Strains of music from the “Old-time Creole-Cajun Crossroad” will be heard beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, when Dirk Powell and Cedric Watson take the Crescent Elk Auditorium stage as DNACA’s second performance of the season.
Though both musicians currently hail from Louisiana, their roots are notably different.
Powell’s Appalachian heritage runs nine generations deep, and as a child he learned to play guitar from his father and banjo and fiddle from his grandfather. He studied classical piano early on, but found that the music being handed to him by family members, with love and generosity, gave him a voice that resonated more deeply with the stories and emotions he aspired to share.
He spent most of his teenage years traveling around remote parts of the southern U.S., eventually landing in Louisiana, where he learned Creole and Cajun music from his mentors Dewey Balfa and Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin. He has made his home in Louisiana since 1993 while continuing to release acclaimed recordings based on his Appalachian heritage.
Originally from San Felipe, Texas (population 868), a young Watson made his first appearance at the Zydeco Jam at The Big Easy in Houston. Two years later, he moved to south Louisiana and quickly immersed himself in French music and language. Over the next several years, Watson performed French music in 17 countries and on seven full-length albums with various groups, including the Pine Leaf Boys, Corey Ledet, Les Amis Creole and his own group, Bijou Creole.
In a new musical dialogue as a duo, they are exploring the common ground between the Creole and Cajun music traditions, with a little old-time Appalachian influence thrown in to boot. “The two really spark and inspire each other,” said Matt Greenhill, their booking agent, who toured with them last March.
Powell’s ability to unite traditional and historical forms with modern sensibilities has led to work with many of today’s greatest artists, including Sting, Jewel, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne. Anthony Minghella and T-Bone Burnett recruited Powell to play on the soundtrack of the film “Cold Mountain.”
His score for the Steve James documentary “Stevie” — which won first place at the Amsterdam Film Festival and the cinematography prize at Sundance 2003 — has received wide acclaim. Powell’s banjo playing can be heard in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” and Edward Burns’ “The Brothers McMullen,” and his fiddling in “Riverdance, The Show.”
“Dirk’s got great subtlety, tremendous feel, and he’s very loose and very modern, in the best sense of the word,” noted T-Bone Burnett. “God gave this one an overdose of talent,” said Joan Baez, in whose performances Powell often plays seven different instruments.
Watson moves with ease between fiddle and accordion, and adds strong, blues-inflected vocals. He has played with some of the great family names in the idiom, including Dexter Ardoin and the Creole Ramblers and Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys. In 2012, Watson toured with the Eric Bibb String Band. Since he has become a bandleader, three of his albums have been nominated for Grammys.
Injecting a healthy dose of his own personality and ingenuity, he is providing a unique take on traditional Creole music, penning compositions that expand the genre while still respecting its roots.
“To propel our Louisiana culture into the future seems to be quite a task,” said Michael Doucet of the renowned Cajun group BeauSoleil, “but if one lives for the music as Cedric does, the path seems effortless. These songs may well be early brushstrokes of a life’s worth of possibilities, not only for himself, but for the identity survival of a culture.”
Tickets for Dirk Powell & Cedric Watson cost $20 general, $15 for seniors 65 and older and $12 for full-time students, K-college, and are available at Del Norte Office Supply in Crescent City, Wright’s Custom Framing in Brookings, and at the door at 6:45 p.m. the night of the show.
Also at the door will be season tickets, which still provide significant discounts, make great gifts and are transferable and replaceable. For more information, contact the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness at (707) 464-1336 or visit www.dnaca.net.