By Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center
Long time Natchitoches musician, songwriter and philanthropist Rodney Harrington, singer for Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs, will be inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Hall of Master Folk Artists at the 39th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival which will be held on July 20-21 in Prather Coliseum on the Northwestern State University campus.
In addition to being inducted into the Hall of Master Folk Artists, Harrington will perform at the Festival. On the evening of July 21 Harrington will appear along with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer guitarist James Burton, Estelle Brown of the Sweet Inspirations and Grammy winner and Cajun folk artist Jo-El Sonnier, as guests of Johnny Earthquake and The Moondogs in the Festival’s grand finale concert. The concert will include a tribute to Elvis Presley featuring a recreation of the King’s Vegas-style show.
“We are honored to induct Rodney Harrington into the Hall of Master Folk Artists,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. “He is not only a great musician, but his philanthropic efforts have benefited so many throughout the state. Audiences throughout the South respond so powerfully to the music of the Moondogs because of the band’s love for Louisiana culture and music. As leader of the Moondogs, Rodney has been a phenomenal cultural ambassador for Natchitoches and Louisiana.”
Harrington has been involved in music his entire life and has been an active part of the Natchitoches and Louisiana music scene for more than 30 years. During that time, Harrington’s contribution to Louisiana’s regional roots and original music have been in his various capacities as a performer, song writer, producer, attorney, concert and festival promoter and organizer, philanthropist and radio host.
Harrington helped form a popular Natchitoches group in the late 1980s called Dick Dante and the Infernos which performed for several years. In 1995, Harrington and some friends formed the group Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs. Over their nearly 25 years of existence, the Moondogs have become a popular band not only in the Natchitoches area, but across the South. Under Harrington’s leadership, the Moondogs have managed to constantly change members (over 60 musicians have been members of the band over the years) while steadily increasing in popularity. The Moondogs have garnered numerous awards and been called by City Lights Entertainment Magazine “Quite simply Louisiana’s best show band.” Offbeat Magazine of New Orleans, a Louisiana roots magazine, in its review of one of the Moondogs’ critically acclaimed albums has observed “Tradition never sounded so good.”
Harrington has written and recorded several Louisiana and Natchitoches flavored original songs. One of them, Cane River Blues, was featured in a Hollywood movie. Various compilation albums include his songs, such as “Hey Santa” which was featured on the recent The Very Best of Louisiana Christmas, a compilation released by the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, with songs by Fats Domino, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, Brittney Spears and other Louisiana artists.
Harrington’s music related philanthropic activities have been numerous. He helped organize and for several years has served on the board of the James Burton Foundation which has provided hundreds of guitars for school children, veterans and their families and ailing children in hospitals. The Foundation has also started music programs in schools that would not otherwise have them. Harrington has also served on the board of The Friends of the Municipal Auditorium, which worked on the preservation of that historic venue and on the Board for the Ark La Tex Music Heritage Foundation, which raises money to purchase musical instruments for schools. For several years, Harrington has served as the chairman of the board for the Natchitoches Jazz and R&B Festival. Under Harrington’s leadership, the Festival has grown over the years to become one of the more popular music festivals in Louisiana and the South.
Harrington has often helped raise money for the Northwestern State University Department of Music. When the Natchitoches Central High School Orchestra needed funds to go to Carnegie Hall, Harrington organized and produced a fundraising concert which raised thousands of dollars for the trip which made it possible for many students to make the trip who otherwise would not have been able to. When Natchitoches blues artist Hardrick Rivers needed a prosthetic leg, Harrington came up with an idea for a concert called HardrickFest, which he organized and produced to raise money to purchase a prosthetic leg for Hardrick.
For the past 20 years, Harrington has hosted the syndicated radio show “Jammin’ With Johnny—The Johnny Earthquake Show.” The show, which is broadcast over much of Louisiana and into East Texas, has been rated number one in its timeslot. In addition to spotlighting and promoting area community cultural events, the show often features interviews with artists and live music in the studio featuring local and area artists. “Jammin With Johnny” is believed to be the only radio program in North and Central Louisiana that features live music on a regular basis.
The Festival will be held in air-conditioned Prather Coliseum located at 220 South Jefferson Street on the NSU campus in Natchitoches. The Festival will be held Friday, July 20 from 4:30 p.m. until 10:15 p.m. and all day on Saturday July 21 from 8 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.. The family-oriented festival is wheelchair accessible. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge. For a full schedule of events, to purchase tickets or for more information call (318) 357-4332, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to louisianafolklife.nsula.edu.
Support for the Fiddle Championship and the Festival is provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the Louisiana Division of the Arts Decentralized Arts Fund Program, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.
The Festival is also supported by generous sponsorships from Acme Refrigeration of Baton Rouge, Bank of Montgomery, Louie Bernard, the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, John Conine; Corkern, Crews, Johnson & Guillet; CP-Tel, Delta Car Wash, Dan and Desirée Dyess, Georgia’s Gift Shop, La Capitol FCU, the Harrington Law Firm, Billy Joe Harrington, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Natchitoches Wood Preserving, Inc., NSU Men’s Basketball, Page Builders, LLC, R.V. Byles Enterprises, UniFirst, Dr. Michael Vienne, David and Shirley Walker, Waste Connections and Young Estate LLC.