Celebrated author and noted daiquiri connoisseur Ernest Hemingway might have looked back once or twice during his lifetime, but so far Lafayette’s traditional-minded Cajun hipsters the Daiquiri Queens have not. Since their unexpected inception at the 2017 Blackpot Festival, the Daiquiri Queens, this year alone, have played such prestigious gigs as Festival International, French Quarter Fest, and Jazz Fest, stuff most bands don’t usually play with less than two years under their belt. Last October the sextet, comprised of four women and two men, made its Festivals Acadiens et Créoles debut and is slated to appear there again this fall.
The Daiquiri Queens’ Jamie Lynn Fontenot is still somewhat surprised at her band’s meteoric ascendency in the Cajun fiefdom. “It’s weird,” she says, with a laugh, about the group she co-fronts with vocalist/guitarist Miriam McCracken.
In all reality, the Daiquiri Queens was only supposed to be a one-off band, playing a lone gig and then slipping off into oblivion. A couple of years ago in 2017, Fontenot’s friend Rennie Elliot of the Blackpot Festival asked her to put a band together to play the festival. “Yeah, I can do that,” Fontenot recalls saying before she proceeded to gather up her Lafayette-New Orleans jamming buddies McCracken, John Dowden (accordion/fiddle), Tysman Charpentier (fiddle) and Sabra Guzmán (bass).
Since Fontenot and McCracken were into joke band names—the two once had an all-girl trio called The Brunettes (where they bleached their hair blonde) and an eight-piece all women’s aggregation called Vagabonds that busked in the streets of New Orleans—another joke name seemed appropriate for the occasion. “Basically, I was just driving by our favorite daiquiri shop,” recalls Fontenot. “We had thrown around the names involving ‘queens’ and how hilarious that would be since John and Tysman are in it. And so I’m like let’s be the Daiquiri Queens! We told them and they were like oh yeah, duh, let’s do that. We didn’t ever think we were ever going to play again.”
“Now that I think about it, I’m like yeah, maybe we should have thought that out a little better,” Fontenot continues. “But whatever, I love it.”
The music jamming buddies rehearsed a few times and assembled a set list. But when they played the Blackpot in the 18th century replica chapel on the spacious grounds of Vermillionville, the room was jam-packed with friends and otherwise curious festival revelers. “It was so much fun and it was a really good band,” Fontenot recalls. “We were like oh my God, we have got to do this again. So, we just kept playing.”
Though the Daiquiri Queens are anchored by the rock-solid traditional playing of Dowden and Charpentier, their strength is really in the gale-force, breath-capturing vocals sung by Fontenot and McCracken. l-centric Cajun bands is they sing together in unison, “actually singing the same thing at the same time,” as Fontenot describes. “No one does it and that’s become our sound. We’re really loving that right now.”
Partners-in-crime Fontenot and McCracken first met at a Pine Leaf Boys gig at d.b.a. in New Orleans in 2006. While they were dancing together, they instantly became buddies and Fontenot followed up with an invitation to come to a jam at her house, hence establishing the beginning of a long, deep friendship.
Both had taken intriguing but circuitous routes to get there that night. Though Fontenot was born in Opelousas, she moved to California with her family at age five and then returned to Opelousas when she was 14. Around age 19 through her early 20s, she really started digging into Cajun music, listening to CDs with her French-speaking grandmother who taught her the words and stories of the songs, as they listened and danced together.
McCracken hails from Port Townsend, Washington, coincidentally the home of Centrum Fiddle Tunes, a weeklong music camp that includes Cajun-Creole music among its copious offerings. Her father Peter McCracken is one of the organizers and over the years, Miriam has met many of the visiting Cajun-Creole instructors and gained an appreciation for the culture.
Currently, the Daiquiri Queens members are recording their long-awaited debut helmed by producer Chris Stafford at Staffland Studios. Fontenot estimates that it’s 70 percent complete, with some vocal work left to be done, and expects it will be ready by time the Daiquiri Queens play the Oldtone Roots Music Festival in North Hillsdale, New York September 5-8, 2019.
But since the Daiquiri Queens intentionally do not maintain an active summer schedule, do catch the group at the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival on Saturday, June 22 at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Park. “In the summer we go MIA, learn some songs, go to music festivals and chill,” says Fontenot. But other than Dowden, who plays music six times a week, Fontenot says the rest of them aren’t trying to play music full-time. “We all have our own little jobs that make it hard to play music professionally full-time. So when most musicians around here go on tour, we like to take a break.”
Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco Festival, Saturday, June 22 at 11 a.m.