Backyard is tucked in the woods near the far eastern edge of East Baton Rouge Parish. The music performed there is tropical rock — better known as “trop rock” to the flip-flop wearing, strong-drink sipping baby boomers who are its biggest fans.
Like Bee Nice Music, Buddy’s Backyard isn’t a bar or a music club. In fact, it’s not even a business.
“We don’t sell anything,” Roussel said. “We provide a place where trop rock artists on tour can play an outdoor show between larger venues and where local fans can enjoy a few hours of live outdoor music.”
Guests are asked to make a $20 donation, all of which goes to the artist. They can bring their own drinks, snacks and portable chairs and set up on the shaded, 3,000-square-foot deck Roussel built for that purpose. He talks regularly with Chris Maxwell, whose Red Dragon Listening Room in Baton Rouge hosts singer-songwriters and folk artists, and that was voted a top music venue in America.
Buddy’s Backyard, on the other hand, is all about trop rock. So, what exactly is it?
If you recognize the Jimmy Buffett lyric, “Wastin' away again in Margaritaville,” then you’ve heard trop rock. Buffett pioneered the genre with a catalogue of songs that draw on Caribbean, reggae and southern American influences. Trop rock songs often encourage the listener to head to the water and forget about what gets them down, and to drink enough to make sure of it.
Trop rock is a world of T-shirts and tequila shots. It’s music best heard at the beach, or at least near water (Buddy’s Backyard overlooks a small lake and is a hop, skip and jump from the Amite River).
For some 20 years, Roussel was a Parrot Head — an avid traveling fan of Buffett. Even more satisfying than the music was the camaraderie and friendships he formed with other Parrot Heads who would arrive early at concert venues and tailgate all day, LSU football style, until showtime. They would cook, eat, drink and laugh together until the concert started.
“Sometimes the actual show was anticlimactic,” Roussel admitted with a chuckle.
Today, Buffett has plenty of company in the trop rock genre. A new generation of recording artists plays to a growing legion of fans. Trop rock is especially popular in the Southeast, but there are tour stops from California to Key West, Florida, to Wisconsin.
With his Parrot Head days behind him, Roussel longed for that old camaraderie. So, he created the outdoor music space to satisfy not only his own longing, but to help meet the very practical needs of touring artists trying to earn a living on the road.
By day, Roussel runs his own business, a company that retrofits residential and commercial windows with double-glazed panels. Being his own boss gave him the time and resources he needed to build his deck, stage and guest bathrooms.
He finished construction in 2020 during the pandemic shutdown, and hosted the first show in September. He’s presented a handful of shows since, with more on the calendar ahead.
On a recent spring Saturday afternoon, Buddy’s Backyard featured Donny Brewer, one of trop rock’s most popular artists. Originally from Austin, Texas, and a longtime sideman, he became a trop rocker 10 years ago and has since won multiple artist- and song-of-the-year awards in trop rock’s version of the Grammys. But the trop rock niche is small and new enough that the majority of the audience had never heard Brewer’s music.
“It’s a cool gamble to come see someone you don’t know, and I appreciate it,” Brewer told them between songs.
He performed about three hours of his witty, heartfelt and boozy tunes at Buddy’s Backyard, breathing fire and energy into them with masterful acoustic guitar play. On some songs, he created his own percussion, thumping the body of his acoustic guitar or shaking handheld noisemakers, then looped and layered the sounds to create sweeping harmonies and catchy, foot-tapping grooves.
Many of Brewer’s song titles are typical of beach-centric trop rock whimsy: “A Little More Rum,” “Fishin’ On Credit,” “This Beer is Making Me Awesome,” and “You Can’t Drink All Day.”
Promoting the Brewer show solely on his Facebook page, Roussel attracted an audience of about three dozen. They found Buddy’s Backyard with ease thanks to some life-size pink flamingo directional signs he posted near the end of Hoo Shoo Too Road.
Buddy’s Backyard is one of at least 100 such venues nationwide, Brewer said between sets. They’re run by trop rock followers who open their backyards to performers and fellow fans.
Brewer said he learned just how encouraging fans could be as he prepared for one of his earliest tours. He had mapped his upcoming tour route on Facebook and invited followers who lived along the highlighted route to contact him about hosting homegrown shows. He got dozens of invitations.
“Trop rock fans are incredibly supportive,” he said.
Buddy’s Backyard has quickly become a welcomed stop for touring trop rockers, Brewer said.
Part of the genre’s growth is thanks to enthusiasts and supporters like Greg Dumas, of Thibodaux. He and his wife, Donna, also a trop rock fan, drove from Thibodaux for the recent Brewer show.
For 14 years, Greg Dumas hosted a show on Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville. Today, he hosts a Friday afternoon show on Radio Trop Rock at radiotroprock.com. The genre has caught the attention of radio industry giants like ASCAP and BMI, Dumas said.
“They’re saying, ‘Maybe we ought to create a new genre to celebrate the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, maybe we ought to put another category together called trop rock.”
1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday: Drop Dead Dangerous
Friday, April 16: Brent Burns
Saturday, May 1: Mike Nash
WHEN: 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, April 25
DETAILS: Featuring performances by Barry Hebert Band, Fugitive Poets, Ryan Harris Band, Clay Parker & Jodi James, Cumberland County, Denton & Molly, Gary Ragan, Joe Sims, Bill Romano, Patrick Cooper, Ralph Godson & Erica Schneider, Nancy Ropollo, Susan Aysen, and Nancy Broussard with Keith Pavlovich. A silent auction and other activities will raise money to help cover operating costs of Red Dragon Listening Room, the nonprofit music venue that’s gone silent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COST: Free to attend; guests encouraged to donate to the cause