Lost Bayou Ramblers member and Bayou Teche Brewing staffer Louis Michot looks out into the crowd gathered for his side project, Soul Creole, at Lafayette’s Festival International. “Hey, can someone get us some beer?” he calls. “Preferably some Bayoust from Bayou Teche Brewing.” Luckily the owner of the brewery, Karlos Knott, is in the crowd and able to supply a few bottles to the thirsty band. Properly satiated, the band kicks up another rowdy fiddle-and-accordion song as the pairs of dancers get back to two-stepping.
For Michot, local beer and local music have been intertwined for years. His career in the beer business began when Bayou Teche Brewing sponsored the recording of the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ 2012 album, Mammoth Waltz. He’d crossed paths with the Knotts and Bayou Teche Brewing once before, when he was asked to play a local Oktoberfest celebration that the brewery provided beer for. When the producer of Mammoth Waltz suggested that Michot ask his new friend to sponsor the album, he went to Karlos Knott with a proposal.
“So we just got to talking, Louis and I,” Knott recalls, “and he goes, ‘We’d like you to be a beer sponsor for the CD.’ And I said, ‘Well, what does that entail?’ And he said, ‘We just want free beer.’ We had just done our first-ever batch of Boucanee so we brought that and a few other beers. So that’s how we started our friendship.”
“Mammoth Waltz was made on Boucanee,” Michot says, recalling the band’s love of the cherry wood-smoked beer during the recording sessions. “I’d stop by and bring Karlos mixes of Mammoth Waltz, and we started talking about doing this compilation of rock ’n’ roll songs in French.”
Knott adds, “We thought it would be fun doing classic rock songs in Cajun French. That way people who don’t necessarily like Cajun music or listen to Cajun music might be enticed to learn some French so that they can hear these songs.”
Michot served as producer for both En Français compilation albums, which served up songs like “Hey Joe” and “My Generation,” reworked by Acadiana musicians and sung in Cajun French. “We really tapped into as many bands from this region as possible,” Knott says. “It was a great process and we had beer at every session, needless to say. Music is a great extension of what this brewery is all about. Bringing the richness of the inherent culture around here into fruition, and how do you do that besides just trying to teach someone French? You get creative with it, and you produce new things that use the language, and use the customs, and use the sounds, and everything that’s a part of it.”
After the release of the second En Français album, Michot realized that he wanted to work with the Knotts at the brewery. “This whole time I’m thinking, ‘They’re opening this brewery in Arnaudville, and I’d love to go and work there when I’m not playing music.’ So I kind of just kept on Karlos about it. I was thinking I’d work in the brewery, you know, brew some beer, bottle some beer, that kind of thing.”
The Knotts had other plans for Michot, however; they realized that his contacts and musical network would be an invaluable resource for getting the word out about their beer. “A musician brings a whole other level of contacts to your mix,” Knott says. “And also, just that whole musician scene, he’ll talk to other musicians, and then they’ll talk to bar owners. It’s a whole other network. And in Louisiana, that’s important. There’s more live music in South Louisiana than there is anywhere else in the country.”
Michot recalls, “They sent me to meet with Matt [McKiernan, of Southern Eagle Distributors] in New Orleans. I put my brewer shirt on, picked up a bunch of samples from Southern Eagle, and walked the streets—all over New Orleans. I had worked in New Orleans for many years, and had lived there at one point, so I knew a lot of people and how things work. It was really interesting, just learning the beer business.”
Michot and Bayou Teche Brewing also held a common interest in preserving and expanding Cajun history and culture, which was important to both. “We consider ourselves a cultural brewery where we try to promote the music, the language and the whole culture,” Knott says. Having Michot on staff allows him to more directly celebrate the musical aspect of the Cajun lifestyle. “Louis represents that whole music part of it, and the language. He’s fluent, more fluent than anyone else here. So he kind of completes our mission, which was always to focus on the food, the music and the beer.”
Michot echoes the similarity of Bayou Teche’s mission to the one he works to accomplish with his music. “I don’t think I would have ended up working for just any brewery,” he says. “I’m here because the brewery has almost the same mission as the Lost Bayou Ramblers, just in a different medium. We’re really appreciating, and honoring, the beauty of the language, and that’s a huge part of Bayou Teche. Also, they really appreciate what I do on a musical level. It’s a contribution to the culture and to the art. We’re trying to do the same thing, and the brewery has always allowed me to still be a full-time musician. If I ever turn down a gig for a beer event, they’ll fire me,” Michot says, laughing.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers formed in 1999, after Michot returned from a three-month trek throughout Canada. “I went to Nova Scotia to learn French, like hundreds of the youth of Acadiana have done. I hitchhiked around Canada for three months with my fiddle. That was when I really learned how to play and I pulled out all the old Cajun songs that I’d been learning by playing bass [with his father’s family band, Les Frères Michot] all these years. I learned the French, and I learned how to pull out the melodies of these songs on the fiddle. My fiddle got me everything I needed—it got me shelter, food and travel.”
When he returned to Louisiana, his brother Andre had learned to play the accordion, and the two started writing songs. The two eventually joined up with Cavan Carrouth on guitar and vocals, New Orleans’ Eric Heigle on drums and others to create the Lost Bayou Ramblers, with Andre on accordion and lap steel and Louis on fiddle and vocals. “We were just going to put a gig together with some friends, [under] the name Lost Bayou Ramblers. So that was the start of that, and that’s what I’ve been doing full time since then, for the last 15 years. Not even by choice—it chose us,” Michot explains. “I never intended to be a professional musician. We just kept getting calls. Next thing you know, we’re touring New York. We’ve played Brooklyn and Manhattan more than any other place outside of Louisiana.”
When Bayou Teche released their beer in New York last year, Michot was able to support the promotional effort easily by calling upon the contacts he had. “We worked during the day within the beer market and during the night with the music. We’d bring a bunch of boudin up there and I’d bring my fiddle, and me and Derek [Domingue, Bayou Teche’s sales manager] would throw parties everywhere. It was so fun. It was definitely—and I hate to use the word—super authentic. How often do you get two New Orleans and Lafayette boys with a fiddle and boudin throwing parties all over New York? And all based around the beer.”
The Lost Bayou Ramblers recently played as part of the New York outdoor concert series “Celebrate Brooklyn,” which Michot says had been a dream of his for years. Other recent high-profile gigs were opening for Arcade Fire in Austin and Houston in April, and playing the Rock On Foundation’s Alt-Star Party during New Orleans’ hosting of the NBA All-Star Game in February.
Michot describes the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ music as fusing the best of the traditional Cajun music with the best that the modern world has to offer. Michot’s love of ’80s and ’90s rock and alternative music exposed him to a variety of sound that became an important influence on the band’s style of Cajun music. The band’s style, Michot says, is “a new direction for Cajun music, but also honoring and using the beauty of what is the Cajun French language. The rhythms and the cadence and the blues, everything that Cajun music is. It has its place in our culture, because it’s not only where we’re from, but also who we are.”
Reflecting on the growth of the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Michot says, “What we do with Cajun music has been more and more appreciated. The places we’ve taken the music have really been inspiring, and every show has been better and better. For us to be getting to this point after 15 years is very encouraging, because we weren’t the one-hit wonder, the hot new Cajun boy band.”
“New Orleans has definitely been the most encouraging place for the Lost Bayou Ramblers to play. New Orleans is a place where things grow and change, and if you’re making something real, the city is there to support it. For the Lost Bayou Ramblers, having New Orleans as our cultural base is something that has really helped us out in our whole career. Because the world comes to you in New Orleans, and you’re home.”
Michot’s side project, Soul Creole, began as part of promoting the release of Bayou Teche’s biere de garde, Acadie. “Acadie is a very musical beer,” he explains. “It’s inspiring to drink while you’re playing music. It’s the perfect beer to drink on stage, and it’s my favorite beer that we brew. So naturally, I wanted to promote it.”
His great respect for zydeco musician Corey Ledet led him to collaborate with him to create a new band to promote Bayou Teche Brewing. “There’s no band that has the combination that we do. It’s pure zydeco, pure Cajun and pure Creole. It’s indicative of Louisiana because we’re all Creole in different ways in the band. French Creole, Spanish Creole, African Creole. It’s all Louisiana Creole, in different shades and different mixes. So that’s why we decided to call the band Soul Creole.”
While zydeco uses accordion and washboard along with backing bass, drums and guitar, Cajun music features accordion, fiddle and triangle. “And Creole’s complex,” Michot says. “It’s the result of the cultures in South Louisiana being together for so long. Another thing about Creole music—that’s what you call it when it’s not Cajun, not zydeco—Creole is kind of in-between, like, zydeco with a fiddle. That’s what we are—we’re zydeco with a fiddle and a triangle.”
Michot rattles off some of the important touchstones of his career: working for Bayou Teche Brewing, producing the En Français albums, releasing Mammoth Waltz, and working on the Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack. It’s all a result of tireless dedication to tradition, creativity and hard work. “It’s like we finally figured out a way to express what it means to be from South Louisiana to a larger and more open-minded audience,” he says.
Both the Lost Bayou Ramblers and Bayou Teche Brewing are dedicated to creating new styles that are unique to South Louisiana, but can be appreciated anywhere. “It’s not about just making another beer, or another album,” Michot explains. “It’s about creating something artistically pleasing to the ears and the palate. It’s about caring about what you put out, and not just because it fits into a category.”