From Oct. 9 to 11, Daigrepont will perform at the Richmond Folk Festival, his first visit to the city in 27 years. (Photo courtesy: Richmond Folk Festival)
Bruce Daigrepont was making lunch for four people, or maybe seven, when we spoke on the phone in August. At his home in New Orleans’ suburbs, he cooks the kind of old-time Cajun food that he grew up eating in Acadiana, Louisiana: andouille sausage, catfish, sauces and lots of rice. But while Daigrepont has earned his chops as a cook, he is better known for his Cajun music and mastery of the accordion. Daigrepont and his Cajun Band play regularly at Tipitina’s, the famous French Quarter concert hall, and around the country at festivals. From Oct. 9 to 11, he’ll be performing at the Richmond Folk Festival, his first visit to the city in 27 years.
Richmond magazine: Where do you live?
Daigrepont: There’s a suburb just outside New Orleans called Metairie. I’m one mile from the parish line, which is the 17th Street Canal, the levee that broke during [Hurricane] Katrina. I can walk there in 15 minutes or drive there in three or four minutes. I’m half a block from the Lake Pontchartrain levee. I’m kind of in this quiet little area near Lake Pontchartrain.
RM: You call a dance a “fais do-do” (pronounced fay-dough-dough). What does that mean?
Daigrepont: Do you have any knowledge of French at all?
RM: I did study it in school, so a little!
Daigrepont: You know the word for “sleep” is dormir. “Do-do” is mostly an expression we’d use with children. Fais do-do means to go to sleep. A fais do-do is a term used for a Cajun dance where there’s accordions, fiddles and dancing. When our ancestors came here, they’d make house dances. This is before we had electricity in the houses. The young mothers who were newly married, in their early 20s — back then they may have been 15, 16 — they wanted to dance with their husbands, so they’d encourage the babies to go to sleep. They’d have a room set aside in the house where they’d put the babies to sleep — fais do-do — so they can join the party and dance with their husbands. My father remembered that because he was born in 1921.
There’s a real good song, “Allons Danser, Colinda.” Colinda was a girl that lived in Louisiana. In the old days, a girl wouldn’t go to a fais do-do without a chaperone — her mother or a sister. What they were doing is trying to make sure the boys didn’t hold the girls too tight. In this particular song, there was a young man with a crush on this pretty girl, and whenever her mother would walk away, he’d say, “Let’s dance, Colinda,” and dance close while your mother’s not here, “to make the old women mad.” Even though her mother wouldn’t be there, all the other mothers were watching.
RM: What can people expect to hear at the folk festival from your band?
Daigrepont: I never use a set list, so sometimes people will come talk to me and ask me if I’ll play “Marksville Two-Step” today, and I say, “I don’t know. Do you want me to play it?” Maybe a minute or two before getting on stage, I’ll think of the first two or three songs I’m playing, and from there, I totally ad lib. It’s kind of like the quarterback calling his own plays. You look at the audience and how they’re reacting. I’ve been doing that for 30-something years. It helps that I’ve had the same band members for many years. We don’t even have to look at each other. I don’t count anything off. I’m not a trained musician. I don’t know how to read music. I just play by instinct and by feel.
RM: You’ve been to Richmond before, although it’s been a long time. Do you have any fond memories?
Daigrepont: My number one memory is playing at Jumpin’ in July at the (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). I want to say it was in 1988. It was in a courtyard, and it was packed. We started playing, and people started dancing. And then it started raining really hard. Pouring down rain. We were able to keep playing. The equipment wasn’t getting wet. The people stayed. They kept dancing in the rain. We didn’t lose the crowd or anything. It was really a great night. Maybe somebody who comes to see me will remember that night 27 years ago.
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