by Rodney Harrington, AKA Johnny Earthquake
The lazy, steamy days of summer provide a chance to flash back to the first weekend in May, when nearly perpetual rains jeopardized the Natchitoches Jazz/R&B Festival on the Natchitoches river front. From here, we’re lending this space to Rodney Harrington, AKA “Johnny Earthquake,” the frontman of the popular show band Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs.
When NSU Director of Athletics, Greg Burke, refers to “Smash Mouth,” he’s usually referring to a brand of football. Well, here “Hammer” (as I call him) and his wife SuSu were hanging out backstage at the Natchitoches Jazz/R&B Festival with a Smash Mouth of a much different sort. What most folks in the Prather Coliseum crowd who turned out for the fantastic day of music had no way of knowing, is that the festival likely would not even have happened if not for the Herculean efforts of The Hammer.
As the date of the festival drew nearer and the weather reports grew more ominous, we volunteers on the Festival committee began to panic a bit. We truly had no viable backup plan. The Events Center wasn’t available, and Friday was graduation day at NSU. The ceremony’s location? Prather Coliseum. On top of that, the entire athletics and facilities staff at NSU were in a bit of panic mode themselves. The University was hosting the Southland Conference softball tournament across the street and the same ominous forecast we were looking at was threatening that event. The pressure on the staff, and particularly The Director of Athletics, was tremendous.
In attempting to secure the use of the Coliseum, we started with our friend (NSU President), Dr. Chris Maggio. Chris has always been a great supporter of the festival, but there was only so much he could do. He knew the burdens being placed upon his staff because of the other events and circumstances. We spoke to several other officials and, while they were all very sympathetic to our cause, they had way too much on their plate, and our Festival was pretty far down their list of priorities, and understandably so. It was looking more and more like our beloved Festival was going to be a washout and a devastating financial loss for the committee. Enter “The Hammer.”
Greg stepped forward and told the other NSU officials: “I got this. I’ll be the point man and we’ll make this happen.” And make it happen he did. The Hammer was a whirling dervish of activity, and despite being faced with roadblocks left and right, simply would not take “No” for an answer. His energy and attention to detail was amazing. I could go on and on. Hammer was everywhere. He was at Prather on Friday till about midnight as the sound crew was setting up Post-graduation. He even went out and got them some food. I got to the coliseum EARLY the next morning, and Hammer was already there, wearing the same clothes he had on the night before. I’m not sure he slept.
Greg was there the entire day and finally got to enjoy the fruits of his (and many others’) labors. As the final notes of Smash Mouth’s mega-hit “Allstar” faded away, there were Greg and Susu, standing in front, huge smiles on their faces. I thought how appropriate that was. The lyric from the song goes: “hey, now, you’re an all star……hey now, you’re a rock star…”. Well, Greg “The Hammer” Burke was both an All Star AND a Rock Star. If you see him, thank him. He saved the Festival.
On a larger scale, the fact that the holding of the festival in the Coliseum was even possible was illustrative of the amazing partnership between NSU and our community. I am so proud to be a Demon and a resident of Natchitoches.