The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is the focus this week for so many documentaries, retrospectives, art exhibits, performances, readings and seminars, all alternately seeking to commemorate the tragedy or express the ways in which that titanic event changed our lives. Tonight and Saturday, local singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Millet puts his own spin on the experience –– and his own twang, too.
A physical therapist by day, Millet is part of the city’s small but growing folk and bluegrass scene. He’s been playing for years, and the band he helped form in 2008, the Ramblin’ Letters, has been building its name lately with gigs held seemingly everywhere and anywhere. They might play in the sunshine at a Northshore park one day and then at the hip, dimly lit Japanese tavern Yuki Izakaya the next. Wherever you catch them, though, it’s impossible to miss Millet’s penchant for expressing the modern New Orleans sentiment in song.
In the American folk tradition, his original songs convey a strong sense of time and place, and they’re packed with pleading immediacy yet balanced by humor. His plain-speaking, post-Katrina masterpiece, the song “Hard Times on the Bayou,” can prove a tear-jerker, yet it’s relieved with wry chuckles thanks to references about our former Congressman “Dollar Bill” Jefferson and about Ray Nagin’s post-storm dalliance with Dallas. I don’t see how anyone could have endured the Katrina aftermath without trading between tears and laughter, and this song evokes that surreal time well.
More recently, Millet reworked the classic tune “Paradise” by the great singer/songwriter John Prine with lyrics in synch with an all-too-contemporary local theme. Prine’s original song was about the environmental abuses of a coal mining company in Kentucky, though Millet has brought it to the Gulf and loaded on local references for his “Sportsman’s Paradise (aka Paradise Lost).“ Here’s the chorus:
“And daddy won’t you take me back to St. Bernard Parish/
Way down on the bayou where Paradise lay/
‘I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking/
British Petroleum has washed it away’”
You can hear the whole song, along with “Hard Times on the Bayou” and others, here.
Joining Millet in Ramblin’ Letters are John Norwood on resonator guitar and mandolin, John Depriest on banjo, Harry Hardin on fiddle and Will Jordan on upright bass. Some of these guys are familiar faces at the Monday night bluegrass “pickin’ party,” an open jam held at the Hi Ho Lounge each week that is helping nurture the bluegrass scene here.
Just wanted to say a big thank you for Friday. It was wonderful to have you guys on the show. My boss emailed to say, he had never been a fan of bluegrass, but the Ramblin' Letters changed his mind!
Michael Millet and Friends
Michael is a very talented musician with loads of personality. He has performed in the area, plus on the Opry front porch. He has a great knack of communicating with the audience through his songs, and he knows hundreds of them. He is a traditional bluegrass and country-folk performer who will appear at the Opry with some equally talented friends. Michael is a newcomer to the Opry stage, but is a very experienced musician who enjoys his craft and translates that enjoyment to the audience.
"Thank you Mike for coming in to the station. I will work on getting a copy to you. Come back soon. Everyone loved your song Hard Times on the Bayou, brought tears to the eyes, tears of pain and tears of laughter, that's life."
Michael accompanied fiddle great Gina Forsyth for an evening of fiddle tunes and mountain music. Below is the press release from www.southernfood.org.
Beaten Biscuits and
Sunday, November 1, 2009
4 P.M. to 6 P.M.
Southern Food and Beverage Museum, , Edward Johnston and Carolyn T. Pearce Tasting Room
Come enjoy a relaxing Sunday evening of traditional beaten biscuits, country ham, and bourbon. Gina Forsyth and Michael Millet will be performing bluegrass/mountain music to further set the mood! Author John Egerton and his nephew John Egerton will present a fascinating glimpse into Southern culinary history. You will have your chance to turn the crank to “beat” the biscuits, and then you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor paired up with delicious ham and smooth bourbon.