It’s hard to fathom at this point, but what was once a group of child prodigy Cajun musicians celebrates its 20th anniversary in October with two special shows: Festivals Acadiens et Créoles on Sunday, October 13, Girard Park, Lafayette and Friday, October 18 at d.b.a. in New Orleans. Both shows will present a chronological retrospective of the band starting with founding members Chris Stafford and Chris Segura, followed by various alumni like Anna Laura Edmiston, Ashley Hayes, Taylor Guarisco, Josh Caffery and others. The current configuration includes Chris Stafford (vocals, accordion, guitars); Kelli Jones (vocals, fiddle, acoustic guitar); Andrew Toups (keyboards); Jim Kolachek (drums); and Philippe Billeaudeaux (bass).
Stafford, who was only 11-years-old when the group first formed, is the only remaining original member. Segura left in 2015 after the release of Two Universes but is still close with his former bandmates. Both shows will feature special guests.
As part of this landmark celebration, the group will release a 20-track commemorative CD on Feufollet Records entitled Prends Courage, christened after the raucous rock ’n’ roll track that opened 2008’s Cow Island Hop. The compilation features 17 tracks culled from Feufollet’s adventuresome seven albums and one 45-single; for the most part, it’s sequenced chronologically to show the band’s progression. The new tunes, says bassist and band manager Philippe Billeaudeaux, represent the three identities of the band. “Dans le magasin,” a Johnny Sonnier classic, is Feufollet’s nod to traditional dancehall Cajun. Kelli Jones’ “Going Fast” is transformed from a folksy pop tune into Keith Frank-styled zydeco. “Regard ensoleillé” is an unearthed trippy tune that was shelved when its writer, vocalist Anna Laura Edmiston left the band in 2012 to join—literally—the circus.
“Right after En Couleurs (2010), we were in talks with a record label and they wanted to hear some new material,” says Billeaudeaux. “So we rushed into the studio at Chris’ place, Staffland Studios, and recorded the [new] songs. One in particular by Anna Laura, [“Regard ensoleillé”] is so far out, it sounds like Radiohead. In no way is it Cajun at all. I think the record label wanted more of a Cajun thing. No wonder we didn’t get close to that folk festival that year.”
But in a sense, Prends Courage (meaning “take courage”) fits Feufollet to a “t.” At the outset, the group, a product of the Lafayette school district French Immersion program, demonstrated that it played authentic Cajun music like a group of grizzled veterans. That’s especially evident on its auspicious debut Le Bande Feufollet. But as time went on, Feufollet demonstrated that the band wasn’t afraid to tackle new things and venture into new directions. Even as early as its sophomore effort Belle Louisiane, the band did French and English versions of Los Lobos’ “Evangeline,” and dug a song out of the ULL archives, “Les clefs de la prison” with the help of producer Steve Riley.
From there, Feufollet continued the blueprint of juxtaposing trad—sometimes by reinterpreting obscurer tunes from the archives—with sparkling innovation. In December 2010, the band received a Grammy nomination for its album En Couleurs.
“Actually I hadn’t listened to it in a while and we were playing at Artmosphere the other day and were listening to it when we set up,” Stafford says. “Damn, this is really weird. It has some crazy stuff on it. It’s funny; I don’t know how much I would make a record like that now. I was really going for it back then.”
Two Universes, released in 2015, was an even bolder step, with only four songs sung in French and the rest in English. Ten of the 11 songs were written by the band with the prolific Jones writing six of the songs: the lion’s share. “When I listened to Two Universes, I just thought the overall creative direction they were taking was the perfect evolution,” says Edmiston. “It sounded like an effortless transition.”
But gazing at the big sky picture, it still all seems natural to Stafford. “Most of us grew up in Lafayette and so much has happened in Lafayette. It’s not necessarily the most straightforward Cajun music here,” Stafford explains. “A lot of people here have done that kind of stuff before us, bands like [Steve Riley and] The Mamou Playboys, BeauSoleil and Filé. It’s the stuff we grew up listening to, people blending styles and influences into Cajun music. We grew up thinking ‘oh, that’s what people do when they make Cajun records’.”
Yet, even after 20 years, Stafford says Feufollet continues to evolve as an artistic, creative force. “I think that is a constant thing with us,” he says. “We are always reinventing what it is and what we do. We’ve had people come and go and every time someone comes in, they bring in a new perspective and ideas.”
“Thinking back on these 10 years of my life, to say they were formative is an understatement,” says Edmiston. “They are just such a huge part of who I am today, as an adult, as a professional, as a musician and as an artist. I’m just trying not to cry. I owe a lot to the guys.”