Dig Baton Rouge

It’s in the Water

By Tara Bennett

Swamp Thing “Boiled Live” Tour Schedule

4/24 – Teddy’s Juke Joint, 9 p.m.

4/27 – Red Beans Monday at the Roux House, 6-9 p.m.

4/28 – Blue Society Fundraiser – Phil Brady’s, 5 p.m.

4/29 – Brickyard South Crawfish Boil gig, 9-11 p.m.

Straight out of New Zealand comes Swamp Thing, a swampy blues funk rock duo who are in the Capital City with a mission to discover the roots of the blues music genre.

Consisting of Michael Barker on drums and Grant Haua on guitar, Swamp Thing is fulfilling a three-week visiting artists’ residency in Baton Rouge through the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge.

“We’re always looking to learn more about blues and the origins of different subgenres,” said Barker. “And the swamp [blues] ethos is to be found in the swampy lands around here. I mean this is the cradle of so much great music.”

Just coming out of summer in New Zealand, this is the duo’s first time experiencing Baton Rouge. The band draws inspiration from classic singers such as Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, and modern musicians such as Jon Cleary. It may quirk an eyebrow when hearing there exists a blues duo from the opposite hemisphere, but according to Swamp Thing there’s a big audience for the blues in New Zealand.

“It’s pretty big,” said Haua. “Every major town has a blues club.”

“It’s a roots music, so it’s prevalent in so many genres,” said Barker, who believes blues is a great way to get into the groove of learning music.

The duo has made already made several appearances in town, meeting some of the big players in the BR music scene including Smokehouse Porter, Doug Gay, Michael Foster, Cleveland Jefferson, and Sam Guy. Currently, they’ve performed at venues including Sunday in the Park, and the Blues Room, and they don’t plan on stopping there. For the rest of their residency, they have the goals of going on a swamp tour, visiting Jazz Fest, recording with a Louisiana brass section, play at Teddy’s Juke Joint, and play at a crawfish boiler.

“It seems music and food go hand-in-hand in Louisiana,” said Barker, who dove “straight into the salty bugs” during their first visit at Phil Brady’s. The duo were happy to acclimate to the cuisine of Louisiana, dining on jambalaya for breakfast, discovering a taste for boudin, and were no strangers to spice.

“It’s just right for me,” said Haua.

Indeed, the city is rubbing off on them, and they especially appreciate the little things they find in the playing of the blues music, such as the timber, the voice and the touch.

“You can’t put your finger on it,” said Haua. “It’s like say if you make a gumbo here and I got the recipe and go home to make it, it’s just not the same.”

“I believe the swamp is a fertile place,” said Barker. “This water, this heat, and these nutrients…life is springing forth.”

That life was evident for the duo during a scheduled performance and workshop for young musicians that was held at the Baton Rouge Music Studios this past Saturday.

“We got to see the young and up-and-coming musicians, and I was really impressed with the standard of musicianship and the collective ensemble,” said Barker.

After their residency is completed, the duo wishes to arrange an exchange residency where selected a musician or band is brought to stay in New Zealand for a period of time. The duo is currently working on the selection process for the exchange, which they believe visitors would benefit from.

“It’s an exciting prospect,” said Barker. “We’d like for a pathway to open up…the network that we have is great for performance venues and places where people would enjoy the music. We can help to facilitate that.”

According to the duo, the city opening its arms to them has been nothing short of humbling as they explore the cradle of their chosen music genre.

“The hospitality of the people here is the real honor for me,” said Haua. “Especially those old blues guys…they accept you and appreciate you.”

“The enthusiasm and the willingness to share is phenomenal,” said Barker. “We’re honored to be received here and that people are interested in what we’re doing with blues music. It’s a whole lot of fun.”

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