Photo credit: Tommy Michot.

The Lost Bayou Ramblers release live recording of their first performance to benefit flood victims

The first time Louis and Andre Michot played together as the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the show ended up spilling out of Café Rue Vermilion and into the streets of downtown Lafayette as Louis led a boisterous crew of musicians, friends and family into bars and restaurants, courir de Mardi Gras-style, while playing the traditional Cajun Mardi Gras song, “Danse de Mardi Gras.”  

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Photo credit: Tommy Michot.

That’s the scene American music scholar (and longtime Ramblers collaborator) Ryan Andre Brasseaux describes in the liner notes for Rue Vermilion Revival, a live recording of the show released today on Bandcamp to benefit victims of the historic flooding that devastated much of Acadiana this month.  

In the spirit of that first performance, the band will also hold “a roving fundraiser” in Lafayette on Friday, Aug. 26, beginning at 6 p.m. The event is slated to start at Lagniappe Records (313 Jefferson St.) and make stops at Rêve Coffee (200 Jefferson St.) and Jefferson Street Pub (500 Jefferson St.) before wrapping up on Vermilion Street where Café Rue Vermilion once sat. Beneficiaries of the Ramblers’ fundraising efforts and album sales include Second Harvest Food Bank and the Community Foundation of Acadiana.

“I had been doing a lot of minidisc recording [at the time] and I brought it to our first show and I just set up a few mics,” Louis Michot said last week at the flood-damaged Dockside Studio, the Ramblers’ go-to recording venue.

“I gave the recording back to a friend of mine and he bounced it onto cassette tape years ago and it’s just kind of been floating around. We’ve been talking about releasing it for years and thought this was a good opportunity.”

The album features 13 songs, most of which are traditional Cajun tunes shot through with early traces of the raw energy the Ramblers have become known for. It’s rounded out by a pair of original songs, one of which Louis recalls as being the first song he and his brother ever played on fiddle and accordion — at least the first song they ever played seriously.

Asked about the photo of the pair that serves as the album cover, Louis said it was recovered from the food. He estimates it was taken in 1985 when they were about 7 and 10. “But we weren’t really playing back then,” he said, “just messing around.”

That changed after Louis spent three months hitchhiking across Canada when he was 18 or 19.  He’d become interested in traditional Cajun music like the material played by Les Freres Michot, the band his father and uncles started in the mid-‘80s, and was starting to learn the tunes on fiddle. When he returned to Louisiana, he found that Andre had also gone back to traditional Cajun music while living in Freetown.

“It was really weird because when I came back from Canada, I had just picked up the fiddle and had learned the songs and [Andre] wasn’t aware of that,” Louis recalled.

“When I was gone, he was learning accordion. Right when I got back from that trip, we sat down and showed me this song he’d written, ‘Main Street Special,’ and that was the first time we’d ever played accordion and fiddle together,” he said.

“The other original is called ‘The Autumn Waltz’ and I wrote that the summer before. The interesting thing about those two songs, we didn’t record them ‘til 2008 here at Dockside [on] Vermilionaire. So we recorded them 10 years later for the first time. Now they’re being put back out another 10 years later.”

The live version of those tunes from 1999 is significantly more stripped-down than what appears on Vermilionaire. The Ramblers’ instrumentation has shifted over the years, too: at Café Rue Vermilion, the band featured a second fiddle (Matthew Doucet), clarinet (Gary Hernandez), t-fer (Adam Cohen) and froittoir (Thad Duplechin) in addition to accordion, guitar and upright bass.

“We didn’t mean to start a band, really and it’s become our main profession,” Michot said with a snicker.

After the show at Café Rue Vermilion, he recalled a progression of gigs that began in Lafayette clubs, then expanded to local festivals and eventually into tours in New York and on the West Coast.

“It’s constantly gotten just a little bit better,” he said.

In addition to the online Bandcamp release, Rue Vermilion Revival will be available in a limited edition cassette format at Lagniappe Records in Lafayette, and Euclid Records and the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans.