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[whitespace] Michael Doucet
Beau Bow: Michael Doucet, vocalist and fiddle player for renowned Cajun band Beausoleil, demonstrates his prowess on the strings.

Les Bon Temps Rule

The party gets on at Shoreline with New Orleans by the Bay

By Marianne Messina

WHETHER GROWING with the advent of the riverboat or declining with the advent of the railroad, New Orleans has always been both a music-in-the-streets kind of city and "an infernal motley crew" (as one 19th-century traveler put it) of nationalities and races.

In New Orleans, a funeral can erupt into a block party. Roger Lewis, a New Orleans native and veteran sax man for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, explains that "round here, you know, people hire brass bands for funerals. When you're playing the body out of the church or the funeral parlor you play something--we call it a dirge--and when you get ready to cut the body loose, you play the same song up-tempo." When the band goes up-tempo, it's time to party.

Lewis has played with Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie, David Byrne, Elvis Costello and Widespread Panic. His 24-year-old band is currently made up of conservatory-caliber musicians Lewis has dubbed "genius minds." But still, the Dirty Dozen is true to "that street and loose thing that always happens with New Orleans music. . . . You can't help but keep the traditional thing because you were born and raised in New Orleans. It's a part of you."

New Orleans has always welcomed the music of displaced peoples: African slaves, Haitian refugees and the French speakers driven from Nova Scotia (formerly Acadia), known as Cajuns. The resultant musical intermarriages are so complex that musicologists are hard pressed to follow the evolution of any style before the first recordings.

Michael Doucet, vocalist and fiddle player for the renowned Cajun band Beausoleil, referenced early recordings to recreate his traditional sound. He went all the way back to the first Cajun recording, made in 1928 by Joe Falcon and his guitarist-wife, Cleoma Breaux Falcon. Cleoma Breaux, it turns out, was great-aunt to Jimmy Breaux, Beausoliel's current accordion player.

After absorbing the early records, Doucet went through his hometown persuading Cajun old-timers to sing their families' traditional songs--every family had its own repertoire. Through Beausoleil, Doucet put together a Cajun revival so successful the band popped up on movie soundtracks, and across Europe, the name Beausoleil became synonymous with Cajun.

Brian Terry was also steeped in early recordings before he put together his band, L'il Brian and the Zydeco Travelers. "A lot of them [traditional zydeco songs] were on those big 18-inch records and 45s. My daddy, he was a big fan of the music, so he had a lot of collections." Like Cajun music, accordion-based zydeco almost died out in the '60s and '70s. "When I was a kid, a lot of my friends didn't even know what zydeco was," Terry says. But now, based near Houston, Terry reports, "zydeco is on fire in Houston."

New Orleans music is eclectic, intoxicating, rowdy; it's the music of people celebrating in the face of hardship and loss. Mountain View's New Orleans by the Bay festival will try to capture this spirit, complete with cajun food prepared by Herbsaint chef Donald Link. L'il Brian's advice: "Everybody bring their party because we're going to get our party on."

New Orleans by the Bay plays at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Saturday-Sunday, noon-7:30pm each day. Tickets are $15 per person per day; 408.998.TIXS.

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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