Some of the best things in life happen around a campfire. The formation of Bonsoir, Catin is evidence of this; ever since one special fireside jam session was held in 2005, the group has been pumping out powerful Cajun music on stages far and wide. The group will serve as official guest artists of the 40th annual Alaska Folk Festival.
The Louisiana-based group features Anya Burgess on fiddle, Kristi Guillory on accordion, Christine Balfa on guitar, Maegan Berard on electric guitar, Yvette Landry on bass and Danny Devillier on drums. Their mix of traditional Cajun tunes and original contemporary interpretations of the style have earned the group much attention in Louisiana and beyond.
Prior to joining forces, each of Bonsoir, Catin’s musicians had already established themselves individually in the music scene.
Burgess, who also performs with the Magnolia Sisters, has been nominated for a Grammy award. In addition to fiddling, she also works as a luthier in her violin shop in Arnaudville, La. She also performs with Guillory in a side project in which the two focus on what they call “old and crooked” Cajun tunes from the 1920s, as found on some of the earliest recordings in history.
Guillory made her mark as an accordionist as a young girl, deemed a child prodigy on her instrument. She continues to play, compose and teach as a faculty member at the University of Louisiana.
Balfa began her career with the guitar in the midst of a highly musical family. She is one of the founders of the Louisiana Folk Roots organization, which hosts an annual Balfa Week festival in honor of her late father, Dewey.
In addition to carrying the bass line of Bonsoir, Catin, Landry can also be seen as front woman of The Yvette Landry Band. She has spent much of her life in education and has published a children’s book, “The Ghost Tree,” which is based on her childhood experiences exploring the Louisiana swamps.
Bringing some electricity to the group is Berard on electric lead guitar. She came from a musical family as daughter of Grammy-nominated Al Berard, and she also plays with the group Sweet Cecilia.
Aside from their skill and musicianship, the group prides itself on the fact that its membership is mostly female, with the exception of Devillier. The percussionist has been the backbone of many Louisiana groups over the years. His jazz and rock roots shine through, bringing an exciting twist to the traditional Cajun sound.
Bonsoir, Catin will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday and 9 p.m. Sunday on the main stage at Centennial Hall and from 9:20 to 10:10 p.m. Friday in the dance hall at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Balfa will teach a Cajun singing workshop at noon on Saturday in the Hammond Room, and the whole band will convene at 3 p.m. to lead Cajun jams in the Hickel and Egan rooms. On Sunday, the band will host a Louisiana songwriting workshop at noon in the Hammond Room, and Burgess will teach an old-time fiddle workshop at 3 p.m., also in the Hammond Room.
The Gallus Brothers
The Bellingham-based Gallus Brothers will be the 2014 AFF guest dance band. Self-described as “raw, goofy and fun,” the group consists of guitarist Devin Champlin and percussionist Lucas Hicks. The pair has collaborated regularly since 2005, performing gigs in their hometown and touring across North America. They have released three recordings, including the full-length albums “Suitcase Rag” and “Get The Heebie Jeebies” and the three-track “Hello Neighbor.” A fourth album is currently in process.
The Brothers perform a broad range of traditional tunes and a handful of originals based in the ragtime and country blues genres. They emphasize danceable music in their set lists, and they strive to get their live audiences up and moving.
Champlin and Hicks occasionally break into some dance moves themselves while on stage. It’s not uncommon for one to stand on top of the other, to bust out a juggling act or to trade instruments mid-tune.
The antics accentuate a strong, established style that could easily stand alone without the need for theatrical embellishment. These two musicians successfully create a sound that is stripped down and simple, making the most of each element. Still, each tune is garnished with a balanced amount of fanciness. Champlin achieves a driving rhythm alongside intricate finger-style guitar licks, while Hicks creates a full percussive sound with his bag of tricks, which reportedly includes props such as spoons and bones. The multi-instrumentalists will also occasionally bring out a mandolin, banjo or kazoo during performances. Their vocal stylings also bring the music to a beautiful place. It’s clear that these musicians like having fun and aim to pass that fun on to their audiences.
The Gallus Brothers will perform at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall and from 10:30 to 11:20 p.m. Friday at the JACC. Champlin will teach a fingerpicking guitar workshop at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Hickel Room, and Hicks will concurrently teach a three-finger banjo workshop in the Egan Room. On Sunday, Hicks will teach a washboard workshop at 1:30 p.m. in the Hammond Room, and Champlin will teach a mandolin workshop at 3 p.m. in the Hickel Room.
• Libby Stringer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.