Was that a real audience or a still life that Beausoleil encountered at the University of Maryland Saturday night? No doubt that question occurred to the great Cajun band's fiddler Michael Doucet, who was struck by the "sedate" response. "It's Saturday night, y'all," said Doucet, hoping to pry at least a few folks from their seats.
Fat chance. Nearly everyone in the dance-unfriendly Tawes Theatre stayed put, seemingly impervious to the sextet's rhythmically infectious thrust. As a result, the music never generated the sweeping, crowd-fed momentum Beausoleil has produced during previous visits to the area. Cajun music, after all, feeds off audience response. Yet the concert did shed considerable light on the evening's principal theme, as both Beausoleil and the opening act, the Quebec-based quartet Ad Vielle Que Pourra, explored the musical traditions of French-speaking Acadians.
Beausoleil addressed the subject from both historical and contemporary perspectives, contrasting seminal Cajun, Creole and zydeco tunes and narrative ballads (notably the haunting "Recherche D'Acadie") with modern examples of southwest Louisiana music tinged with elements of R&B, pop, country, funk and jazz. No matter where the musical compass pointed, Doucet's fiddling was powerfully felt. His impassioned tone soared over syncopated rhythms on several tunes, underscored the melancholy lyricism produced by button accordionist Jimmy Breaux on others, and added a vibrant edge to the two-step dance tunes that often filled the air.
Ad Vielle Que Pourra's set was refined and fanciful. The quartet's colorful orchestrations--which make use of a crank-operated hurdy-gurdy, among other things--helped bring a timeless charm to an evocative, tradition-rooted collection of original tunes.