Louisiana-based Cajun/swing/roots outfit The Red Stick Ramblers takes its name from the English translation of the place of its inception: Baton Rouge. (Baton Rouge is French for "red stick.") But in the dozen years since it formed, all of the group's members have moved away from Baton Rouge and five of the six Ramblers (excepting fiddler/vocalist Linzay Young) have started up a side project: The Revelers.
Like the Ramblers, the Revelers also play Cajun songs, dance tunes and, according to guitarist Chas Justus, "We're doing the same basic material. With a lot more accordion."
Or, as fiddle player Daniel Coolik (a former Asheville resident who played in bands including One Leg Up and Cary Fridley and Down South) points out, "We don't have a progressive techno band now. It's Louisiana roots dance music with the same Cajun, honky-tonk swing you'd expect from the Ramblers. If you came out to dance, you wouldn't walk away going 'What the hell was that?'"
In fact, like the Ramblers, the Revelers love to play to dancers. Asheville, according to Justus, is "one of not-too-many towns — you can count them on one hand — where people actually know how to dance." For this reason, Asheville has been one of the Ramblers' favorite places to play, since the dancers come out in force.
"We pride ourselves on adapting to the dancers," Justus says. "If you're playing at a place where all they handle is the hippy shake, then it's Zydeco and the two-step." If, however, they try a waltz and the dance floor fills up, they'll keep throwing waltzes into the mix. Worth noting: The guys in the Revelers know dancing. If they're home on the weekend, they go out to a dance hall.
"That influences the way we play," says Justus. "I don't want to just go to a place and drink a beer and admire someone for playing. You've got to give me something I can do."
Coolik adds, "If you go out and see a Louisiana band, there's sort of a give and take." The dancers and players are engaged in a collaborative endeavor.
It's dance music and the feel-good party-vibe that goes hand in hand that attracted the attention of writer/producer David Simon. Best known as the creator of HBO series The Wire, Simon was working on an episode of the post-Katrina drama Treme that involves a traditional southern Louisiana Mardi Gras celebration. Now, the Ramblers have also been involved with that Mardi Gras — it doesn't involve floats or beads, but there is music. So the Ramblers met Simon and through the TV producer learned that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was also planning to film in the area.
A boucherie (pig slaughter and feast) was organized and the Ramblers played a dance party at the end of the show. Simon was there, and "a couple of months later, we got an email about doing a show for Treme," says Coolik. The band has now been in three episodes set to air this coming spring.
According to Justus, Treme hires about 10 bands per show, providing "a real shot in the arm for the New Orleans music scene" and introducing Louisiana's regional music to a much broader audience.
One form of music that the Revelers are spreading outside of the Acadiana region is swamp pop. "It's Louisiana rock 'n’ roll," says Coolik. Dating back to the '50s and '60s, kids who thought of French songs as their parents' music started adapting the hits of the day to a Louisiana sensibility. "It was a real regional sort of thing," says Coolik.
Justus says that swamp pop has evolved with contemporary music, and they have always been swamp pop bands. But the Revelers "reach straight back to the older music in Cajun and swamp pop," he says. "We're more interested in listening to records from the '50s and '60s; we're influenced in roots music all the day."
The Revelers also maintain an interest in French-language songs in keeping with the Cajun heritage of the area. Swamp pop included versions of American pop songs sung in French; Justus says the Revelers have learned a lot of French language through the music they play. He jokes that Coolik has learned "from a couple of French girlfriends," but accordion player Blake Miller is fluent (he actually holds a Francophone-studies degree).
Coolik, Justus and Eric Frey spent a month in France last winter playing with a Cajun band. Justus says that French audience was into it. "There's nothing more popular in the world than music from the American South. Put that in French and they're sort of surprised but always taken by it."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.
who: The Revelers (pre-show square dance with Phil Jamison at 8:30 p.m.)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, Jan. 14 (9 p.m., $8 advance or $10 day of show. http://www.thegreyeagle.com)