|State Bicentennial and festival anniversary inspire a new generation of talent|
There are so many reasons to make the trek to Lafayette for the free Festivals Acadiens et Créoles—Oct. 12-14 in Girard Park—it's hard to know where to begin. Yes, this is the event's 40th anniversary; and yes, it's being staged as a major element in Louisiana's Bicentennial celebration of statehood. But there are other factors, too, that could make this the most impressive single display of Cajun and Creole music ever staged in South Louisiana.
Cajun music continues to reach new peaks of innovation and virtuosity as a third-wave revival inspires a new generation of young musicians. At the same time, experienced and highly adept festival producers have woven together a three-day schedule that reaches a state of near perfection in sequencing, proportion, inclusion and one-of-a-kind touches.
Take the opening and closing acts. Jo-El Sonnier and Wayne Toups have both achieved enviable commercial success on a national scale over the past two decades by straying quite a distance from the tenets of quiet home-porch ballads and dignified dance hall two-steps. On the other hand, neither has ever lost touch with the flavor or essence of Cajun tradition. Message? Expect a whole lot of rockin' good music, but know there will also be an adequate number of traditional acts honoring a noble musical heritage.
As the second act playing the main stage on Friday's opening night, Lil' Band o' Gold is a South Louisiana swamp pop “supergroup” organized in large part by Lafayette rocker C.C. Adcock and Steve Riley of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys to provide drummer and vocalist Warren Storm—a cornerstone of Louisiana's swamp pop scene in the 1960s and 1970s—with a readily available performance platform.
Along the way, a bunch of A-list musicians—including avant-garde/R&B saxophonist Dickie Landry; songwriter, vocalist and keyboard player David Egan; and pedal-steel maestro Richard Comeaux—jumped on board, making the group a fluid, all-star ensemble. Having recorded just a couple CDs, the band has become known as a communal, winner-take-all live act whose oft-used booking tag, “with special guests,” has become pretty much superfluous at this point.
While you can definitely expect some pleasant musical surprises from Lil' Band o' Gold's Friday performance, the opening-night appearance of the first swamp pop band ever to play the festival is intentional: it's part of this year's programming strategy.
“One of the things we did this year to celebrate the Bicentennial,” says festival Director Barry Jean Ancelet, “is to emphasize the influence of other Louisiana musical genres. First, we wanted to pay tribute to the success of Cajun and Creole musicians who've mixed Louisiana influences on the way to achieving national success. … We're using the Salle de danse/Dancehall Stage this year to present these groups, including a local soul group, a gospel group, a blues group and so on. We're also going to organize an old-time country music show, which is something else we've never done before.”
Then there's the Sunday afternoon performances based on a single CD: the mainly acoustic collaboration among Wayne Toups, Steve Riley and Wilson Savoy, leader of The Pine Leaf Boys, titled The Band Courtboullion. One of those releases so good it announces both its singular virtuosity and classic transcendence at the same time, the single disc provides an opportunity for back-to-back presentations of The Pine Leaf Boys, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, The Band Courtboullion and Wayne Toups & ZydeCajun.
Those seeking out some of their favorite young bands should check out the Heritage Stage, where they'll find Geno Delafose; Joel Savoy playing separate acoustic gigs with both Linzay Young and Jesse Lége; The Lost Bayou Ramblers; Bonsoir, Catin; and Horace Trahan & the Ossun Express, among others. Saturday night's headliners include Walter Mouton & the Scott Playboys. “A really solid dance band,” says Ancelet, “who've influenced a lot of people, including both Steve Riley and Wayne Toups.“
And Feufollet, top candidate for Cajun new-wave breakout performers, will be closing out Saturday's festivities for the second year in a row. “They're doing real stuff, man,” says Ancelet. “That's the real deal. And they keep pushing their own boundaries on their own just to keep getting better. It's just amazing.”
Ditto this year's Festivals Acadiens et Creoles.
Once again sponsored by Bayou Teche Brewing in conjunction with the release of their limited edition seasonal fall beer, Acadie, En Français: Cajun 'n' Creole Rock 'n' Roll, Volume Two offers up some pairings of artists and songs that, at first glance, appear almost surreal: BeauSoleil covering James Brown's “I'll Go Crazy” and The Rolling Stones' “The Last Time”? Or how about Al Berard of The Basin Brothers Band backed by his daughters and sons-in-law, covering The Kinks' “All Day and All of the Night”?
The idea for an experimental project grew from a series of conversations between Louis Michot and Karlos Knott, brewmaster at Arnaudville's Bayou Teche Brewing, concerning the preservation of Cajun culture. What emerged last October was a Bayou Teche-sponsored album of well-known classic rock hits “Cajunized”—transformed by some of Cajun music's younger bands in both style and language: “T'es Pas Bon” by Bonsoir, Catin (“You're No Good,” by Linda Ronstadt); “Ma Génération” by The Lost Bayou Ramblers (“My Generation” by The Who); and many more.
Volume Two follows the same recipe. Consider talented young accordionist and vocalist Corey Ledet backed by a brass band from Opelousas remaking Stevie Wonder's “Superstition.” Or the Babineaux Sisters, a back-country duo just reaching their teens (and playing at Festivals Acadiens this year) backed by a veteran band covering Bob Marley's “Three Little Birds” and the Jimi Hendrix version of Bob Dylan's “All Along the Watchtower.” More plausible, but just as seductive, are the prospects of Geno Delafose transforming The Rolling Stones' “Wild Horses” and Terrance Simien remodeling The Beatles “In My Life.”
With additional support for the projects from Louisiana Folk Roots and director Todd Mouton, there's already talk of a Volume Three.
Distilling today's music scene
While he has held the position of Festivals Acadiens director since 1974, world-renowned folklorist and ULL-chaired professor Barry Ancelet has always considered himself more of an overseer than dictator. He works with a board of five directors and countless committee members providing input, which results in festival selections being largely consensual. “What we've always tried to do in programming the festival is to pay close attention to what's happening out in the real world,” Ancelet says. “The people who are invited to play at the festival are obviously standing out that year; they're clearly doing something that matters. … In many ways, our ultimate goal is to make it the musicians' own festival. In real terms, it's simply where Cajun music and Creole music are at this particular moment.”
While the festival is sometimes viewed as a bastion of traditional values, with acts playing in a more-strictly traditional manner, Ancelet points to the consensual process as a catalyst of change with the Cajun and Creole traditions.
“When Wayne Toups played for the first time in 1984,” Ancelet recalls, “people around Rayne and Crowley knew who he was, but he'd never been exposed to a larger public. And suddenly, everybody's just awestruck: My God, what is this? This is taking another step, going in another direction, rocking it up. But it was still Cajun music; it was just evolving in the same way that Cajun music has always evolved with the times. And now bands like Feufollet, The Pine Leaf Boys and The Lost Bayou Ramblers represent yet another generation, another period of evolutionary change.”
Ancelet is also quick to challenge the notion of the festival as hanging on to the nostalgia of the past.
“It really depends what you call traditional, doesn't it?” he insists. “I think Wayne Toups is absolutely traditional. I think Isle Derniere, who play kind of grunge version of Cajun music is traditional, I think The Lost Bayou Ramblers, who play what people say is a kind of punk version of Cajun music, is traditional. … One of the things we've always been very, very careful about is not getting stuck in an historical model, but rather paying attention every year to what the music is actually doing.”
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