BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet celebrates 40 years of Cajun music
Four decades ago, violinist Michael Doucet met up with a bunch of young musicians and formed BeauSoleil, and the band just wanted to play Cajun music for two reasons. It was fun and it was the music they grew up with.
But there was also a third underlying goal.
"People were not proud of their French culture, because it was being pushed down and regarded as second-class by Americanization," Doucet said during a phone call from his home in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. "That’s been an ongoing problem, especially when you see how many ethnic cultures have survived in North America."
Times have changed in the past 40 years and more people have come to discover Cajun music.
"The popularity of Cajun music and its culture is probably stronger than ever," Doucet said. "What was going on in the 1970s was that there weren’t many young people playing this music or even interested in it, but now there have been so many people who have moved to Louisiana from out-of-state because they have fallen in love with the music, the people and cuisine."
BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet will bring some of that Cajun culture to the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.
The concerts will feature a gumbo of old and new songs, Doucet promised.
"We have 35-plus or minus albums, so, there is a lot of material to draw from," Doucet said. "It’s always a surprise and that’s what makes it fun."
A big part of the enjoyment is digging up songs from the band’s early days.
"We’re having more fun rearranging songs we did back in the ’70s, you know," he said. "Of course, we don’t play pop music so we really don’t have any hits, but we did have some commercial success with some of our songs."
Still, the concert won’t be comprised of only songs the band wants to play.
"Yes, we are going to play what moves us but we’ll play what people want," Doucet said. "If they feel like dancing, we’ll play some of those songs. If they just want to listen, we’ll do that, too."
Throughout the band’s career, BeauSoleil has performed in all 50 states and 36 countries. doing so, not only has the band introduced other cultures to all things Cajun, it has also inspired young generations to explore their own traditions.
"It is something to say that we can get them to research their own roots and play that music or something that they remembered they heard when they were younger," he said. "I mean, that’s what we had done back then."
Doucet said that paradigm shift has brought awareness of old traditions back into the lives of today’s youth.
"It is stronger now than it was 10 years ago and there are programs in school such as bilingual education," he said. "It sure is different than when we were young because no one went to school to learn their own cultures and music. They didn’t go on YouTube to learn it, either. The music was part of their upbringing, you know?"
The biggest thing Doucet laments is that young musicians don’t have the opportunities to meet the actual pioneers of Cajun music.
"There’s the fact that people like Dennis McGee or Canary Fontenot, who were considered pillars of this music, are missing," he said. "Unfortunately, they don’t have the opportunity to play one-on-one with these great masters."
Still, Doucet is happy to see these young players getting excited about the music.
"There was no big fat paycheck for playing this music, but more new groups are playing and they have an idea of how to play," he said.
That said, Doucet understands that bands like BeauSoleil still have a responsibility to continue as long as they can.
"We are constantly progressing and writing new songs, and all the while pay tribute to older songs that haven’t been played in years," he said. "For us, it’s just to maintain what we started."
One thing that has made it easier for BeauSoleil to do that are the accolades, including Grammy Awards and the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Award. Both mean different things to Doucet.
"One of the awards that I’m really proud of is the National Heritage Award given by the NEA," he said. "That was a surprise for me, but it was something that I totally believed in. We play music in a way that all of us together make a whole different sound than we do individually."
The Grammy Awards, one in 1998 and another in 2010, were also a rush.
"We were the first Cajun group to be a Grammy Award winner and it was in the folk category," he said. "You have to dig that because we were going up against Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and it was like, fat chance we would win. But we did win."
In addition to a total of 12 Grammy nominations, BeauSoleil has been regular guests on Garrison Keillor’s "A Prairie Home Companion" and the HBO program "Treme."
The secret of keeping a band like BeauSoleil together after all of these years is simple, Doucet said.
"You have to eat together and talk," he said with a laugh. "That’s what we do. I mean, we were just a bunch of young guys who wanted to play together. We never thought we would make a living doing this."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet Friday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 21. Saturday’s concert will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday’s performance will begin at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $29 to $45. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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Daniel Thurston is Park City Library’s new Spanish services librarian.