It’s where he attended college and also where he recorded early demos with his current band, The Breton Sound.
So last weekend, when singer-guitarist Jonathan Pretus noticed his friends in Baton Rouge posting photos on Facebook that showed the flood conditions in and around the capital of Louisiana, the New Orleans resident felt compelled to help out and knew he had to act fast.
It started with a Facebook post on Aug. 14 that began, “I’ve got a box truck I want to fill with supplies and drive to Baton Rouge this evening.” Pretus included a list of needs for both people and pets, along with information regarding when and where to meet him.
“People started showing up with donations around 4 p.m., and by 7, we were pretty full,” says Pretus, who was assisted by his wife, Julia. “The original post had been shared a few hundred times. Folks from out of town were asking if they could send money, so we started accepting [donations] through PayPal.”
In that same three-hour window, Pretus and his wife collected about $400, which they spent on addition supplies at a Dollar General store.
Their initial destination in Baton Rouge was the TV-film production studio Celtic Media Centre, which had opened as a shelter and was housing about 7,000 people, Pretus says. But Celtic Media had lots of supplies, so they were diverted to the Baton Rouge River Center.
“We were the first truck unloaded there,” Pretus says. “There were no supplies in sight when we went in — just tables and chairs and maybe about 10 families sitting there looking like they were in shock.”
Within about 10 minutes, a group of volunteers had unloaded their truck. While that was being done, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke with Pretus’ wife, and according to the singer, Edwards was “kind of in shock that we’d organized and filled the truck so quickly and made our way up, especially as the main interstate roads were blocked and closed.”
Seeing people arrive at the River Center carrying grocery bags with personal items “was heartbreaking, just brutal,” says Pretus. “And I could relate to them in some way because it’s like what we went through with Hurricane Katrina. These folks are gonna need help for a long time.”
Pretus will continue doing what he can to help. He’s planning another run of supplies for this weekend. And on Aug. 24 at Gasa Gasa in New Orleans, he and his Breton Sound bandmates will participate in a concert organized by the booking-management firm Simple Play Presents to benefit the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana. (The other acts on the bill are Colin Lake, Midriff and Hurricane Max.)
“We were just looking for a way to be helpful as a band in an immediate way,” Pretus says, “and that’s a great charity Simple Play has partnered with.”
According to Pretus, The Breton Sound will perform new material that the band is considering for a new EP, expected to be released in 2017.
“We’ve already done basic tracks for two of the songs,” Pretus says. “A third one is really new; we haven’t played it live yet and are still working on the arrangement. But this will be a good time to test it out.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Click here to make a disaster-relief contribution to the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana.
The Breton Sound, from left to right: Stephen Turner, John Bourgeois, Jonathan Pretus and Joe Bourgeois. Photographed in June 2015 by Chris M. Junior in New Orleans.