Cajun Punk Musician Louis Michot on Saving the BayousRoundup
tags: climate change, environmental history, Louisiana, Cajuns, hurricanes, Floods
Andy Horowitz, a history professor at Tulane University, is the author of Katrina: A History, 1915–2015.
Louis Michot is a Grammy-award winning Cajun punk musician. When he’s not touring with Arcade Fire or the Violent Femmes, he lives outside of Arnaudville, Louisiana, on a stretch of land called Prairie Des Femmes, with his wife and three children. Michot, 42, built their home with the salvage of old Acadian cottages, held together with a traditional Cajun construction technique called bousillage: a mortar of Spanish moss and mud. The family speaks French at home, a piece of Louis’ lifework to carry Cajun culture into the future.
For the past 20 years, he has led the band Lost Bayou Ramblers with his brother Andre – Louis plays fiddle; Andre plays accordion. He also runs a label, Nouveau Electric Records, putting out music in Louisiana French that “seeks to bridge the gap between tradition and evolution by introducing new creative visions to the centuries-old instrumentation and expressive vocabularies of the region.”
Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as Lost Bayou Ramblers played their first big show after an 18-month pandemic hiatus. For the past two weeks, Louis and Andre have been organizing mutual-aid missions, filling their tour van with emergency supplies to bring to musicians and others who live in the little fishing villages along the Louisiana coast that people there refer to, collectively, as “down the bayou.” In Lafourche Parish alone, the storm left 14,000 people homeless, and across the state more than 167,000 homes remained without electricity late last week. This week, Tropical Storm Nicholas is forecast to drop as much as 10 inches of rain on those same communities. Michot’s next plan, in the works now, is to equip old houses that survived the storm with solar panels and batteries.
I talked with him recently about his mutual aid efforts, whether the culture down the bayou can change with the climate, and why some people would rather die than move away. As we spoke, via Zoom, he sipped on a glass of cherry bounce, made with cherries he harvested from the native merise trees behind his house. He was sitting in the houseboat, docked in his yard, that serves as his studio. If a flood comes, he told me, his family could float to safety.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Did Ida come to Arnaudville?
No. But I was scared. The day before the storm came, we had our first fly-out gig since Covid started. I drove myself to Houston, flew to the gig in Denver, left at 3 in the morning, and I got back home for noon. I didn’t want to leave my family alone if the hurricane hit. But luckily – for me – Ida veered east.
What was the impetus for you to start doing mutual aid?
When I got back from Denver, I was seeing all these people on Twitter like, “I’m in LaPlace, we’re on the roof, I can’t find my grandma, here’s my address.” Posting addresses on Twitter — I’m getting chills just thinking about it. I wanted to go help out.
Meanwhile, I called A. J. Rodrigue, he is a DJ who goes by Boudin Man, lives in downtown Houma. His dad started Houma Records and produced 45. [rpm] records out of their living room; he spent the category 4 storm in the same house, and he just had a quadruple bypass two months ago. He said, “I’m all right, I just need a tarp on my roof.”
Then I talked to my buddy Roland Cheramie, an accordion player in [the town of] Golden Meadow. We met Roland years ago playing in this little bar down the bayou that was half a bait store with fishing tackle on the stage. They call it “La Butte des Couquilles.” Roland’s just been a super inspirational person over the years because he speaks beautiful French and he has all these awesome stories, including stories of Hank Williams. In the song “Jambalaya,” when Hank Williams sings, “my Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh, my oh, son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou” – Yvonne was Roland’s great aunt. I called him, and he was like, “Well, a tree fell through my house, and my mama’s house is completely gone.”
Why do you think that comparatively so few people in Louisiana are getting vaccinated?
We are a very conservative state that has always put our faith into oil and gas. Oil and gas is how so many of our people went from poor Cajuns and Creoles to wealthy Americans. If we were to accept that science is correct and vaccines work, we would also have to accept that climate change is real. And we would have to move away from oil and gas. I think it’s totally connected. We can’t go all in on believing in science, because then we would have to rearrange our whole thinking.
But don’t people down the bayou know better than anybody that seas are rising and the storms are coming more often?
They also know more than anybody how oil and gas has fueled their economy.
Of course, everyone knows by now that yes, oil and gas are the ones that carved up our beautiful wetlands, and are contributing to climate change, and have polluted the air and the water, and all that. But still, it’s like, do you want to make a dollar today or — there’s no alternative. There’s no like, “Look, come work installing solar.”
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