Kelli Jones-Savoy, who comes to town Friday night with red-hot Cajun band Feufollet, is something of a Southern renaissance woman. Originally from the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, where her father plays traditional Appalachian music, she came to Louisiana to study dance and choreography at University of South Louisiana. But by the time she graduated, she’d fallen in with like-minded musicians in the bustling Lafayette roots scene and has, at least so far, had to put her career as a choreographer on hold.
“I had always loved Cajun music and I’d been to Louisiana with my dad when he’d play festivals,” Jones-Savoy explains. “USL was the only school in the state offering a dance degree, so that was the big factor in moving here.”
In Lafayette, she found a bustling roots-music scene, with the young people of her generation trying to maintain the Cajun musical traditions but also extend them.
“I just found music and musicians everywhere,” she laughs. “Pretty soon I was playing with all sorts of different people, some just for fun, some professionally.”
Three years ago she married into Cajun music royalty: Joel Savoy, son of Marc and Ann Savoy. Marc is a musician and accordion-builder; while Mrs. Savoy is a musician as well as a noted author and producer who wrote Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People and produced the Grammy-nominated Evangeline Made: A Tribute to Cajun Music, which featured John Fogerty, Nick Lowe and Linda Ronstadt. Husband Joel works in the Savoy Family Band, Red Stick Ramblers, and other Cajun roots projects.
Jones-Savoy’s music career took a huge leap when she was invited to join Feufollet (a literal translation of "crazy fire," a term used to describe the eerie will-o’the-wisp light that comes off the swamp at night). The band was nominated for a Grammy in 2010 for En Couleurs, which Elvis Costello praised from on high, but not long after singer Anna Laura Edmiston decided to leave the group to pursue an opportunity with Cavilia: Odysseo, a circus offshoot of Cirque de Soleil.
“We all knew each other from the local scene and we just clicked,” says Jones-Savoy. "It just seemed like a great opportunity artistically."
The band recently dropped its first album in five years, Two Universes, which critics have praised for its freewheeling range as it covers all the bases: Cajun, old-time, honky-tonk and rock and roll. Jones-Savoy wrote the album with accordionist Chris Stafford, and she and Stafford do most of the singing on the album.
“Two Universes has several meanings,” she explains. “It’s partly about the tension between paying homage to the tradition but also not letting that make the music stale. It’s also about Cajun culture colliding with other cultures today, what that means and what that brings into the music and the culture.”
The band has been very busy since the album dropped. Jones-Savoy describes the past year as the busiest she’s ever been.
“With the record out, we did a bunch of festivals and we did a month in the van just playing all over,” she explains. “And I have another project, a little trio with Joel's brother Wilson, that has been playing in the area, so I’ve been very busy. And it doesn’t look like we’re planning to slow down much.”
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Feufollet burst into the public eye in 1999 when the Stafford brothers — Mike Stafford is the band’s drummer — were still in high school. The 1999 debut album, La Bande Feufollet, sent shock waves through the Cajun-music world, where the young band quickly became festival favorites. They’ve since dropped five more records and currently record for Joel Savoy’s Valcour label, and have a distribution/management deal with the Nashville-based Thirty Tigers combine.
Jones-Savoy explained that she played a private party in Houston a couple weeks back and got to explore the city a bit.
“We probably should be playing Houston more often than we do,” she surmises. “There’s so much zydeco history there and so many people who‘ve migrated there for work. It seems like there should be a good audience for what we do.”
Feufollet performs 9 p.m. Friday, June 5 at the Continental Club.