Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jan 5th 2010 2:30PM by Steve Hochman
Inside, an array of side dishes and deserts is growing by the minute on an increasingly inadequate table, as clutches of people gather in chatty circles -- five or maybe even six generations of locals and visitors both familiar and new who have come from a geographic range spanning from Paris to California for the delights of this annual boucherie -- a traditional pig feast.
Meanwhile, a couple of jam sessions are breaking out. Inside is a circle of youngsters and old-timers, natives and guests alike, working through lively Cajun tunes on accordions, fiddles and guitars. Outside, a few younger congregants are having a go at string band music borrowed from neighboring regions and cultures.
The scene, just a few weeks ago, was captured in all its vibrancy by young artist and filmmaker Gloria Maso -- one of the Parisians on hand -- which she's edited into several short pieces, including this colorful look she posted to YouTube:
As you see, it's a lot to take in, a sensory overload for sure. Amid it all, lost to some onlookers is the fact that the inside session at one point gathers three current, competing Grammy Award nominees, people representing 60 percent of this year's Cajun/zydeco category spotlighting the music of rural southwest Louisiana.
And here's the kicker: The rivals all come from the same family. Playing fiddle is Joel Savoy, producer of the nominated album 'L'Ésprit Creole,' by fiddler-singer Cedric Watson, and proprietor of Valcour Records, which released the album. Alternating between accordion and fiddle is his younger brother Wilson leader of the exciting Pine Leaf Boys, whose energetic approach to old Cajun dance and ballad traditions is captured on the nominated album recorded live at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last spring. And watching it all is Ann Savoy, their mother. She fronts the female quartet the Magnolia Sisters, whose frisky 'Stripped Down' album both explores and expands the repertoire of French song in (and reflecting) Cajun life.
Just to make it more complicated, in recent years the three have performed and recorded with patriarch Marc Savoy -- perhaps the most respected accordion player and maker of this culture -- as the Savoy Family Band. And what's more, one of the other nominees is Cajun expansionists BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, back after winning last year for a live at Jazz Fest collection with the album 'Alligator Purse.' Fiddler Doucet is not only a longtime family friend but has off and on for more than 30 years teamed with Marc and Ann in the influential Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band. (The fifth nominee is the nontraditional blues-rocky 'Lay Your Burden Down,' by zydeco veteran Buckwheat Zydeco.)
The Savoy (pronounced sah-VWAH) family, hosting this boucherie, has been a core force in the Cajun music and culture revival of the past few decades and therefore perhaps not surprisingly has had a Grammy presence before. Wilson's Pine Leaf Boys is the only act to be nominated all three years since the Cajun/zydeco album Grammy was inaugurated in 2008, and Ann has two nominations to her name from before, gaining recognition for producing the Cajun tribute album 'Evangeline Made' and for her 'Adieu False Heart' duet album with Linda Ronstadt. Strangely, father Marc has never had a nomination himself, but that just seems a matter of time. Anyway, he was awarded a 1992 Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. So there.
This year, though, has the makings of a family feud. Asked about it, Wilson looks around to make sure his brother and mother aren't in earshot before touting his band's values as representing a new Cajun energy. Joel -- whose duo album with longtime friend Linzay Young (they co-founded the Cajun swing band the Red Stick Ramblers, which Young still fronts) was a legitimate contender for a nomination, too -- offers to go get his checkbook if that will give a voting inducement. And Ann sternly reminds the questioner that in this kind of music, experience equals authority.
They're all joking, of course. Probably. This is a tight-knit clan with nothing but love and respect for one another and their respective talents. After all the kidding, Wilson more or less shrugs off much, though, to "competition" and just hopes one of the three can win. Joel pretty much echoes the same. After all, the ties extend across the albums themselves: Joel co-produced the Magnolia Sisters set, and Watson used to co-lead the Pine Leaf Boys before going solo.
And Ann later e-mails, as the proud mother she is:
"I am awestruck that two of my offspring are also up for this prestigious award! To\ think all our hard-headedness in music and what we love have gotten recognition from the Recording Academy."
And she also mulls over what a tough choice it is among the three -- though one might glean some extra support for her own.
"The Magnolia Sisters and the Pine Leaf Boys are two very different CDs," she says. "Pine Leafs was recorded live at Jazz Fest, and the Magnolia Sisters is rocking old Cajun songs, thought about for a while and then interpreted on CD. It's live vs. the studio. Both have their merits, of course. I am into music for the stories and soul, and being able to plat the stories and songs with my band in a way that's, would you say, thoughtful and grooving? 'Live' is 'knock 'em dead while you got 'em, and the Pine Leafs are stars no matter what they do. We are the stories, what women are thinking about and moving to. Joel as the co-producer of the Magnolia Sisters and producer of Cedric Watson is a primo listener, engineer and producer. He has the ear, a hugely important part of all CDs. Producers are such under-revered stars, like film editors. Magic."
It's magic that's pretty much endemic to the environment. The jam sessions this day are in the mold of those held every Saturday at Marc's Savoy Music Center store/workshop, one of the crucial activities in passing along the music with old-timers at the center and novices (young and old) following along and learning the tunes week after week. A lot of this was fading away when Marc instituted the jams a few decades ago. That's the setting in which Joel and Wilson absorbed the music and passion, both in the store and in similar scenes at home, as did several generations that were in the mix here.
The rotating cast in the barn was impressive even apart from the Grammy glow. Freddy Hanks, a regular figure on the scene for decades, was given the honor of starting off many songs with his guitar strumming and took the vocal lead often, as well. Christine Balfa, daughter of the late, great fiddler Dewey Balfa, had the vocal spotlight for a few stretches along the way, while her husband, Dirk Powell, a non-native who has become one of the leading musicians and producers in the area, dazzled on a Marc Savoy-built Acadian accordion. A little later, David Greely, of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, another past Grammy nominee, and the Red Stick Ramblers' Chas Justus engaged in some mean twin fiddling, and Emily Vidrine, the college-aged daughter of Magnolia Sisters co-founder Jane Vidrine, sang and strummed.
Parisian Manolo Gonzales added double bass, and with authority, given that he plays at home in the combo Sarah Savoy & the Francadians -- yes, that's another child of Marc and Ann, to whom Gonzales happens to be married; they were making the rounds with their young daughter Anna on her first visit to Louisiana. Then at one point, Canadian visitor Emma Beaton even brought out a cello to team with Greely and a couple of others for what we'd have to call some North-meets-South Acadian chamber music. Oh, and here and there was some amateur strumming from this writer, who, in interest of full disclosure, is a close friend of the Savoy family. He and his wife had their wedding during a crawfish boil under the spreading oak tree in their back yard. And he has no idea whom to root for in the Grammy race. (For more of Maso's films from the day, check out her YouTube channel.)
The boucherie also is something the Savoys revived, a real community activity from pre-refrigeration days (not all that long ago in this rural area) when a slaughtered pig had to be eaten relatively quickly. Sharing was the way to accomplish that, while in the process building the bonds of community. Maybe the vibe will spread to the Grammy -- if one of the Savoys is in on a win, perhaps he or she will share it with the others. Or not.