Local woman engineers charity festival for Gulf Coast

Gina Zanutto
The Uplifting the Coast Festival began with just a thought for Libby Foret in 2010. The success has led to another musical extravaganza this year, held on September 9 and 10 in Grand Isle. Foret is a proponent of doing all that people can for the Louisiana coastline. “Studies have shown that Louisiana is losing land at the rate of approximately a football field every 45 minutes. If you live here, how could this not concern you?”

For nearly a year, Louisiana native and Ascension Parish resident Libby Foret has worked to positively impact the Gulf Coast region, beginning with Grand Isle, La.,  through a music festival called “Uplifting the Coast.

“Ultimately, I would love to help all of Louisiana’s coast, but realistically, I need to take baby-steps,” Foret said. “Let’s see what we can do for the immediate coast, and then, work our way inland. Grand Isle is the focus for now.”

The initial concert-turned-benefit occurred in September 2010, largely through $10,000 in private donations, sponsorships and T-shirt sales. Foret hopes to secure tax exemption as a charitable organization and encourage more sponsorships and donations.

“Saturday, September 5, 2010, was one of the most humbling days of my life,” Foret said. “To see so many people make the trip down to the coast when there were no hotels or camp rentals was amazing. During that day so many people in the crowd, as well as friends, asked me to continue helping Grand Isle.”

Grand Isle is a portion of the coast classified as a “barrier island,” or strip of isolated land that runs parallel to the neighboring coastline. The area acts as a buffer during hurricanes and other severe conditions.

“I have a lot of concerns. Studies have shown that Louisiana is losing land at the rate of approximately a football field every 45 minutes. If you live here, how could this not concern you?” Foret said. “Our coast is the first line of defense that Louisiana has against approaching storms, including Grand Isle. When it is gone, how do you think we will fair farther inland when a Katrina-type storm hits us directly? It’s a scary thought, but not an unrealistic one.”

Only six bands performed at the previous festival, but the next event, scheduled for September 9 and September 10, features an array of local musicians, including: Chris LeBlanc, Debbie Landry, Contraflow, CC Players, Bandit, Voodoo Bayou, Waylon Thibodeaux, Ampersand, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Louisiana’s LeRoux, The Chase Tyler Band and Zebra. Although tickets to the Festival are free, Foret said “all the musicians jumped on-board without hesitation for the cause.

“The Festival supports all types of music. I would like to see a wide range of Louisiana musicians involved in this Festival,” Foret said. “Since the musicians all live in Louisiana or are from Louisiana, they have just as much vested in our coast’s survival as you and I do. I can’t speak highly enough about the musicians involved in the Festival.”

Foret and her husband own Sign Express, a small business in Baton Rouge, and her family, sans staffing, have shouldered the majority of promotional and practical materials for the Festival. However, Foret does not stand to gain financially from her charitable endeavors.

“Putting the entire Festival together has been on our shoulders. I’m still hoping to get sponsors for a lot of items,” Foret said. “Believe it or not, I still don’t have a stage. These are all items we’re prepared to obtain out of our pocket if we don’t get them sponsored or donated.”

Foret stated that obtaining financial support has been the most difficult aspect of her mission. Sponsorship and other donations, whether of time or of money, can originate from private individuals as well as local businesses. Volunteers are especially needed for the Festival’s Kids’ Zone, trash can maintenance, vendor positions, pre-Festival preparations and post-Festival clean-up.

“We are looking for everything. We need sponsors who are wanting to contribute over the long haul,” Foret said. “I’m doing my best to keep 100 percent of the net funds generated to the land, whether it’s to plant trees, shrubs and marsh grasses; rebuild places that have been repeatedly damaged from storms; or educate citizens on what we can do as residents to help.”

Foret plans to utilize the Festival to educate Louisiana residents and raise awareness largely via “word of mouth.” Foret stated that she will talk to “anyone and everyone who will listen about the Louisiana coastal crisis.”

“Word of mouth is a powerful tool when it is for the right reason,” Foret said. “It’s amazing how many people, including myself, didn’t realize how bad our coastal situation is and what’s being done to save it. I guess everyone has to pick something that they are passionate about, and this is it for me.”

Foret’s other motivations include her deceased father-in-law, Gerald “Pops” Foret, her godson Blaize, the Grand Isle Redfish Rodeo, Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill. She also stated that the original Festival in 2010 was initially a once-in-a-lifetime event.

“I never thought to do more than what I did that day; I left that island feeling like I did the right thing and never thought about doing it again,” Foret said. “I would have to say the most enjoyable thing, so far, is having someone come up to you, shake your hand and say, ‘thank you for what you are doing.’”

For more information on Libby Foret and the Uplifting the Coast Festival, visit http://www.upliftingthecoast.org or send an e-mail to info@upliftingthecoast.org

“The Festival has made me realize that you can do anything you put your mind to, and if you believe in something and it’s for the right reasons, that others will too,” Foret said.