Award-winning Cajun music legends BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet will headline The Record Exchange Alive After Five Season Finale on Wednesday, Sept. 29, on the Grove Plaza in Downtown Boise. The free, all-ages concert kicks off at 5 p.m. Jeremiah James Gang will open.
Visit The Record Exchange booth to sign up for our weekly email newsletter and get entered to win a $100 RX gift card! We’ll also be giving away tickets to the Promenade Music Festival and handing out 33% off coupons.
Every genre has its defining figureheads. Folk has its Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan; country has the Carter Family, Bob Wills and Hank Williams. Rock has its Elvis, Chuck Berry and the Beatles. In blues, it’s Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and in jazz, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. When it comes to contemporary traditional Cajun music, there is BeauSoleil.
For the past 34 years, Lafayette, Louisiana’s BeauSoleil has carried the torch of tradition while continuing to chart uncharted waters with ingenuity and innovation. The band’s latest release and Yep Roc label debut Alligator Purse is not only a vibrant testament to BeauSoleil’s healthy spirit but is easily its most adventuresome record yet.
Since its inception in 1975, BeauSoleil has not only spearheaded a cultural Renaissance but has elevated Cajun music to one of domestic and international acclaim. Along the way, the band has appeared regularly on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion (Keillor proclaimed BeauSoleil the “best Cajun band in the world”) and garnered 10 Grammy nominations. In 1998, BeauSoleil became the first Cajun band to win a Grammy (in the traditional folk category) for L’Amour Ou La Folie.
While BeauSoleil has introduced its sources of inspiration to new audiences, the band has also daringly blended zydeco, Tex-Mex, western swing, blues, New Orleans traditional jazz and Caribbean calypso into its framework. As a result, any ethnomusicologist would be hard pressed to speculate where Cajun music would be today without the contributions of BeauSoleil. BeauSoleil’s accomplishments have been nothing short of epic.
Yet, it all begins with the preservation of a sacred culture, the lifelong calling of fiddling frontman Michael Doucet: “In the beginning, we mainly tried to get this music to the people in Louisiana. When I graduated from high school in 1969, we noticed that when people died, so did the culture, whatever culture they had with them. It was a transitional time, the old world French and the New World. So we had time to hang out with people of our grandparent’s generation who could teach us the songs.”
Upon graduation from college in 1973, Doucet toured France with his then group, the Bayou Drifters. Intending to stay two weeks, the sojourn lasted six months and it became clear what Doucet’s mission would be. “When I came back, my duty was to bring this music back to the younger generation because it was so vastly disappearing,” he says.
From the very outset, BeauSoleil elected not to trot over the same, worn out footpath as its contemporaries but blazed a new trail by injecting its own innovations into the music. Whereas most Cajun bands revolve around the accordionist, BeauSoleil’s emphasis has always been on fiddle, showcasing it heavily in arrangements.
With Alligator Purse, the band’s 29th release, BeauSoleil’s revolutionary evolution continues with plenty of surprises. The seeds of Alligator Purse were planted in 2005 when old friend and entertainment industry insider Michael Pillot asked Doucet if he would participate in the Build The Levee benefit concert to assist the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There, at Bard College in upstate New York, Doucet joined forces with Dr. John, Natalie Merchant, cellist Rushad Eggleston, guitarist Artie Traum, avant-garde trombonist Roswell Rudd and Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian.
The gathering was almost a premonition, as Doucet and several of the benefit’s musicians would soon play together again. Two years later, when things fell into place to begin recording BeauSoleil’s next album, Doucet asked Pillot to be its producer, which was virtually unprecedented since the band has only had two outside producers (John Jennings and the late Charles Sawtelle) in its storied career.
Clubhouse Recording Studio in Rhinebeck, N.Y., proved to be the obvious choice since it was where the musicians rehearsed for the benefit concert. Pillot, in turn, enlisted heavyweight talent — The Band keyboardist Garth Hudson; Sebastian; vocalists Merchant, Artie and Happy Traum; banjoist Bill Keith; electric guitarist Jim Weider and Rudd — to collaborate. And word soon got out that something special was happening at the Clubhouse. Andy Stein (Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel) stopped by to lay down swooning sax solos on “Marie.”
“It was so relaxed and we had a great time in the studio,” says Doucet, looking back at the memorable experience. “We recorded 15 songs in only four days. Everything was done live with very little overdubs.”
But, of course, Doucet was determined to steer this record beyond where BeauSoleil has ever been before. “You know, things are changing now. Why do another traditional record?” he asks. “The traditional stuff is out. The best stuff in the world was the 1928-1936 recordings, Dennis McGee, Amédéé Ardoin and Luderin [Darbone and the Hackberry Ramblers]. And you get into the ’50s with Iry LeJeune and Harry Choates, so some of the best stuff is done. So now is the time to say who we are and that’s what we did.
“This is how we would play a dance,” Doucet continues. “This whole album tells a whole story from the beginning of a dance to the end of the dance.”
Alligator Purse makes the most dynamic statement of BeauSoleil’s career. By flowing music – whether it be blues, bluegrass, rock or traditional Cajun – through its one-of-a-kind musical lens, the band has almost singlehandedly raised the music of southern Louisiana and its progenitors into the cultural spotlight, its influence and importance standing tall and proud on a musical landscape that has recently exhibited much overdue appreciation for other “roots” music forms in the past decade or more.