River of Love: Susan Cowsill at French Quarter Fest

This is a hard story to put into words since it’s not mine to tell, but Susan Cowsill has a way of giving you a window into the heart of what she’s lived through. Yesterday she encouraged the French Quarter Festival audience to wave to Barry. We waved to her brother Barry Cowsill, those of us who knew him. He was found in the Mississippi River months after Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks. The tugboats that started spraying water in circles behind her riverfront stage felt like Barry waving back. Susan thought so too, she pointed at the arcs of water and said, “Barry did that,” while singing Dragonfly. Then she sang Barry’s anthem,River of Love. I’ve never known anyone who was more consistantly brilliant at writing his own epitaph.

I only have windows into this story, like the way Barry would jump onto a stage and there was no getting him off of it without pliars. One night Jeff and I were singing Elvis’ Suspicious Minds at Carrolton Station and Barry, who had jumped up midway through, kept singing the bridge that brings you back into the chorus. Finally we improvised, “We’re caught in this song. It’s gone on way too long. Because you won’t stop singing, Barry.” Even that didn’t stop the song. He and Susan were in the chart-topping family band The Cowsills, whose life story was turned into The Partridge Family, a blessing and a curse as Barry was never comfortable with the former child star stigma. If you ever heard him perform you know, he was meant to be a rock star.

There’s an oil spill anniversary coming up, events planned all over town. The public grew weary of Katrina anniversaries, and I’m sure the same thing will happen with the oil. But just because it’s hard to hear doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. After Katrina we lost friends, many lost family, and it doesn’t take an anniversary to remember it. New Orleans is raising hundreds of thousands through the NOLA Japan Quake Fund because this city remembers what it feels like to wonder if you could really have been forgotten so soon.

HBO’s Treme debuts in a few weeks, and not to break the fourth wall but Susan and her husband Russ Broussard invited us to be extras in her episode. It was worth standing with a warm bottle of not-beer for hours at Carrolton Station to hear Susan sing and pretend it was four years ago. I kept wondering, would we go back if we could? And is this what I wore in ’07? What was I thinking? Wait, I’m still wearing it.

Susan expresses where we are and where we were perfectly in her song Crescent City Snow. So did Barry, with River of Love. R.E.M. just gave us the New Orleans tribute Oh My Heart, recorded here with New Orleans musicians including Shamarr Allen who played the French Quarter Festival and is in Kazakhstan as a musical ambassador for the State Department this week. This is him teaching his free music clinic through Silence is Violence last week. You should probably buy all of their CD’s, since this story is theirs to tell.

At best I’m an extra, and I have been blessed to be one.
–Karen Dalton-Beninato, www.twitter.com/kbeninato

To read the story at source, with the included photos, visit:

13 Responses to River of Love: Susan Cowsill at French Quarter Fest
  1. Regis Palmer
    May 20, 2011 | 7:04 am

    What a great heartfelt article, So very impressed with Susan and yourself. Please keep up the great work !

  2. Phil Manuel
    June 16, 2011 | 9:10 am

    Recently, fought my way back to music, having finally been able to buy some expensive but very good hearing aids. I ‘found’ a story about Susan in a guitar magazine, and now getting around to her music. My own songwriting is coming along, and I’ve found a lot of inspiration in her work. I grew up with the Cowsills, and have the greatest respect for their music.

    This story and web site is wonderful. Thank you all!

  3. Carol
    July 22, 2011 | 8:27 am

    The joy and sadness you expressed made me weep. Thank you for writing this & keep it up.

  4. Darrell Thibodeaux
    July 26, 2011 | 11:55 am

    I was in love with the family in the 60,70’s.Still listen to there music.Would love to see Susan’s band next time they play in La.I am from Opelousas La.In my heart i am 1 of the family.Waiting on reply

  5. max herman
    September 3, 2011 | 3:12 pm

    Say hi to Paul and B for me, I am computer ilterate for the most part and can figure out The Cowsill’s site.

    Paul coached my sons in Little Leauge ( Apgar ) 80’s and I followed B with the Angels

    Thanks Max Herman

  6. Ronnie Jones
    September 9, 2011 | 10:16 am

    Last night at Saxon in Austin was great. Thanks for a great evening.

  7. Kevin Ahern
    October 10, 2011 | 8:44 pm

    Hi Susan:

    Just a short note to let you know how much I enjoyed listening to your family’s music over the years. I am a music-wanna-be. I can’t play an instrument and can’t sing. I write lyrics, but must steal the melody, sort of like Weird Al Yankovich, but my songs are all about science.

    I’ll always remember listening to The Rain, The Park, and Other Things, as well as Hair when I was a teenager growing up in the Midwest. I recently saw an old YouTube video of your family singing on the Johnny Cash show and it brought back great memories. You were quite the dancer as a youngster.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the memories and I hope you are still putting out good music.

  8. Marie
    February 5, 2012 | 7:02 pm

    Met you in Wisconsin (Wawatosa) fest about three years ago, after that I researched you songs on You Tube, what a brilliant writer you are, you have a way of speaking from the heart through your music that no one can you teach. You remind me of Johnny Cash. I passed your songs on to my friends, one of their daughter lives in New Orleans, so I am sure that she will stop and see one of your shows. I hope our paths do cross again, until then I hope that the road is good to you.

  9. Cindy C. Brown
    February 10, 2012 | 1:58 pm

    Susan, what a very beautiful heart you have, and what a lovely thing to have done!! Both Bill and Barry are up in heaven, watching over u and the rest of your family. Love and peace to u.

  10. JC
    March 23, 2012 | 3:50 pm

    Looking forward to hearing your new album

  11. Bill & Vickie Sandiford
    April 17, 2012 | 6:10 pm

    Hi Susan!

    Heard and met you Sunday in NOLA with our friend Shoeless. Just wanted you to know how much we loved your set and enjoyed meeting you and your band members.



  12. russ
    December 20, 2012 | 12:11 pm

    Thank you so much Cindy!
    Love and peace to you too!
    Merry Christmas!!!

  13. Debi Verhague
    March 23, 2013 | 6:40 pm

    Susan, I have been a fan of yours since I was 11 years old. I got to see you in concert in August 1969 (might’ve been 68) at the Michigan State Fair. I loved your family band. I wanted to be a part of your family. LOL I got to meet Bob and John at the Pub in the late 90’s and when I saw them it took me back to 11 years old (when I saw John my knees got weak and I thought I was gonna faint. LOL) Wow. What an impact your family has made on me. I still love The Cowsills. I’m sorry about your childhood. I wish it had been better for you and your brothers. I loved you all so much. Thank you for giving me joy for the past 40 something years.

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