About a year and a half ago, Michael Doucet was at his fellow Cajun musician Marc Savoy’s rural Louisiana house for the annual boucherie --a traditional party built around a pig roast and jam sessions.
In the middle of one of those sessions under Savoy’s spreading oak tree, Doucet, 43, looked up and was struck by a startling realization.
“I was the oldest fiddler there,” he recalled, somewhat downcast, by phone from his home near the town of Eunice.
But don’t call him an elder statesman.
“No, I am not one!” he exclaimed at the mere mention of the term. “I still refer to myself as the young, rebellious Cajun. I still go to all these other musicians’ houses, and they’re octogenarians, and I’ve never had to worry about it. There’s still always someone older.”
Doucet, who with his band, Beausoleil, will be at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Wednesday, has been one of the leading figures of modern Cajun music for nearly 25 years now. With Beausoleil, he kicked open the door for the rural-rooted music by adding some touches of rock ‘n’ roll and has since watched as a new generation has come along and joined in his mission to preserve and expand the style’s reach.
Doucet--who learned at the side of such Cajun pioneers as Canray Fontenot and the late Dennis McGee--is half the age of his mentors, and truth is he’s, well, fit as a fiddle. A steady exercise program and low-fat diet (hard to accomplish in Louisiana) has done away with any encroaching middle-age spread, but his appetite for musical discoveries remains voracious.
“The main reason for the whole Beausoleil idea was that this music was being forgotten 25 years ago and not a lot of musicians were playing it,” he explained. “So we visit old musicians, bring the music out, old blues and ballads.”
In fact, Doucet is, if anything, putting even more energy into that mission now than before, delving deeply into the music of the Cajun heritage, which incorporates the styles brought by the musicians’ ancestors after they were kicked out of Nova Scotia 200 years ago with those of other settlers in Louisiana.
Beausoleil has just finished an album, “L’Echo,” its second for Rhino Records’ Forward label, with a focus on “lost” songs and styles, from string band music to bayou blues. The album will be released in the fall.
Also just finished is another album from the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, the tradition-music oriented trio of Doucet, Savoy and his wife, Ann Allen Savoy. The small Bay Area folk label Arhoolie will release that.
In addition, Arhoolie is putting out “The Mad Reel,” an album featuring music by Doucet and Beausoleil from the soundtrack of the 1986 movie “Belizaire the Cajun,” while the East Coast-based Music of the World label is set to release an album of live Beausoleil from the early ‘80s.
Doucet also recently did a guest session with Mark Knopfler for the former Dire Straits leader’s first solo album, and Beausoleil continues a busy schedule of concerts--from sedate sit-down auditoriums to raucous dances. He and his music are clearly more comfortable in the latter setting, a point he uses to deflect some criticism Beausoleil has attracted from folk purists.
“Iry LeJune, Nathan Abshire, the great Cajun musicians, what they played was rock ‘n’ roll, really,” he insisted. "(Cajun music) is music that makes you move. I like to make people dance, and hey, I grew up in the ‘60s. If I wouldn’t play (rock), sometimes it wouldn’t be me. I like to put it all together. I don’t separate rock and folk. It’s a tradition that continues to flow.”
And Cajun music continues to flow and grow. While some Cajuns resent the superficial faddish appropriation of their culture when the style (not to mention Cajun food) became trendy in the late ‘80s, Doucet is glad that at least the culture is now known to and appreciated by a wide range of people from all over the world.
“The awareness of the fact that this is viable music that comes from only one part of the world and has to do with who we are and where we come from is great,” he says. “And it’s still fun.”
* Beausoleil with Michael Doucet plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $15. (714) 496-8930.