Texas artists have a special rapport with European audiences. Anything rootsy is huge over there.
One such act is Bayou Roux, the contemporary-Cajun Houston ensemble that is set to close the Country Rondez-Vous Festival in Craponne, France this weekend (or Festival du musique Country Rondez-Vous). Close, as in headline -- Bayou Roux is the final act of the three-day event, and is scheduled to go on about 8:45 p.m. France time Sunday evening.
"They have some bluegrass, some French country, some Nashville acts," says Bayou Roux bassist Ted Lee.
And lots of Texas. Bayou Roux will be part of a big Lone Star delegation; also making the trip to Craponne are Two Tons of Steel, Houston's Amber Digby & Midnight Flyer, Whiskey Myers, Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis and the Oklahoma-based Turnpike Troubadors (close enough).
It will be Bayou Roux's first time at the festival, a trip four years in the making.
Four years ago, Lee's bandmate Ken Reynolds and Allen Huff, a former member who is now Roger Creager's accordionist, handed a Bayou Roux CD to someone at the Country Rondez-Vous media booth. The guy told him Bayou Roux should be on the radio.
Lee began corresponding with the festival's owner, George Carrier, and eventually arranged to play the 2012 festival. He even says their fee will cover the considerable travel costs to France in the middle of summer.
Country Rondez-Vous is located in the Rhone Valley, an area of south-central France known for its fine cuisine and winemaking (shocker). Lyon is the closest major city, but Lee says Craponne is an "ancient little town."
Today Bayou Roux is on the radio. Their most recent CD, 2009's Heyday, has been getting airplay over there, Lee says.
"They said not to be surprised if they sing along, because they've been playing us since about February over there," he adds.
Europeans have slightly different nomenclature for what we call Cajun music or zydeco, notes Lee.
"Actually they call it blues over there," he says. "'Blues' is kind of a catch-all of what we would call over here Americana or roots music. They lump a lot of it into blues."
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"It's a pretty big deal," Lee says. "I laugh about it -- it's one of those big 'MTV' stages with signs and video. I think they expect almost 10,000 people a day. Depending on the weather, it could be significantly more than that."
If you want to catch Bayou Roux a little closer to Houston, Lee says the group plays a lot of corporate events and casinos as far away as northern Michigan. Still closer than France, we guess.
Non-ExxonMobil employees might have better luck at something with "festival" in the title, and should expect to hear plenty of rock and pop mixed in with the accordion and triangle in Bayou Roux's "gumbo."
"We play the iFest, we play the Katy Rice Festival, Spring Crawfish Festival, Conroe, Tomball...," Lee rattles off.
Although they're based in Houston now, Bayou Roux is originally from Lafayette and, perhaps owing to their position as honorary Louisiana ambassadors to Country Rondez-Vous, Lee says Bayou Roux is planning a Mardi Gras surprise for the French crowd.
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"I have a strolling minstrel Mardi Gras parade," he says. "We put on vests and masks and silly hats, and we play Mardi Gras music in the middle of our show. We throw beads to the audience.
"That's actually how we got the casino gig, he adds, "strolling on the floor of the casino while people were gambling and throwing Mardi Gras beads."