Michael Doucet looked out into the crowd of spectators seated in lawn chairs at the Sandpoint Festival.
The fiddler and bandleader for Louisiana’s BeauSoleil seemed slightly disappointed at the sight.
“Where we come from, if we had a festival like this, there would be no seats,” he said right before his spicy Cajun sextet hopped into another happy, traditional Cajun tune.
This time it was Dennis McGee’s “One-Step a’ Choupique,” (pronounced shoe-pick, from a Choctaw Indian word for “mudfish.”
The hot-as-a-pot-of-gumbo weather cooled at dusk Saturday, and BeauSoleil was near the close of its 90-minute, double-encore set, as more seats were vacated with concertgoers heading for the dance-lawns on either side of the stage.
Cajun culture was in full flair with BeauSoleil warming up the crowd for the “Queen of the Bayou Piano” Marcia Ball at “Super Swampy Saturday.”
At first reluctant to dance, the near-capacity crowd at Memorial Field was partying like it was a Saturday night fish-fry under the stars as the sounds of BeauSoleil’s intoxicating, classic Cajun filled the air, leading up to the rollicking bayou-boogie blues of co-headliner Ball.
While most of the songs had irresistibly zealous bounce, there were a quite a few waltzes as well as a couple of downtrodden numbers that delved deeper into Cajun culture, especially the British deportation of Acadians that led them to Louisiana in the 1750s.
BeauSoleil’s performance was sprinkled with humor and short history lessons, and storytelling. Short talks between songs let non-Cajun speaking audience members in on the jokes.
Ultimately though, it was all about the hoppin’ music and, after 29 years together, BeauSoleil’s musicianship is at the top of its class.
Jimmy Breaux’s accordion melodies float like cotton in the wind beneath melodies led by Doucet and his brother David on guitar.
During the last couple of numbers, Doucet bowed his fiddle with such ferocity the friction nearly set fire to his strings.
Where BeauSoleil was swamped with tradition, Ball challenged the audience with genre-bending curve balls that skipped from blues to Tex-Mex boogie, to gospel, and back.
“Long, Tall” Ball took the stage with her four-piece accompanying band and jumped into a smokin’ boogie-woogie groove. Ball was standing, belting out her vocals with her signature raspy voice and vibrant stage energy.
Among Ball’s very fine group of musicians, the standout was easily Brad Andrew, a sizzling sax player who played beautifully off of Ball’s rapid-fire piano lines.
It’s too bad the sound operator didn’t have Ball’s keyboard turned on in the house speakers until she was almost finished with the solo on her opening song.
Still, the crowd of dancers didn’t seem to notice, and save for that minor mishap, Ball and the boys put on a flawless and fierce show. Every tune during her two-hour set gave the mostly standing crowd another reason to keep movin’.