Inside his cottage in Louisiana, where the thermometer registers a sizzling 90 degrees, a chill runs up Michael Deucet's spine as he talks about that blustery Minnesota day in 1982. It was the first time he and his BeauSoleil bandmates were to play on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show. "It was five below zero," recalls Deucet, founder of the Grammy-winning sextet. "People are scurrying about, looking very harried. And for us, we think, 'Maybe they're like this all the time.'"
Then word came in from the streets of St. Paul: A mid-January blizzard had torn the roof off the theater where the show was going to be broadcast. Hurriedly relocating to another venue, the band hit the airwaves. More than two decades later, BeauSoleil is a regular guest on Keillor's NPR program. "I think we were the calm in the storm," says Deucet, who doubles as the group's singer and fiddler. "He kind of liked that."
Known for its saucy mix of New Orleans jazz, Caribbean rhythm, and bayou-style blues, BeauSoleil Avec Michael Deucet is a swamp-pop band in demand, with a calendar full of gigs -- including one in Akron at Saturday's Ragin' Cajun Fest, a six-hour foot-tapper of French-rockin' boogie served up with spicy gumbo and jambalaya samples. (Geno Delafose, Creole Stomp, the Zydeco Dependents, and Cats on Holiday are also on the bill.) "This is not mainstream music, stuff you would regularly hear on the radio," Deucet explains. "It's a new form of music to some people."
Not to Deucet. Cajun music has been around ever since his French-Canadian ancestors migrated from Nova Scotia's Acadian wilderness to the bogs of central Louisiana in the late 1600s. Born in 1951, Deucet still remembers when store signs, food labels, and dinner conversation were all in French. "That's what I was born into," he says. "We're probably the last generation who had French around, because we didn't have all the English-language avalanche of stuff."
To preserve his forefathers' culture, language, and musical heritage, Deucet talked with the old-timers, recorded their stories, and studied the music of Cajun and Creole pioneers, including guitarist Dewey Balfa, fiddler Dennis McGee, and accordion player Amédé Ardoin. "It's not that they were commercially successful, but they continued the tradition," says Deucet. "That's what I was looking for: the core, the essence, where they originated."
And Deucet's tangy stamp on the ancestral music has brought offers to back up Mark Knopfler, Thomas Dolby, and Richard Thompson in the studio. Mary Chapin Carpenter even paid tribute to them -- and hired the band as backing musicians -- in her hit "Down at the Twist and Shout": "There ain't no cure for my blues today/Except when the paper says BeauSoleil is coming into town," she sings.
When Deucet and crew pull into Akron, he promises a show with an "aura of the exotic." "I think people are always curious about it, energetic -- especially people who like to dance," he says. "They come out and get crazy." Gar-ahn-teed.
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