(4/22/02) What an amazing three days I just spent at
the 2nd annual Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage
Week at Lake Fausse Point State Park outside St.
Martinville, Louisiana. If you love Cajun and Creole
music and have been looking for a way to delve more
deeply into its culture & musical traditions, and/or
if you are musician seeking to learn from the masters
of these genres, this was the place to be. For those
who don't play instruments, you could attend sessions
on language, cooking, crafts, native plants, Cajun and
zydeco dance, songwriting and culture/storytelling.
This event is sponsored by Louisiana Folk Roots and
named in honor of the great Cajun fiddler, Dewey
Balfa, who is also the father of this non-profit
organizations director, Christine Balfa.
I registered as a Local Lagniappe Program participant
for 2 days and was able to attend a fascinating
session on Cajun & Creole storytelling by folklorist
and historian Barry Ancelet, who turned out to be
quite a master storyteller himself, as well as a
session with Lil Buck Senegal talking about his
years on the road with Clifton Chenier. I also participated
in the various dances and late evening jam sessions.
Bois Sec Ardoin, Steve Riley, Edward Poullard,
David Greely, Ann Savoy, Al Berard, Preston Frank,
Lawrence Ardoin, Jesse Lege, Sam Broussard, Christine
Balfa, Dirk Powell, Courtney Granger & Peter Schwartz
were just a few of the musicians/staff members who were in
the jams as well as always accessible to camp
participants during the time I was in attendance.
Pat Mould and Courtney Granger were kind enough to give
me pointers on playing the Cajun triangle (t-fer). I
also met Cajun filmmaker, Pat Mire, who has produced
several excellent films about his culture, one of which
was screened during the week. The two dances I
attended included Bois Sec Ardoin, with Lawrence Ardoin
playing traditional Creole music followed by Chris
Ardoin & Double Clutchin playing modern zydeco one
evening, and Jason Frey and Travis Matte playing Cajun
music the next.
Balfa week had considerable international attendance,
including quite a few folks who traveled from Europe
to participate in this event. Chef Paul Mould
supervised the kitchen and served up tasty Louisiana
fare to staff and participants while different musicians
came together at dinner time to provide mealtime entertainment.
Sonny Landreth played in an ensemble one evening.
Leon Thomas showed up another evening dressed to the nines
and joined the band that evening to sing a few numbers. Ann
Savoy led a swing band a third night. Those who spent the
nights at the park stayed in nicely appointed air
conditioned cabins right on the bayou.
Demonstration workshops, jam sessions and an all-day
dance were the activities available on Saturdays
Heritage Day, which was free to the public. Of all
the festivals Ive attended in Louisiana over the
years, this event ranks as perhaps the most special.
The early afternoon featured Youth workshops,
Accordion & Fiddle workshops and Jam Sessions held
in pavilions situated along the bayou. These intimate
sessions focused not just on music but on putting the
music in a cultural context, as presented by the folks
whose history it was. It was sweet to hear the sound
of Cajun twin fiddles in the warmth of a Louisiana
afternoon looking out at such lush, evocative surroundings.
Particularly memorable sessions I attended included
David Greely accompanied by Linda Handelsman
tracing 400 years of Acadian Music. What made this session
special was how Greely used his own research
into his personal family history (his ancestors were one of the
original Acadian families to come to
Nova Scotia from France in the 1600s) to demonstrate
the roots of Cajun music as it related to the Acadian
experience in the Old and New Worlds. Another great
session showcased Al Berard and Karen England,
accompanied by Sam Broussard on guitar, playing twin
fiddles. One unexpected musical highlight of this
session included hearing Kevin Naquin's band in the
distance playing The Lovers Waltz on the main dance
stage, when Karen decided to step in and exquisitely
play the melody on her fiddle in the side pavilion we
were sitting in. It was a haunting few minutes,
serendipity at its best. Other interesting sessions
I attended during the afternoon included: Steve Riley
and Preston Frank (Keiths father) demonstrating Cajun
and zydeco accordion styles, accompanied by Kevin
Wimmer on fiddle; a session on the Creole Fiddle
Style of Canray Fontenot, led by Edward Poullard
(Dannys brother) and assisted by Courtney Granger;
and a discussion on French and English songwriting
presented by David Greeley and Sam Broussard. One
highlight of this session was the acoustic performance
by David and Sam of a new Mamou Playboys song about
Canray Fontenot entitled "Bonnes Reves", after Sam
spoke about how he wrote it. Another was when
David discussed how he took a fragment of a old
tune he heard and turned it into a new song.
The Heritage Day dance tent lineup was terrific, too:
Jeremy & the Zydeco Hot Boyz, Bois Sec Ardoin, Kevin
Naquin & the Osson Playboys, La Bande Feufollet,
Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and Geno Delafose &
French Rockin Boogie. The dance tent had a raised
wooden dance floor and great acoustics.
I was really sorry when my three days at Lake Fausse
Point came to a close. Too ease my suffering, I headed
over to Whiskey River Landing on Sunday to see Steve
Riley & the Mamou Playboys again. They put on a fine
show in this fabulous location, literally above the
bayou, and were joined for 3 songs by surprise guest
Wayne Toups, much to the delight of the crowd. From
Whiskey River, I headed over to see File play at
Randols in Lafayette. This particular evening I was
struck by how often DJarma Garnier chose to put down
his fiddle and instead pick up the electric guitar.
Watching the Mamou Playboys, Wayne Toups and File on
this Sunday made me consider how strongly this modern
generation of Cajun bands is influenced by rock and
roll. Perhaps it is a baby boomer thing, but when you
talk to, or read comments by many contemporary Cajun
musicians, quite a few of them talk about growing up
listening to the Beatles and only later reconnecting
with their Cajun roots. When you hear Sam Broussard
of the Mamou Playboys take off in the ozone playing
kick ass guitar licks or David Egan get groovin on
boogie woogie piano during a File set, you can really
hear rocks influence on Cajun music, which stands in
contrast to older arrangements of many of these same
songs. These musicians are respectful enough to keep
the old tunes alive and yet their contemporary
sensibilities infuse what they play, serving to make
their roots music immediately accessible to a much
wider audience, who, as it turns out, may one day find
themselves traveling to Louisiana to sit by the bayou
and soak it all in.
This morning I woke up listening to KRVS, the local
public radio station, playing Cajun tunes with the
announcer speaking in French. The show was followed
by NPRs Morning Edition. Ain't life just grand?
To be continued..