Most musicians rig up the gear and play music. Louisiana's Pine Leaf Boys are on a mission to hoist the banner of Cajun-Creole music around the world.
The three-time Grammy-nominated band just returned from a State Department tour of the Middle East and Israel. “We were cultural ambassadors. The government wanted to show the different kinds of American music instead of bubble gum pop,” says lead vocalist/accordionist Wilson Savoy.
Rounding out the fivesome are Courtney Granger (fiddle), Jon Bertrand (guitar), Drew Simon (drums) and Thomas David (bass).
“Initially we had no interest in travelling to the Middle East, but we knew if we didn't do it, the government would find someone else. And our mission is to show that Cajun music is strong and vibrant and that young people play it with lots of energy and lots of spark.”
Savoy's fervour is largely fuelled because of government attempts to wipe out the Cajun culture rooted in the 18th century francophone Acadian emigrations to the United States.
During the early part of the 20th century, the Compulsory Education Act was enacted to kill the Cajun French language. Savoy's father Mark tells stories that, “If you tried to speak French you had to kneel on hard corn or were beaten.”
But post-Second World War a renaissance was underway showing this strong undaunted subculture was too deeply rooted to die because of misguided legislation. Along the way there were fighters who kept the fires burning for the next generation. For instance, Savoy's father ran a music store and played with the legendary Balfa Brothers Cajun band on weekends. And his mother wrote a history of Cajun culture.
Savoy's own foray into Cajun music is akin to a spiritual awakening. “I was raised in a small town of Eunice. When I moved to college in Baton Rouge from the country, I was really lonesome for my family. My dad had given me an accordion and I'd put it on a shelf. One morning I saw the sun shine on it. I tried to play it. I became so obsessed, I stopped going to class and doing homework.”
He travelled to Lafayette in a quest to learn from more practiced Cajun musicians. Savoy spent so much time in Lafayette, he transferred to the city's University of Louisiana. With a few friends, he formed the Pine Leaf Boys and played mainly in gritty bars and busked on campus.
One day a campus police officer cited the busking band for disturbing the peace. Ironically, the university's logo was Raging Cajuns “and that's why it was so shocking.”
The bust made the papers and invitations to play the bar circuit poured in. The Pine Leaf Boys quickly released their first album, hired an agent and started touring the United States and Europe. In 2009 they performed at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
Steeped in tradition, their high-energy sound mixes a range of influences from soul, boogie and zydeco to rock and roll, bluegrass and country.
“It's great dance music and we are probably one of the best Cajun bands out there. We're young and high-intensity. I think if young and old people like it, we're doing a pretty good job.”
Pine Leaf Boys<br />Thursday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m.<br />Arden Theatre<br />5 St. Anne Street<br />Tickets: $28 Call 780-459-1542 or online at www.ticketmaster.ca