David Doucet is looking forward to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival show he's playing Friday with Beausoleil, the Cajun band his brother Michael fronts.
But that's only where the fun starts for Doucet, one of the few Cajun musicians who has recorded as a solo guitarist.
He lives in New Orleans and has attended the Jazz & Heritage Festival for more than two decades, both as a fan and as a player. "It's just huge the scale of the thing is almost impossible to convey," he said. "It's at the infield of a racetrack at the fairgrounds, and there are so many stages, and you have about 80 or 90,000 people there. ... It's crowded, sure, but you can walk around, listen to music, eat, buy stuff, sit around flagpoles."
"They have this flagpole in the middle that's this big meeting place everybody says, 'If you're lost, meet me at the flagpole,' " Doucet added.
Doucet, an eclectic guitarist with a new release on Rounder, 1957 (RealAudio excerpt of title track) draws on his deep Cajun roots as well as inspirations ranging from Paul Simon to Hawaiian slack-key guitarists to flat-picker Doc Watson.
"I first saw Doc Watson at Jazz Fest," Doucet said. "That would have been about 1976, I think. From when I first saw him, I went out and got every Doc Watson record, and I still do when there's a new one.
"That first time I saw him, he was playing the next night at Tipitina's, not connected with the Jazz Fest, and I drove all the way back from where I was living at the time in Lafayette to see him again, a three-hour drive."
Local Clubs Attract Festival Performers
Doucet pointed out that New Orleans club owners and artists were quick to catch on to the potential that lay beyond the festival gates.
"You get a lot of acts who don't normally play town here for Jazz Fest, and so they play the clubs too. Some clubs start music at 9 p.m. and go until the next morning, so you can have the Jazz Fest experience without ever going to the fairgrounds, if you want."
Doucet will play with Beausoleil on Friday and then go back to take in more of the fest on his own.
"The day you play is the hardest to see anybody else," he said. But he enjoys playing for the audiences of "people who come from all over the world, really, to Jazz Fest, just thousands of people. And so many different kinds of music. Joe Jackson is playing this year, a D.C. blues guy I'd really like to see, and Sting will be here, too, and Snooks Eaglin" (RealAudio excerpt of Eaglin's live version of "I Went to Mardi Gras").
Doucet recalled meeting bluesman Eaglin behind the stage one year when Beausoleil was playing. "I just heard this guy making this great music back in some little side tent behind the stage, and I said, 'Who is that? I have to meet that guy.' "
Many bands will play free in-store concerts at record shops during the fest. "That's always fun," Doucet said, "kind of harking back to earlier days of free concerts on the street."
Music From The Swamps
Of his approach to the music he plays, he said, "I've always been sort of a fundamental acoustic-guitar player, hammering things out in my own style from a variety of influences. There aren't too many Cajun guitar players the primary instrument in our band is the fiddle, and then there's the accordion. Who knows where this is gonna go? The guys are real open to experimentation and we bounce ideas off each other.
"Cajun rhythms are really different," Doucet said. "They're so different it's hard to explain to someone who didn't grow up with them. Cajun music came from a culture, a society, that was cut off from the rest of America, down in the swamps, speaking a different language even, and most of it is still sung in French.
"The way I approach it is that it's always a challenge when you play. You're playing music so you should put some of yourself into it, and Beausoleil has always given me the opportunity to play what I want to, flat-pick or finger-pick guitar, and have some input as to what's going on."
Beausoleil's most recent album, Cajunization, on Rhino, touches on different aspects of Cajun culture, from the forced relocation of the Acadian people from Canada in 1775 in "Recherche d'Acadie" ("In Search of Acadia") (RealAudio excerpt) to moody reflections on life and love in "L'Amour Poissoné" ("Poison Love") (RealAudio excerpt) to celebrations of simple pleasures, as in "Happy One-Step" (RealAudio excerpt).
At Jazz Fest, when he's not onstage, look for Doucet to be "catching up with old friends, some of the craftsmen and boat builders I've known since the World's Fair days in the 1980s, checking out the food, getting caught up in parades they have these parades going through all the time, brass bands, and the Mardi Gras Indians ... and just wandering around, going from stage to stage, checking out 10 or 15 acts a day, just listening to all the great music and then moving on to the next stage for more."