Thirty five years ago, nearly to the day, my life was changed forever by a performance of Cajun music by Dewey and Rodney Balfa, Marc Savoy, and Ally Young. Why that music got to me in that way, I’ll never know – it is one of the beautiful mysteries of the power of music. Marc is of course most famous for his accordion playing and building, but on this tour (we’re talking about way back in 1976, when I was 21 years old) he was playing second fiddle, because the elder Balfa brother, Will, didn’t want to travel. So there we are, on the floor of the big hall at San Diego State, sitting right in front of the stage, and Dewey Balfa and Marc Savoy are playing fiddles and I’m crying my eyes out, feeling that my whole life is about to undergo a huge shift. Which it did.
We started making trips to southwest Louisiana to visit and learn from the musicians there – I sometimes wonder if they ever regretted being so open-hearted with us – they certainly told everyone they met wherever they went (and the performance I saw was at the end of a national tour) to come down to Louisiana and visit. It was on our first trip to Cajun country that we first met Michael Doucet.
At that time, there were just a handful of young people from southwest Louisiana who were interested in Cajun music, and the undisputed leader of them was Michael Doucet. His fire and dedication, his insistence on having the music be part of a living breathing tradition (not a museum piece), and his musical creativity – these are qualities Michael shares with the greatest of Cajun fiddlers, Dennis McGee and Dewey Balfa. I think it is no accident that Michael studied with both of them, but he did exactly what they did: took the music that had been passed on to him, and both preserved and changed it at the same time, putting his own stamp on the music.
On that same first trip, we got to know Ann Savoy, by that time she and Marc were married and living in their beautiful old home. Ann is a marvel – an unassuming but killer strong rhythm guitarist, the possessor of a voice with a beautiful timbre, a treasure house of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Cajun songs, from centuries-old traditional ballads to dance hall favorites of the 1950s, and she is a famous style icon as well. I’ve lost track of all the albums she’s done, with Marc and Michael, with the Savoy Family Band, with the Magnolia Sisters, on her own with the Sleepless Knights, and most famously her collaborations with Linda Ronstadt. She’s also done music for films and appeared in films, written the best book so far about Cajun music, and there’s probably dozens of other projects I can’t remember right now.
Wilson and Joel Savoy (two of Marc and Ann’s talented kids) will also be on hand – it is a great pleasure to welcome Michael Doucet and the Savoy family back to Fiddle Tunes!