Barry Ancelet has heard more Cajun musicians than he can remember. A retired professor of French and folklore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Ancelet hosted “Rendez-Vous des Cajuns,” a bayou-style, Grand Ole Opry broadcast, for more than two decades.
But when Jourdan Thibodeaux came over his car radio last year, Ancelet had to park and call the DJ. Weeks later, Ancelet witnessed Thibodeaux have the same effect at a Lafayette night club filled with locals and visitors attending a music conference.
“The Lafayette crowds can be rowdy and talkative, especially in what looks like a bar,” said Ancelet. “He started singing a song and everybody heard him.
“You could have heard a pin drop in there. He got everybody’s attention immediately. When he got off stage, I told him, ‘Jourdan, that was something. You quieted everybody down.’ He said, ‘When a pig farmer starts singing, which is one of the lyrics, people have a tendency to shut up.’”
Crowds near and far are shutting up to listen to this French-speaking, fiddle-playing, 32-going-on-72 pig farmer and his debut CD, Boue, Boucane, et Bouteilles (or “Mud, Smoke and Bottles”). Released on Valcour Records, the 12-song, all-original and all-French album swings with Thibodeaux’s downhome stories backed by a stellar band, Les Rôdailleurs, filled with Grammy nominees, like Cedric Watson and Joel Savoy.
The disc grooves out of the gate with “Belle Menteuse,” an encounter with a “beautiful liar”—and her husband—at a dancehall. “Blues Reconnaisant,” the tune that made Ancelet park his car on the busiest street in Lafayette, pulls from juré, the call-and-response hollers at the foundation of zydeco.
Savoy’s guitar solos soothe a lonesome ballad, “Si Je Reviens Pas” (If I Don’t Come Back). “Cher Créole” is bathed in the influences of Creole fiddling great Canray Fontenot.
“Homme Brisé” tells the story of a “broken man,” too late for forgiveness for his wicked ways.
“Most of the songs are just honest,” said Thibodeaux. “It’s like putting your diary out there in front of everybody. That’s how I feel today and that’s what we’re singing about today.
“I spend a lot of time working, riding in the field or working on a tractor. I don’t play the radio when I’m driving. I set in the quiet. After a while, you get to tapping, you get to singing. Before you know it, you end up with a song.”
Those songs have helped Thibodeaux land impressive gigs, from Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, the annual Cajun and zydeco music Woodstock in Lafayette, to the Square Roots Fest in Chicago and Grou Tyme 2017 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I love that the people love it,” said Thibodeaux. “It does something to you that I can’t explain. It makes you feel good to see people feeling good and to know you’re making them feel good. That I like.
“But at the same time, at the end of the day, I do that for me. I just enjoy it. I’m not trying to be famous or rich. I’m enjoying myself and doing my thing.”
The response is remarkable for music that Thibodeaux thought would only be a family keepsake. Diagnosed with throat cancer at the age of 21, Thibodeaux said doctors planned to remove his larynx. Thibodeaux wanted his voice recorded before it totally disappeared.
“I kept singing at the house, but I said, at the minimum, I would record something and give it to my kids,” said Thibodeaux, who lives in Cypress Island, Louisiana. “If ever something would happen and I can’t talk, or if I’m dead, they would at least have something to say, ‘That was Daddy.’”
Now cancer-free with his voice intact, Thibodeaux cherishes his newfound celebrity. But his folksy personality and work ethic remain untouched. When he’s not playing music, Thibodeaux raises hogs and chickens on his 42-acre farm. He’s an owner and partner in businesses that make the Cajun stuffed sausage known as boudin and other south Louisiana delicacies. The music, farming and food businesses put Thibodeaux closer to his dream—his own herd of cows.
“Since I turned 11, I wanted some cows. That’s what I wanted for Christmas. We didn’t have money for that and we didn’t have no place.
“I said, ‘Mama, we could put a little cow in the yard and I can cut some hay. I’m going to build me a herd.’ But Mama said, ‘When you grown, get your own damn land, go buy your own damn cow.’ That’s been the goal ever since.
“That’s 21 years ago. Every day of work has been working towards that. I’m going to get me some dirt. I’m going to put me some fence. I’m going to put me some cows.”