Pine Leaf Boys: Keeping Cajun Music Alive
This year, there's a new category at the Grammys: Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. A young band from Louisiana called The Pine Leaf Boys received a nomination for its second album, Blues de Musicien.
The group's members range in age from 21 to 27. They came together in 2004, when accordion player Wilson Savoy and guitarist Jon Bertrand rented a house in Lafayette, La. Soon, four of the five band members were living under one roof.
The Pine Leaf Boys' members sing exclusively in French, yet all of them learned it later in life. Savoy says that a lot of young musicians from the area have been going to Quebec lately to attend French immersion classes. "I find that this generation that we are part of — early 20s — are almost repairing what was almost a dying culture and dying language from the generation before us," Savoy says.
Along with the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the Red Stick Ramblers, and several other local bands, the Pine Leaf Boys belong to a new wave of young Cajun acts who spice up the music of their ancestors.
Scott Aiges is a former music editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune who's now with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. He says that Southwest Louisiana is experiencing the second wave of a Cajun revival: "The guys that grew up in the '70s trying to create a resurgence in Cajun culture, Acadian pride — like Michael Doucet from BeauSoleil and Zachary Richard — this is exactly what they were trying to... that they'd hoped one day that they'd see. That there would be this new cadre of young guys keeping it alive."
There are so many new, young Cajun bands that the Jazz and Heritage Foundation — which puts on the New Orleans Jazzfest — launched a separate Louisiana Cajun Zydeco Festival last year. Aiges says they had more bands than they could accommodate at the three-day event.
Backstage at the Grant Street Dance Hall in Lafayette, Bertand cautions that his Pine Leaf Boys aren't trying to be saviors of Cajun culture — or even trying to preserve traditional music. Bertrand says he doesn't wake up each day and try to be Cajun. This is the music he grew up around, and he says flatly that it's the music he wants to play. "This just happens to be the music that gets us excited," he says. "We are preserving something, I guess, which we are really proud of. But we don't want it to have that taste like it's behind glass."
At the Grant Street Dance Hall, they mix traditional waltzes with blues numbers. You hear country riffs and even some rockabilly. On stage, Bertrand wears a cowboy hat and jet-black Ray-Ban sunglasses. He and Savoy dance almost as passionately as the crowd — a mix of young men in baseball caps and senior citizens in plaid dress shirts. Waltzing couples whirl across the dance floor and, as if some strange magnetic force were at work, the dancers circulate counter-clockwise past the stage.
If the Pine Leaf Boys weren't performing at the Grant Street Dance Hall, they say they'd probably be playing this same music over at Wilson Savoy's house, drinking his beer, eating his food, and dancing into the wee hours, as others have done down here for generations.
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