If you’re in the music business and you can get a dollar for every time somebody says “The music business is changing,” you’ll probably make more money than however you’re making it now in the music business. Yes, Acadiana is rich with music, but music makes hardly anybody rich. And getting rich is besides the point. For the most part, the people who play the music that makes South Louisiana famous do so part-time. That includes all those Grammy winners you hear about.
Sure enough people get by. There’s never a shortage of gigs. And playing Zydeco or Cajun music can be good supplemental income. Plus it’s a great time. But long term, it’s tricky if not impossible to build a safety net or nest egg that most American workers accumulate over their careers. Musicians can’t really retire — not that they would want to — and that means major needs can go unfunded and unmet in the twilight of most careers. Christiaan Mader’s guests on this edition of Out to Lunch Acadiana are both dealing with this problem, albeit from different angles.
Major Handy is by all accounts a living legend in blues and Zydeco. A world traveler. A raconteur, and an auto mechanic. At 72 years old, he’s deeply familiar with the challenges of being a working musician past the traditional retiring age. But he’s a consummate pro and fighter. He suffered a stroke at the beginning of 2020 but is already back on the beat, set to play some gigs in France later this year. Major is also involved with the Music Makers Relief Foundation, a nonprofit that supports and documents traditional musicians in the Deep South.
John Williams is president of Love of People, a nonprofit started by his family in the 1990s, but is best known for Blue Monday, a program he launched in 2016. Blue Monday raises money to help aging musicians pay for medical care and living expenses through an monthly concert and dinner series staged at Rock and Bowl here in Downtown Lafayette. Love of People runs several different initiatives including Musicians Etude, We Care and the Lending Closet, which compensates local musicians who donate their talents to benefits with credits to buy goods and professional services. John is also Executive Director of the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation.
Out to Lunch Acadiana is recorded over lunch at The French Press in downtown Lafayette. Photos by Lucius Fontenot.