Saturday: 5:30 p.m.Two Rivers; Sunday: 4 p.m. Heritage
Since they were going to be in the neighborhood, just finishing a cruise for public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion” along the Maine coast, two of America’s favorite Cajun musicians are dropping by to help inaugurate The American Folk Festival. This is fitting, since the brothers (along with their famous band BeauSoleil) were on hand for Bangor’s first National Folk Festival in 2002.
This year Michael and David Doucet will perform Cajun songs and tunes as a duo. Both are fine singers with voices that harmonize as only brothers’ can. As a duo, the Doucets’ individual musicianship can be better appreciated. They also will participate in workshops, and create some hot jams with fellow Louisianan Don Vappie.
Louisiana’s Cajuns descend from the French-speaking Acadians who settled in Nova Scotia in 1604. After expulsion by the British beginning in 1755, many made their way to the bayous and prairies of southwest Louisiana. Here Cajun music developed from a blending of older French and Acadian lyrics, themes and tunes with country, western, blues and Caribbean influences. Now accordion-centered, Cajun music was primarily fiddle-based in its early days.
By 1951, the year Michael Doucet was born, interest in Cajun music and language had been declining for half a century. Cajun music was “all around” when he was growing up, “but it was just there,” he says. “We didn’t really think about it.”
During his teen years, his interests ran more toward popular forms. He studied literature in school, but while playing music at a festival in France in 1974, was exposed to musical antecedents of his own heritage. This inspired him to return home and learn everything he could about Cajun music and history. “I had planned to go to graduate school in New Mexico to study the Romantic poets,” he recalls. “Instead, I traded William Blake for Dewey Balfa.”
Today, Michael Doucet, fiddler, singer, composer and bandleader, is acknowledged as one of the major figures of his generation in the revival of Cajun music. Heir to the legacy of the Cajun and Creole master fiddlers with ties to an earlier era that he sought out and learned from – Dewey Balfa, Dennis McGee, Canray Fontenot and others – he is perhaps the finest fiddler of them all.
His music is the bridge to these older generations, and has inspired many younger Cajun musicians. His creative approach to tradition has been the heartbeat of the Cajun cultural renaissance of the past three decades. He has carried the essential spirit of Cajun music forward into the 21st century by doing things his own way.
“Everybody I learned from, like the Balfas and Dennis, all said, ‘Play the music like you feel it. Don’t play it like me,'” he says. “So that’s what I did.” BeauSoleil, the group he founded in 1975, is today the world’s most celebrated Cajun band. This year, in recognition of his contributions, Michael Doucet has been named a National Endowment for the Arts 2005 National Heritage Fellow, the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists.
David Doucet, Michael’s younger brother and musical partner, has been a member of BeauSoleil for 24 of its 25 years. While the guitar has long been a featured rhythm instrument in Cajun music, David (as only a stubborn Cajun would even think to try) has reinvented it as a compelling solo voice, employing fingerpicking and flat-picking styles identified with folk and blues players such as Doc Watson, John Hurt and John Fahey. The result is Cajun music with an intricacy and subtle beauty that casts traditional songs in a stunning new light.