Cajun sextet BeauSoleil played two shows in Alaska this weekend — unexpectedly, as a quintet.

A renowned Cajun sextet from Louisiana performed two shows in Alaska this weekend — unexpectedly, as a quintet.

BeauSoleil – a two-time Grammy-winning band from Louisiana – is often known as BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet. But this time, the group performed its shows in Fairbanks and Anchorage without its founder and violinist Michael Doucet, who slipped on icy ground and broke his hip hours before Friday’s concert in Fairbanks.

Doucet, 71, was hospitalized, but the band continued the shows, with Michael’s brother, guitarist David Doucet leading the performance.

“I have to say they didn’t miss a thing: his brother picked up where he left off,” Fairbanks Concert Association director Anne Biberman said.

She said the show was a success. “It’s fun, it’s alive – I mean, it’s just fantastic music. You can’t help but feel good. You can’t help but want to move. People danced in the went Friday night. It was just awesome to see.

Michael Doucet had surgery Saturday morning and was released from hospital Monday and plans to return home to Louisiana Wednesday. After their shows in Alaska, the band decided to postpone some upcoming shows to give Michael time to heal.

Slipping on icy roads

To be fair, not everyone in Fairbanks missed the chance to see the whole band on stage. On Friday morning, BeauSoleil presented a school show “with screaming children having a great time”, said David Doucet.

After the school show, when hundreds of children boarded the buses, the artists had time for themselves: David went to play a virtual solo show, while Michael Doucet returned to the Candlewood Suites, then went out for a snack at the store across the street. the street. It was then that he slipped on an icy road.

“When I listened to his voicemail, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” David Doucet said.

When he realized his brother was indeed in the hospital and couldn’t play, he had about an hour and a half to put together two 45-minute sets. After a quick discussion, the band came up with 10 songs per set.

“We didn’t do a soundcheck – we had already done one (the day before) so we went all out – Bam! 7:30 am,” David Doucet said. “It was rushed, but I think that went very well. We had a great time. People treated us very well.

In Fairbanks, much of the public was aware of Michael Doucet’s injury.

“It’s a very small place – Fairbanks,” he said. “I think most of them all knew what hospital he was in and sent him cards.”

On Saturday, David Doucet broke the news at the start of the Anchorage show, and “there were some gasps,” but people still understood and the performance went well, he said.

Playing without Michael Doucet wasn’t the best-case scenario, but something the band has done before. Once, when Michael Doucet had other health problems, a Creole violin player, Canray Fontenot, took his place. But in most cases, David Doucet ended up leading the band – as he did this time.

“With over 47 for some of us in the band – and we’ve toured a lot over the years – we know the material very well,” he said. “It’s just that it was a little different: when I lead the band, it takes on a little different flavor.”

The absence of Michael Doucet’s violin is the biggest difference, but David Doucet says he also has a different approach: he tends to create “more of an ensemble sound” where the lead instrument is less pronounced. David Doucet also said he enjoys sharing stories, whether it’s loosely translating the songs or talking about the musicians who played the songs before.

“People want to know the stories. They love stories about people in songs,” he said. “And I have to tell stories about the people we learned those songs from.”

Reviving Cajun Music

When David and Michael Doucet were growing up, the Louisiana French language and Cajun music were disappearing, said David Doucet. Around this time, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was formed, sponsoring performances and musical events and preserving the rich local culture.

“It also inspired young people back home in Louisiana to start playing music,” he said. “We were on the cusp of this popularity…Because of that, we got lucky with these old musicians who came to play at these events, and people started to understand that it’s a really culture. rich. And we were right in the middle. »

The band learned the style from experienced Cajun musicians and then invited some of them on tour – for example, Dennis McGee or Canray Fontenot, with whom BeauSoleil performed in New York.

David Doucet said that although Cajun music has changed and become more modern, the style remains alive. The original audience that has followed the band since its inception is aging, but the musicians see different generations at their concerts.

“You have your audience watching you play for so many years,” he said. “You have their children and to tell you the truth, now you have their children’s children, and they also introduce them because if you’re culturally sensitive, you’re going to have it, and if you’re not, you have won” t. »

Since BeauSoleil started playing in 1975, they have received various awards and performed at numerous festivals and concerts. Their 1996 album L’Amour Ou La Folie won them the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, and in 2008 they won another Grammy for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album for the album Live at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & HeritageFestival. Michael Doucet became one of 12 artists to receive a National Heritage Fellowship.

“They’re an amazing group,” Biberman said. “I really consider them the definitive Cajun band, because even though they write their own music—Michael Doucet writes his—it’s really steeped in the original traditions of music. They bring new takes, but it’s still rooted in the traditions of the music.

Back in Alaska

Last weekend wasn’t BeauSoleil’s first time in Alaska: the band visited the state seven or eight times, playing in different cities and venues, including the Herring Auditorium in Fairbanks.

“It’s a very special place, very cold, but a very special place in the middle of nowhere – 200 miles from the Arctic Circle,” David Doucet said of Fairbanks. “It’s very difficult for us to figure out the map – how far you are from the top of the earth. And 3,500 miles from Louisiana is just a long way.

The first time the band came to Fairbanks was in the mid-1990s, in the dead of winter, with temperatures around 25 or 30 degrees below zero outside. The trip took place shortly after violin player Canray Fontenot passed away, and the Fairbanks radio station was playing his music as the group drove to see the Northern Lights.

“When his first song played, the northern lights – it was like a switch – went on,” said David Doucet.

This year, the group was excited to return to Alaska. They originally planned their “Goodbye” tour for 2021, but postponed it due to the pandemic. Despite the “goodbye” in the name of the tour, the group does not plan to stop performing.

“I can’t imagine a musician wanting to stop playing. I think music makes you live longer,” said David Doucet. “Also, Michael couldn’t perform in Alaska except for the college show, so we have to go back. We’ll be back in Alaska, at least one more time, before we hit all 50 states.

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