- Bryan built his first guitar and proudly plays it in the above photograph. He is a self-taught musician that enjoys playing guitar informally with his friends. Photo and information supplied by Rhonda Chambers with the St. Tammany Retired School Employees Association.
While he also served as the mayor of the Town of Abita Springs from 1990 to 2002, Gowland is known nationally as host of the Abita Springs Opry, a musical program at Abita Springs Town Hall that six times a year features area musicians performing traditional Louisiana songs. It is the successor to the Piney Woods Opry which began in the early 1990’s to showcase area musical traditions.
“I’m grateful for the recognition,” Gowland said of the award, “but it’s really not just for me. It is for all the musicians from throughout the area who take part , and the Opry board of directors who have worked so hard.” But the star of the show is the music itself. “Louisiana culture is magic, and Louisiana music is magic,” he explains. “People come from all over the world to Louisiana to experience it first-hand.”
“The response has been phenomenal. It’s all about keeping it real, presenting the music for the sake of the music,” he stated. While the original effort was to perpetuate the musical culture of the state, its success as an entertainment program has made it even more fun, Gowland said.
The Opry work is an outgrowth of what he was doing in the classroom, he said, teaching students an awareness of Louisiana culture and what could be done to preserve it. After retirement, he took part in a special effort to bring the Smithsonian Museum’s “New Harmonies- American Roots Music” exhibit into local schools.
The Opry continues to reach out to involve young musicians and put them on stage to perform, all the while video-taping the programs and sending them out to public access channels across the nation.
“We send the tapes out on request to Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, California, Colorado, and even Las Vegas,” Gowland stated. “They watch them over and over again. We have a very loyal audience in Las Vegas. They’ve even come here to Abita Springs to see the show in person.”
Gowland is recognized wherever he goes as the emcee of the popular program. It has encouraged him to learn to play the guitar himself, and he has even built a guitar from a kit.
In addition to the Opry performance, the organization also provides free concerts at the Abita Springs Trailhead. People now contact him to ask for help in finding musicians for their own festivals. “So it’s getting our musicians some work at other events,” he said.
The first twenty seven years of this educational career were at Abita Springs Junior High where he taught Social Studies and coached football and basketball. He was honored as Middle School Humanities State Teacher of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2002, the year he retired.
Among his accomplishments is a very important music event named the Abita Springs “Busker” Festival. That event, held during the month of April features “buskers,” a name for street musicians from New Orleans. That festival is co-sponsored by the Abita Springs Opry and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation. It is also videoed and streamed live by WWOZ Radio.
He is a member of the Museum Committee for the town of Abita and was instrumental in the placement and resurrection of the building that houses it. In addition to his local activities, Jazz Fest is an annual gig for Bryan where he demonstrates how to cook a traditional chicken & andouille sausage gumbo.
Abita Springs Opry
Piney Woods Opry