In typical candor associated with the man, he said he didn’t want the publicity.
It wasn’t what I didn’t expect from the Eunice Cajun musician and accordion maker. I’d met him a few times over the years and he’s always been cordial and, if you’re not needy or thin skinned, a warm individual. I respected his wish and didn’t push him at all.
So we chatted a bit about politics and music and stuff.
I told him I thought it was really great that he and his wife, Ann, have raised such talented and grounded kids who are also dedicated to their Cajun culture.
For me, a family that plays roots music together in the context of its living culture is mind blowing — especially in this world of pop music, crass commercialism and bottom line ethos.
I explained to Marc that where I was raised, if there was a house party or a gathering around a campfire, a couple of guitars would come out and we’d sing whatever folk songs were popular. Other than that, originality or cultural relativity in music and song was totally absent.
It seemed to me that playing an instrument for pleasure and/or entertainment was for somebody else to do, not you. Making music was not an endeavor to be taken seriously, or out of the confines of, say, a school band.
Marc listened and then excused himself for a moment. He returned with a copy of the “Short Speech for November 19” that would be read that Saturday. (See a photo gallery of Saturday's celebration by IND staff photographer Robin May by clicking here.)
Short Speech for November 19:
Fifty years ago today, I opened these doors, still bedazzled by what I had heard one day as a child in my parent’s home — music being played by the people I loved. This experience was something that would totally influence my direction for the rest of my life.
I fell in love but not only with the music or the food or the language or any other aspect of the culture. I fell in love with those wonderful, amazing, talented people that call themselves Cajuns. Whatever they did, I wanted to do that also.
If they played a flute instead of an accordion, then today I would be playing and making flutes. If they would have spoken Grunts instead of French, then today I would be speaking Grunts. It was that I was influenced by the older generation, I became the older generation.
Embarrassingly naïve since birth, I was soon in for a rude awakening: I started school!
Who were all these kids? Where were they from? What was all this fuss about football or rock ’n’ roll or proms and parades? Why hadn’t their parents and grandparents ever exposed them to this wonderful culture? How could they have missed it?
Discovering these revelations was almost too much of a shock for me to bear. The shock didn’t necessarily stem from the fact that most of my peers seemed to be very happy and contented to be all cut from the same cookie cutter. It was due rather to the fact that it was I who couldn’t or wouldn’t accept or confirm to the United States of Generica.
To say that my early years were lonely would be the understatement of the century. Then something happened in 1964 that gave me a ray of hope for the future. I began to see out-of-state people coming to Acadiana not to search out things that were All-American, but rather to search for things that weren’t All-American — Cajun culture.
Small wonder since by that time the Anglo part of this area had become almost more American than America itself.
This exodus of tourism into Acadiana was the result of the Newport (Rhode Island) Jazz Fest, presenting the Eunice Playboys. This was the very first time Cajun music was heard by a mass audience away from Louisiana. The impact this had upon the music world still reverberates around the globe today.
If there is anything that inspired me to want to open the doors to a place like SMC, it was definitely the early beginnings of tourism that Newport started. I realized early on that if anything could open the eyes of the Cajuns to the beauty of their heritage, it would have to be someone from outside the culture.
I was rather daunted, however, that 50 years ago today, three of my friends gave me their dire predictions that I wouldn’t remain open for more than 90 days. When I asked for a reason, their consensus was that I was too far out of town for a business founded on Cajun culture to possibly survive. What they meant by that was, because the culture was so stigmatized in those days, such an endeavor could only prove futile.
At this point I feel compelled to mention the destination of five of our instruments shipped in October 2016: Houston, Texas; Beaumont, Texas; Queensland, Australia; Galway, Ireland; and also one in Glasgow, Scotland.
Eighteen thousand two hundred fifty days (50x365) after my friends made their dire predictions, I ask myself the question: “Which town was I too far from?”
I read that a rich man has no more chance of going to heaven than a camel has going through the eye of a needle. I don’t agree with this, as I don’t with many other things from that book, because I know a lot of rich people who are very generous and use their money to do a lot of good. If the word for “rich” is in the context of gold and silver, then that camel, with me riding it, can go through the opening of that needle sideways with room to spare.
However, if richness is measured by 76 years of wonderful health and happiness, being married to the most amazing woman on the planet, raising four wonderful children and traveling the world as a family band, seeing them all willingly embrace the values that I hold dear, and last, but not least, seeing the word “Cajun” change from being a stigma to finally becoming recognized as an asset, then yes, I would have to admit that I am blessed and very rich; as rich as anyone can hope to be.
I would like to thank all of my old friends that have kept this jam session going for 50 years. Thanks not only for their musical talent, but also for being their wonderful self and not allowing their heritage or their gumbo to be replaced with a cold, tasteless, American hotdog.
I would like to thank all of my dear friends who have traveled from so far just to be here today. Speaking of traveling, I hope you can find it in your schedule to join us tonight for a musical experience with the inimitable Frankie Gavin, fiddler extraordinaire from Galway, Ireland. Info about his concert tonight is written on the glass door.
In closing, I would like to pay tribute to someone whom I had the good fortune of meeting about 50 years ago that has been an inspiration to me ever since and has now become a role model for my entire family. A man that has tirelessly waged a continuing war for the past 60 years on “mouse music” and has discovered, recorded and release volumes of endangered folk music from countless traditions that would have been lost if not for his efforts.
Besides being all of the above, he is also known, among many very fine restaurants, as the man that will very likely return his meal to the kitchen at least once. That particular trait has caused him to be selected by like-minded friends and admirers as the lifelong president of the Fiquitique Curmudgeon Club. Please give a warm welcome to my dear friend and mentor, Chris Strachwitz.
Finally, I would like to recognize the efforts of a young woman who came to Louisiana about 30 years ago, looking for a job. Luckily for me I gave her that job and soon, because of her craftsmanship, musical ability, dedication and work ethic she soon became my right and left hand, not to mention the fact that she made it possible for Ann and me to continue traveling and playing music by taking over the responsibility of caring for our children when they were small. Please put your hands together for Tina Pilione in thanks for her tireless contributions to Savoy Music Center.