THIS YEAR’S LOCAL EARTH DAY celebration in Forsyth Park would seem to have a little something for just about anybody.
Whether it’s informative displays and classes on how to make your home more energy and water efficient, local food vendors offering snacks and meals made with local produce, live animal and nature exhibits, or an organized bike ride, there’s a veritable cornucopia of fun options.
Still, even if you’re not down with giving the planet even a respectful peck on the cheek, there’s always the free Cajun music, courtesy of La.’s own Feufollet — a widely acclaimed band that’s credited with helping to preserve traditional Cajun and Creole music and culture, while simultaneously pushing the genre forward.
Singing in French, the sextet features standard acoustic string band instruments like fiddle and accordion along with electric guitar and trap drums. They play major folk and roots-music festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada, and are currently touring behind their terrific new album Cow Island Hop — a record that blends raucous, old-fashioned rock and roll with jazzy laments and irrepressible, toe-tapping dance hall numbers.
Three of the band’s members spoke to me from the road.
For folks who know nothing of Cajun music, how would you describe the appeal of the genre in the simplest possible terms?Chris Segura (fiddle): A lot of the songs have pulsing rhythms that make you want to get up and dance. The melodies and lyrics are all very beautiful. It’s definitely different, but even if you’ve never heard Cajun music, chances are, it will appeal in some way to everyone. Don’t let the presence of an accordion scare you off!
Has this band ever played a concert where not a single person got up and danced?
Chris Stafford (accordion): People never dance when we play theater shows, which always makes me kind of nervous. It’s weird to play Cajun music with people just sitting and staring at you. In Louisiana, we never have a gig where no one dances.
Is Cajun music gaining in popularity outside of its own natural fan-base, or is it hard to interest other folks in what you’re doing?
Josh Caffery: My answer, I think, is both. It can be hard to interest folks outside of Louisiana. At the same time, though, I believe that’s part of what makes it challenging and interesting, both for us and for our audience. There is a language barrier, of course, and the music itself sounds a bit exotic. This may tend to make it an acquired taste, but some tastes are worth acquiring. Also, the great joy, sadness and soul in this music goes beyond language. When we’re doing our job, the audience can feel that.
From a musical standpoint the new LP seems very ambitious. I hear elements of Cajun, jazz, swing and even garage-style rock and roll from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Does the band view this record as a stylistic departure, or just a natural progression?
Chris Stafford (accordion): We just wanted to make the type of album we felt would be interesting to listen to. I think we all feel people realize that contemporary Cajun music can be artistic too, and not just mimic the Cajun recordings of the past.
In French, the name of your band translates as a mysterious ghost or faerie. Is that of any particular relevance to your music?
Josh Caffery: Well, in English, feufollets is the word for “will-o-the-wisps”, these mysterious lights sometimes seen in swamps at night. In Southern Louisiana, there are various explanations for those. One explanation is that they’re the souls of children who died before they were Baptized. (South Louisiana, as you may know, is a very Catholic area.) Another explanation is the lights are just mischievous spirits trying get people lost in the marsh. I think our music spans both of these explanations: for the most part, it’s playful and fun-loving —like most Cajun dance music— but at the same time it can have a darker aspect, one that’s found more in the older traditional tunes we try to dig up.
You’re working on a Ph.D. in Folklore and English. Cajun music is steeped in storytelling and history. Does this band inform your own education, and/or vice versa?
Josh Caffery: Yes, both. As someone who spends a lot of time with his nose in musty tomes of forgotten literature, I feel very lucky to be involved in a living, breathing, sometimes howling oral tradition. It’s one thing to read some ancient bard waxing eloquent about this or that goddess, king or epic battle. It’s another thing to work in a tradition that includes songs about the town you live in, or the bayou you fish in, or the dance hall that once stood in the meadow you see everyday on the way home from work.
This group began when the members were very young. Do you ever regret becoming involved in the music biz at such an early age?
Chris Segura (fiddle): I don’t regret starting early at all. How often can 11 and 12 year old kids say they’ve toured the U.S., Canada, played in France, made CDs, etc? Had we not been playing music, we would have missed out on so many incredible things. All of this experience playing together helped Chris (Stafford) and I really develop musically. We played together so much as we were learning that we understand each other’s style very well and pretty much always know where the other is going whenever we’re playing together
Would you be satisfied to play nothing but strictly traditional Cajun music, or is the act of bringing something contemporary and new into that mix what drives this band?
Chris Stafford (accordion): I think we all love traditional Cajun music, but there’s something very exhilarating about creating something new and unexpected. There are already enough traditional-style songs being written now anyway. It’s important that people aren’t scared to try new things.
If you weren’t playing Cajun music, is there another style you could see this band moving into with relative ease?
Chris Stafford (accordion): I play in a rock band called Hungry Hungry and write many original songs in English, so Cajun isn’t my only thing. I know that Anna Laura (Edmiston, Feufollet vocalist) writes her own English songs too and sings some country and Americana-style music, too.
Have any of the band-members ever been to or played in Savannah before?
Chris Segura (fiddle): We’ve never played in Savannah. Looking very forward to it, though. Actually, the only time we’ve even played in Georgia was a dance in Atlanta.
What’s the most “rock and roll” aspect of Feufollet’s lifestyle on the road?
Chris Segura (fiddle): Hmm... We don’t really go too overboard when we’re on the road. We’ll do some drinking if the time is right, and if we meet up with other bands from Lafayette on the road, things may get a bit more rowdy! Other than that, we’re fairly tame as far as partying goes. Much of the time, we’re on tight schedules, so we just don’t have the chance to really go nuts.
Earth Day promotes eco-friendly living. Does this show have any special significance to Feufollet?
Josh Caffery (guitar): Well, one way to think about our music is that it’s very close to the soil, and it’s locally grown. They say the healthiest food is what you grow yourself in your own back yard. Cajun music is our back yard. We may add a little dash of different seasoning here and there, but we try to keep it all organic.
Where: Forsyth Park’s Earth Day Fest
When: 1 pm, Sat., April 19
Cost: Free to ALL-AGES