Musicians, who depend on live audiences for their income, have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. A Nov. 28 NPR story by John Burnett, “COVID-19 Hits Hard For South Louisiana’s Cajun Musicians,” looked at how this state of affairs is playing out in Louisiana’s Cajun parishes.
NPR reported that area Cajun musicians are still gathering on Saturday mornings at Marc Savoy’s music store in Eunice. Because of the virus, musicians now take their chairs outside, where they form a circle. They play Cajun French ballads that have been in their families for generations.
Unfortunately, four old musicians who were part of the regular group (two fiddlers, a guitarist and a harmonica player) have died from COVID.
Savoy said he almost cancelled the sessions because “it’s not the same spirit anymore since these old-timers are gone.” Savoy is 80 himself. But he’s still building and playing accordions. “This is something that we’re enduring,” he said. “I think it’s in our blood to endure whatever falls upon us.”
Joel Savoy, Marc’s 40-year-old son, is a fiddle player and producer. He said that before the arrival of COVID, many Cajun musicians made the bulk of their money from festivals. Of course, every festival in Louisiana scheduled for April, 2020, or later was cancelled. Most international festivals are also history, at least for 2020 and early 2021.
“All of our income for this year was disappearing very quickly,” Joel Savoy said. “Our entire next year is already devoid of any kind of gigs other than virtual festivals and online things.” He said such virtual events pay far less than a real show. He’s been selling his instruments and amplifiers to pay the bills. “It’s hard to sell them to other musicians because they don’t have any money right now either.”
When COVID lockdowns began, people paid a lot for music shows on Zoom. But that early enthusiasm is waning, says Louisiana fiddler Kelli Jones. “I think people are sick of it,” Jones told NPR. “Sitting at home and watching something on your computer is only so entertaining for months and months.”
Still, at the time of the NPR report, Jones and Savoy were setting up for music shows in the kitchen of their Lafayette home. In one recent show, they participated in “Swamp in the City,” a virtual Cajun and Creole music festival centered in Brooklyn.
NPR noted that musicians have historically been proud when they could make their living solely from music. To take a day job has always been to admit defeat. But some around SWLA and Acadiana are surrendering to the pressure. Jones has taken a bartending job. The well-known musician Corey Ledet is considering getting a side gig as a truck driver. He knows other musicians who are already doing that.
“I can only hold out for so long,” he says. “If I end up having to get a real job and not play music, I’m probably going to be a very bitter person because my passion has been taken away from me. And this is the first time I’m telling anybody this. I’ve actually developed a mild depression over this because my music has always been my go-to, and I have nowhere to go.”
Before the pandemic, Ledet was playing all over Louisiana and at blues festivals in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Mamou Playboys kept busy playing at home. Steve Riley is the leader of the Playboys. His wife, Katie, is immuno-compromised. As a result, he’s almost always in the family home in Scott, looking after her or their 11- and 8-year-old boys. He doesn’t want Katie to be exposed to other people.
But things have been a little rough. Riley is selling his new Toyota Highlander to get ready cash. He does see a bright side in the fact that the family has built a playhouse and chicken coop during the COVID months.
Riley said the “lack of music” and the isolation are “famishing Cajun culture — which is all about people coming together … This music is played at weddings, at funerals, at dance halls on the weekends. I mean, we are a people who like to be together. And I miss seeing those couples waltzing, jitterbugging around the dance floor. It’s a beautiful thing that you can’t see anywhere else. And I tell you, sometimes it gets to me, man. It’s hard.”
Another result of the COVID shutdown is that Riley and his sons have formed the Riley Family Band. People who know the history of Cajun music will not be surprised that children the age of 8 or 11 can play in a band. You can hear the Riley Family Band on Sunday afternoons on Facebook Live.
Riley said the response to these new Facebook shows has been “just incredible.” He notes that people around the world are listening.
Call For Entries
The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and the Trombone Shorty Foundation have announced the 2021 Art and Songwriting Contest call for entries. This year’s theme is “Alone Together: Art in the Time of Pandemic.”
The competition, now in its second year, is open to Louisiana high school juniors and seniors. Ten young artists and three songwriters will be awarded $25,000 in college scholarships.
Artists and songwriters can submit their original artwork or songs and lyrics at georgerodriguefoundation.org. Deadline for entry is Feb. 26. Due to COVID-19, the 2021 awards ceremony will be virtual.
Competition organizers ask students to reflect on this difficult year and create works of art and music that are inspired by these reflections.
When they’re creating their art and songs, students can consider these questions:
How has disaster and disease shaped art throughout history?
How has your life changed as a result of COVID-19?
What do social distancing and quarantine mean to you?
What has been the most difficult part of 2020 for you?
What do you miss most about life before COVID-19?
What is your hope for the future?
If you need more information, call Emily Diament at 225-938-2694 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Apology From The Queen
In its recent “Lifetime Contributions” series, 64 Parishes magazine recognized residents who have spent decades promoting and protecting Louisiana culture.
One of these, Warren Perrin, got an apology from the queen of England a few years back. Perrin, who the magazine calls a “longtime supporter and defender of Cajun culture,” spent a long time trying to get Queen Elizabeth II to make a formal apology for the British army’s expulsion of Acadians from Canada in the 18th century. (Many of the Acadians wound up in south Louisiana and eventually became known as Cajuns).
The queen’s apology was conveyed to Perrin in 2003. She also proclaimed July 28 an annual day of commemoration of the Acadians.
Perrin founded the nonprofit Acadian Heritage and Culture Foundation, which operates the Acadian Museum in Erath. He served as a president of the Council on the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL). He endowed scholarships at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette for Vermilion Parish students who want to pursue French studies. Right now, he’s working on a bid to have UNESCO recognize certain early Acadian settlements as a “world heritage site.” By doing such things, he continues his efforts to see Cajun culture recognized at the global level.
Also celebrated in the magazine were Bertney and Linda Langley, who are working to see to it that Coushatta tribe members remain well aware of their culture. Bertney, a member of the tribe and a traditional storyteller, and his wife Linda, a retired anthropologist, head up the Coushatta Archives, which is dedicated to preserving information about, and artifacts from, the Coushatta tribe. The Langleys also endeavor to keep these things accessible to Coushatta tribe members.
The Langleys’ ultimate goal is to have a comprehensive collection of Coushatta artifacts controlled entirely by the Coushatta tribe.
The Langleys are also involved in efforts to preserve the Coushatta language — Koasati. They create opportunities for tribal members to learn the language. Their Language Committee offers classes in which instructors teach Koasati while having students engage in cultural activities.
Laura Is Big News
Google recently announced that Hurricane Laura finished No. 6 on the search engine’s top 10 search terms of 2020.
The two subjects most frequently searched were COVID-19 and the presidential election. These two had very high spikes for a long period.
Also finishing ahead of Laura were the subjects of stimulus checks, unemployment and Iran. I’m a little surprised Iran finished ahead of Laura. Maybe I’m just not clear on why the Iran story is such a big one.
Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron on Aug. 27 as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. It was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856. The storm killed 77 people and caused more than $14 billion in damage.