When the Colonial Theatre opens its doors on February 24, the inspired bookers at the Berkshire Theatre Group will transport its audiences down to New Orleans with a night of rollicking zydeco, jazz, Cajun, blues and country music performed by the award winning band, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet.
A Little History
Cajun exudes the spice of the bayou, but Zydeco combines elements of an even older American musical style which began in the late 1700s: Cajun music, which comprises French fiddle tunes, Irish Celtic fiddle tunes, German button accordion, Latin rhythms, and Appalachian styles. Louisiana has an interesting mix of cultures.
Zydeco music was born in the late 1860s as a blend of Cajun music and two other “new” American music styles: blues and rhythm and blues. Haitian rhythms were also added, as Haitian natives moved to Louisiana to help harvest the new cash crop – sugarcane.
Zydeco (French, from the phrase: Les haricots ne sont pas salés, means “the snap beans aren’t salty”. This phrase is a colloquial expression that means ‘I have no spicy gossip for you.’ It has alternatively been referred to as meaning “I’m so poor, I can’t afford any salt meat for the beans.”
About BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet
BeauSoleil has its roots in the traditions, but keeps pushing the envelope, incorporating elements of rock, jazz and the blues. The music is universal and enjoyable by all ages.
Although Michael Doucet did not originally intend to pursue performing Cajun music, a turning point came when Doucet was awarded a Folk Arts Apprenticeship by the National Endowment for the Arts. “I had planned to go to graduate school in New Mexico to study the Romantic poets,” he recalls on the Vanguard Records web site. “Instead I traded William Blake for Dewey Balfa.” Doucet sought out every surviving Cajun musician, including Balfa, Dennis McGee, Sady Courville, Luderin Darbone, Varise Connor, Canray Fontenot, Freeman Fontenot and others. He studied their techniques and songs and encouraged some to resume public performances.
Grammys, Film Scores, NPR and more
BeauSoleil has appeared on soundtracks for the films The Big Easy, Passion Fish and Belizaire the Cajun. The group plays at jazz and folk festivals and has appeared on numerous television shows, including CNN’s Showbiz Today, Austin City Limits, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Emeril Live. BeauSoleil appears regularly on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio show. Keillor has even hailed the group as the “best Cajun band in the world”. BeauSoleil has also performed in concert with Mary Chapin Carpenter and opened for the Grateful Dead.
BeauSoleil is one of a few groups performing traditional Louisiana music to win a Grammy Award. L’Amour Ou La Folie (Love Or Folly), recorded in 1996 and released on Rhino Records, earned the 1997 Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. In a review on Amazon.com, Richard Gehr wrote, “By now the sextet transcends the dancehall, possessing the ability to transform nearly any traditional Cajun, Creole, or French tune into high art while preserving a clear sonic bloodline back to its roots.” In 2005, BeauSoleil’s Gitane Cajun, released on Vanguard Records, earned the group its tenth Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album.
A reflection of its versatility is that BeauSoleil has also earned a Grammy nomination in the Contemporary Folk category, for the 1999 album Cajunization, with songs that effortlessly span Cajun, Calypso, French ballad, blues and other musical styles. In 2005, BeauSoleil won the Big Easy Entertainment Award for Best Cajun Band, the tenth time the band was honored in the 18-year history of the awards presented by the New Orleans music and entertainment publication Gambit Weekly. In 2005, BeauSoleil founder Michael Doucet was one of 12 artists awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2009, BeauSoleil won another Grammy in the then newly created Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category for the album Live at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
The band’s name is a tribute to Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, the leader of the Acadian resistance to British deportation efforts beginning in 1755. Broussard led the attack against Dartmouth Nova Scotia, in what would become known as the “Dartmouth Massacre”. Beausoleil was eventually captured, but following his imprisonment managed to lead 193 exiles to Louisiana before he died in 1765.
Filled with an enormous amount of musical talent, a great respect for history and lots of fun, a BeauSoleil performance offers you a great reason to celebrate yet another unqiue American region’s music.
Tickets to BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet are $20-$55. Tickets may be purchased in person at The Colonial Theatre Ticket Office at 111 South Street Pittsfield, MA 01201 or by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at www.TheColonialTheatre.org. The Ticket Office is open Monday-Friday 10am–5pm, Saturdays 10am–2pm or on any performance day from 10am until intermission.
About The Berkshire Theatre Group
The Colonial Theatre, founded in 1903, and Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928, are two of the oldest cultural organizations in the Berkshires. Having united in November of 2010 under the helm of Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire, these two institutions are providing the Berkshires and beyond with the finest in live theatre, music, dance and the visual arts on four stages in Stockbridge, MA, Pittsfield, MA and Lenox, MA. The Fitzpatrick Main Stage (408 seats), cataloged by the National Register of Historic Places, was originally designed and built by Stanford White as the Stockbridge Casino in 1888. The intimate Unicorn Theatre (122 seats) is a home for emerging artists and new theatrical ideas. The Colonial in Pittsfield (800 seats) re-opened in August of 2006, following a $21 million restoration, and boasts pristine acoustics, classic gilded age architecture and state-of-the-art technical systems. BTG also performs at the newly built outdoor Neil Ellenoff stage at the Mount. Together they serve over 100,000 patrons per year and reach over 10,000 students through their educational and outreach programs. For more information on BTF call (413) 298-5536 and on The Colonial call (413) 448-8084. To purchase tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or (413) 298-5576 or go online to www.berkshiretheatre.org or www.thecolonialtheatre.org.