|On the cover: Comeaux Fund Campaign Committee members, from left to right (seated) Sonny Landreth, Todd Mouton, Jen Mouton, Gwyn Hutslar, Renée Roberts, Megan Barra, Bruce Gray, Karl Fontenot, (standing) Dr. Steve Abshire, Frank Camalo, Allen Bacqué, Kent Hutslar, Robbie Bush, Michael Doucet, Dr. Frank Bacqué, Pat Mould, Gary Newman, Len Springer and Reese Fuller.|
|photo by Robin May|
|Dr. Tommy Comeaux
|photo by Robin May|
|Gary Newman, bassist and founder of Coteau, says Tommy Comeaux was “the perfect human being.”|
| photo by Robin May
“It seems to have a life of its own, and I think that’s the way of things when you hit on something that really works. Maybe it’s greater than the sum of its parts.” — Sonny Landreth
|photo by Robin May
| Dr. Walter Comeaux
| photo by Doug Dugas
Dr. Walter Comeaux laughs when he thinks back upon first hearing about the idea for the endowed chair. “I thought it would never occur,” he says. “I think they were kind of skeptical themselves as to the final outcome of it. But of course as they went along and began to produce these professorships, it became obvious that sooner or later it would become a reality.”
Since their inception, the Comeauxtians have produced 11 Medicine Shows at Grant Street Dancehall every Christmas. The shows have resulted in three CDs worth of music that have also benefited the fund, along with poster and T-shirts sales. In all, the group has produced and hosted some 40 fund-raising events since 1997. Within the last few years, a group of Landreth’s fans, Sonny’s Krewe, has traveled to his shows across the country at their own expense, sold merchandise and contributed some $30,000 to the effort.
“When any of us had time we just did what we could,” Mouton says. “A lot of people sacrificed parts of their holidays and a few hours and minutes here and there. But it’s amazing what you can squeeze into the cracks of your life, and it’s amazing how that can make your life so much better.”
Along the way, the committee also birthed a Cajun jam band powerhouse. The Traiteurs was composed of committee members Landreth, Newman, and Mould, along with Al Berard, Errol Verret, Danny Kimball, Tony Latiolais, and Valerie Breazeale. Much like the committee itself, the band was loosely knit but highly focused. The Traiteurs never rehearsed, never had a set list, and never even considered signing a record deal. Its only “tour” was in 2000 when it performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Festival International and Festivals Acadiens. In all, the group performed on 30 occasions (dubbing the appearances as the “Good For What Ails You Tour”), and any fees paid to the band were donated to the Comeaux fund. “Along with the creation of the Medicine Show,” Landreth says, “The Traiteurs has been one of the best ongoing musical experiences I’ve ever had.” The group recently disbanded, as quietly as it came together.
|In its decade long run, The Traiteurs performed 30 shows and donated all its musicians’ fees back to the Comeaux fund.|
|photo by Kent Hutslar
Last Christmas, nearly a decade to the day of the first Medicine Show, the Comeauxtians hit their goal. Mouton made the announcement from Grant Street’s stage at Medicine Show 11, with then UL President Ray Authement, Dr. Walter Comeaux, and Comeaux Committee members on hand.
On Oct. 28, at the UL Foundation’s annual Distinguished Donor reception, the Comeauxtians were honored for their work in creating the Dr. Tommy Comeaux Eminent Scholar Chair in Traditional Music. Landreth and Michael Doucet performed “Chez Seychelles,” the same song they played at Tommy’s funeral. For each endowment that’s established, the university gives the donor an actual chair. The Comeauxtians, however, managed to get the university’s first rocking chair.
David Comeaux, the director of planned giving for UL, says that in his 21 years in higher education development, he’s never encountered a group like the Comeauxtians. “I have not seen a group work as tirelessly as this one did to honor the memory of a friend,” he says. “He must have been a very special and unique person because the manner in which this memorial fund was created is certainly special and unique. I can only imagine how good his family must feel knowing that a group of friends stayed the course over a 10-year period to help honor the memory of their loved one.”
Now that the endowment has been made in the music department, it’s up to the university to determine its best use. “There’s so much good to come out of this,” Landreth says. “It’s really in keeping with Tommy’s spirit, how he was always helping people and all the things he really loved about music.”
Although the $1 million goal for the endowed chair has been met, the matching of donations can continue. For every $60,000 raised, the state will still match it with $40,000 to create a $100,000 endowed professorship. And since the group has already created a well-oiled fund-raising machine, it’s decided that the show must go on. Medicine Show will continue to be held every Christmas to raise money for the endowment. This year, as with the first year, the doors to Grant Street will open on the night after Christmas for Medicine Show 12. “I’ll keep on doing it for the rest of my life,” Newman says. “Even though we’ve met our goal that doesn’t mean we have to stop. We can just keep on going in Tommy’s name — because he would be doing the same thing.”
“It seems to have a life of its own,” Landreth adds, “and I think that’s the way of things when you hit on something that really works. Maybe it’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s been a journey about healing and value fulfilment that offsets that loss. Then the individuals involved, I can easily brag on the other members of the committee because they’ve all done an amazing job. It just shows the quality of the character of the people as individuals. I think that all of that, coming together, really becomes a sustaining force.”
“We all thought we had this special friendship with Tommy,” Mouton says. “And the more people we met, we found out that they had this special friendship with him and that maybe he did something really nice for them or that he was always kind to them. But then there are all of these people who haven’t met him and didn’t know him, but his story still resonates with them. He’s the kind of guy they don’t build monuments for but they probably should. So I think everyone’s been able to plug into that. It amazes me how when you make a copy of something it’s usually degraded in some way, but I think Tommy’s memory has made perfect copies, and his legacy is these ideas that his life represented and continues to represent.”
| photo by Doug Dugas
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