The sound started cutting out during the first song.
By the second number, which wedded Lost Bayou Ramblers’ staple sound — traditional Cajun music hammered out with primitive punk urgency — to a heavy blues rhythm and psychedelic siren effect, fiddler and bandleader Louis Michot’s vocal mic was in and out. Jonny Campos’ guitar was all but missing in action, and he phantom-strummed the instrument to dramatize its muteness.
A worn-out breaker box was the culprit of the sound problems during Lost Bayou Ramblers’ headline set at Twin City RibFest, which took place in a parking lot across the street from the MC Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem on June 11. At the end of the song the sound tech asked Michot for two minutes to swap the box out.
“We got a surprise for you,” Michot told the audience.
And with that, the band members hopped off the stage, Louis Michot heading the procession singing and playing the fiddle, followed by his brother Andre on accordion. The rest of the band fell in behind them: drummer Kirkland Middleton playing the triangle, bassist Bryan Webre tapping two drumsticks together, and Campos beating out a scratch rhythm on his unplugged electric guitar.
The audience had been hanging back, seated in folding chairs and watching the band from a distance, leaving a gulf of asphalt between themselves and the band. But as soon as the procession reached the retiring crowd, they joyously fell in. Louis Michot led them up a short flight of step into the VIP section, whose light aluminum floor provided an ideal platform for him to stomp the rhythm while Webre put metal railings and barricades to good percussive use.
By the time they made it back to the stage the sound was fixed. The band continued the song, not missing a beat as Middleton settled back in behind his kit, and Webre and Campos plugged in.
Strangely, the audience had fallen back into position near the back of the parking lot as the band returned to the stage, although they showed their appreciation with boisterous cheering at the end of each song.
Campos manifested an eerie wind-tunnel effect on his guitar and Middleton kicked in a tribal rhythm that evolved into a fusillade tempo. The Michot brothers coaxed a fulsome sound out of their instruments, creating a kind of harmonic counterpoint to Campos’ droning, Velvets-style rock and roll.
The typical punk MO is a group of friends making music despite not knowing how to play their instruments very well, compensating for lack of talent with a message and sheer energy. The energy and intensity of Lost Bayou Ramblers come at the punk ethos from exactly the opposite end of the spectrum: The Michot brothers, as founding members of the band, are steeped in the roots of Cajun roots music and accomplished musicians, having played in Les Freres Michot, the family band their father and uncles started in the 1980s. With Louis’ yelping shout-singing as a focal point of the band, Lost Bayou Ramblers’ music pares down to a primal emotional connection while at the same time adding layers of sonic armor — a heavy drumbeat and throbbing bassline, even occasional feedback from an electric guitar.
As a Cajun band refusing to be a creaky museum piece and embracing the direct gut punch of punk-rock, Lost Bayou Ramblers are embarked on a path similar to the Pogues, a band that fused traditional Irish music, left-wing political content and punk attitude in London in the 1980s.
The members of Lost Bayou Ramblers occasionally back Spider Stacy, a founding member of the Pogues, and in early June they performed the songs of the Pogues as Spider & the Cajuns during Louis’ residency at avant-garde musician John Zorn’s venue the Stone in New York City. The six-week run showcased dozens of Louisiana musicians, including members of Lost Bayou Ramblers and Les Freres Michot, performing various strands of the Cajun tradition in different iterations.
After a decade and a half together, Lost Bayou Ramblers cemented its reputation with a Grammy nomination for Best Americana album for its 2012 release Live at La Blue Moon. It was followed by 2014’s Mammoth Waltz, which featured guest turns by Dr. John, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes and Scarlett Johannson, and was named one of the 21 best albums of the 21st Century by the Times-Picayune. Their contribution to the Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack and an opening slot for Arcade Fire have also helped Lost Bayou Ramblers build their audience.
The band members seemed not at all put out by the Winston-Salem audience’s lack of commitment, with Webre and Middleton getting loose on a “O Bye” with, respectively, zoom bass and click drumming. Having switched from accordion to lap steel, Andre Michot explored a sound akin to Hank Williams’ Cajun-inspired material on “A Dollar Here and Dollar There.” By the end of the song, the musicians were goofing on James Brown-style dramatic stops.
During the band’s final song, the sound was on the fritz again. Louis and his comrades responded by unplugging and attacking their material with even more vehemence. Proving that amplification can be more a barrier than a bridge, the audience — at least a dozen of them — surged to the front to reciprocate.