Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole perform Cajun grooves for lively crowd

Peter Boyle

Though I do not know if you attended Monday night’s World Music Series Performance by Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole, I feel as though I must confess a few things. Chief among them is that, had my editor not recommended I review the performance, I may never have attended this astounding show.
Scores of people knew better and had arrived of their own volition, ranging from elderly Appleton residents to the most discriminating of Lawrence students. These concertgoers knew that they were in for a show that they would not soon forget, while I simply sat in rather disinterested anticipation.
Watson was a charismatic individual, playing his fiddle and accordion with ease as he trotted proudly and wildly across the stage. With his joyous blend of Cajun, Creole and zydeco music traditions, many audience members found it hard to sit still; after intermission, most of the front half of the Esch Studio was on their feet, and the chairs as more of an impediment than anything else.
I found it difficult to keep up the guise of a “detached critic,” and I soon found myself tapping my feet ardently in my chair, smacking my knee with my fist and tuning myself into the group’s unfamiliar groove.
A native of San Felipe, Texas, Watson sang in a fluid blend of French and English, indicative of his Cajun and Creole upbringing. Though still very young, Watson has made a name for himself in the Cajun and Creole music scene: His music has already been nominated for two Grammy awards.
Though this is an extremely noteworthy accomplishment, you wouldn’t guess this by Watson and his band’s casual, free-wheeling and ultimately friendly demeanor. He freely joked with the audience throughout the performance and threw in a number of entertaining stories of the song’s origins.
The rhythm section of Watson’s band, D’Jalma Garnier III on bass, Mike Chaisson on rubboard and auxiliary percussion and Ryan Poullard on drums, stayed locked together in a nearly hypnotizing way.
The beat would take U-turns without warning and cymbal crashes emerged in odd places, but the band stuck firmly together through it all. Lance Boston precisely followed Watson’s melody lines with his clarinet and even took the lead on one song after Watson broke a string on his fiddle.
Cajun and Creole music can sound unhinged to ears trained in rock and roll, and this is almost certainly the point. Watson’s group switched easily between up-tempo two-beat tunes that were impossible to sit down for, dirge-like waltzes and more syncopated 12/8 songs that belied the genre’s African influences.
Watson’s music was of the sort that you feel and do not really hear, and the fact that most of the audience was dancing by midway was a true indicator of the band’s prowess.
The concert ended amid pleas for “peace, love and zydeco” and the prophecy that “Creole music will rule the world someday.” Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole had an undeniable power, a Louisiana heat that was incongruent with our own tundra home.
I am reluctant to use the cliché “you had to have been there,” and yet, this Cajun ruckus can only be felt in one’s bones.