BeauSoleil's award-winning Michael Doucet looks to the future following APAP showcase
Michael Doucet featurette that served as his APAP 2021 virtual showcase
What a difference a year makes.
Last January, Michael Doucet and his Grammy-winning Cajun band BeauSoleil received the Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award in the “Living” artist category, opposite fellow Louisiana native Mahalia Jackson in the “Legacy” heading.
“That’s pretty good company!” says Doucet, who hails from the Lafayette, La. suburb of Scott.
But this January, due to the pandemic, Doucet and BeauSoleil, like essentially everyone else, was sitting still in their lives and careers. Yet he did manage to showcase virtually at the recent Association of Performing Arts Professionals (AAPAP) APAP|NYC+ 2021 virtual trade conference, where talent buyers could access a video featurette commemorating the Folk Alliance award.
It turns out that Doucet was also quite active last year, even though he hardly went anywhere outside the French-speaking region of Southwest Louisiana. In February, a new Doucet-led band, Michael Doucet avec Lâcher Prise, debuted with a self-titled album on Compass Records.
“In French, lâcher prise means ‘let go’,” explains Doucet, who is also the recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship and United States Artists’ Berresford Prize/USA Fellowship.
“It’s also a Buddhist term. When it applies to making this music, it’s just total freedom.”
As for the avec in the band name, it’s French for “with,” and “avec Michael Doucet” is now used in the venerable and still-extant BeauSoleil’s name as well.
“I love BeauSoleil,” Doucet affirms, “but after 45 years, my little thing is to sneak out the back door and go fishing somewhere!”
But when it came for Lâcher Prise, somewhere did not include Nashville.
“Our last Beausoleil album [2013’s From Bamako to Carencro] was on Compass, and they wanted me to do a solo record there and go to Nashville to record it,” notes Doucet. “I like those Nashville musicians, but they can’t play as good as the people here!”
So he gathered an estimable group of young locals to record 10 mostly new originals at the renowned Dockside studio in Maurice, La., with the Lâcher Prise band made up of Doucet on fiddle and vocals, vocalist/acoustic guitarist Sarah Quintana, electric guitarist Chad Viator, acoustic acoustic bassist Chris French and BeauSoleil percussionist Billy Ware.
“I took only two and a-half days,” continues Doucet. “We kicked, man! The new songs were different from what I typically do, but I’m a Cajun and can play anything I want, and you can’t pigeonhole it. It’s like me--not Americana or Cajun, but Southwest Louisiana music that’s just good music. Music we like to play and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Still, Doucet got serious on the lead track “Water, Water,” which recounts a deluge three years ago in Lafayette—24 inches of rain in 24 hours—during which he had to rescue his daughter-in-law. On the lighter side is Lâcher Prise’s energetic cover of late Zydeco great Boozoo Chavis’s “Lula Lula Don’t You Go to Bingo.” Guest musicians include Turtle Island Quartet on the instrumental “Cajun Gypsy.”
More recently, Doucet cut a fearful COVID-themed solo single, “COVID 19 (Don’t Want No),” that recaps the precautions necessary not to contract it, and the pandemic’s ever-increasing cost.
“It was building up to be a great year, and the whole thing fell flat—for everyone,” says Doucet. “You’re not supposed to say you’re unemployed, but I’ve been unemployed since March! But I continue writing, thinking and practicing!”
And, he might have added, accepting.
“I like writing and playing all kinds of stuff besides Cajun—jazz, blues—and I don’t care if I record it or not,” he says. “Once you get over the hump of not making money with this, it becomes something else--and it’s fun again!”
Content notwithstanding, Doucet needed only 30 minutes to write “COVID 19.”
“I was merely playing around with what was happening to all of us at the end of April, when I awoke to the grim fact that this was our new reality: cancelled gigs, face masks, Dr Fauci, etc. Everything all fell apart, and what I had never considered before suddenly became a routine everyday mantra—and the little ditty just came to me.”
And “lâcher prise” plays into it, as well.
“Letting go,” reflects Doucet. “I’m 70 in a month, and it coincides perfectly with really letting it go. It’s over, man! Even Billy [Ware] asked me, ‘Does this mean we’re done?’ Pretty much! Our next gig is in 2002! Who’s going to come hear us then?”
Doucet concedes: “This is my life. It’s not that much different. I’m writing—figuring out what to do in this time. Everybody says how it will come back--and I don’t think it will.”
But while Doucet waits to find out if the music and concert business will ever return to what it was, he, either with BeauSoleil or Lâcher Prise, has been performing virtual concerts each month at OurConcerts.live, with a Mardi Gras show scheduled there on Feb. 13.
“But its okay,” Doucet philosophically concludes. “Time’s are going to change. But people obviously always need music, and it will always take a different form.”
“I’m glad we were there when we were riding the wave!”