Dustan Louque and Papa Noël
I’ve got a friend, a musician from Louisiana you might never have ever heard of, mostly because he seems determined to keep it that way. His name is Dustan Louque, of the St. James Parish Louques and let me tell you: St. James Parish is lousy with Louques.
The Louques go way back out in Perique tobacco country; it seems like half the names carved into the headstones in the cemetery behind St. Michaels Church on the River Road are theirs. They are a sprawling, hospitable clan, to be sure.
Dustan has an interesting history. A self-taught country boy, he set out for Brooklyn in the early 2000s, where his self-produced atmospheric compositions – and his trademark vintage shirts an shoes and pork pie hats – caught the attention and interest of record labels and movie producers. He signed with Atlantic Records, did a few soundtracks and then basically said screw this, and he packed up his 1987 Westfalia pop-top van and drove home.
Turns out he’s just not a scenester. He just looks like one.
I met Dustan about five years ago at an admittedly hipster-ish warehouse in the Upper 9th Ward, where we were both performing for a post-Katrina fundraiser of some sort. I was talking. He was singing. And he absolutely blew me away. His sound is completely unique. Starting with a punk background, he inevitably embraced the Acadian influences of his home, but he is most guided, it seems, by the vibe of Bob Marley.
I don’t know how you label his style. Rajun? Caggae? It’s sublime.
Anyway, I introduced myself and my first inquiry was: Why aren’t you the most famous musician in New Orleans? And he told me his story. Self-taught, New York, bad faith negotiations, packing it in and coming home. Where, when he’s not traveling with his partner/keyboardist Margaret Hebert in that old van, he’s settled in Lafayette now.
He doesn’t play Jazz Fest, the French Quarter Festival or any clubs of note. Every now and then, they do a show at the Marigny Opera House – a great venue transformed from an old Catholic church down in the Bywater. Mostly, they rumble around the country playing private house parties, doing their best not to become famous or rich.
Hey, everybody’s got their own dream, right?
I’ve had the great fortune to share a stage with Dustan several more times over the years and we have become friends. He is the guy who introduced me to the Christmas Eve bonfire tradition out on the River Road in St. James, where families construct intricate wooden structures to burn so, as the hundred-year-old legend goes, Papa Noël – that’s Cajun for Santa Claus – can see his way down the river to deliver his treasures to the good little boys and girls of the River Parishes.
If you have never witnessed this spectacle, do yourself a favor some year. Trying to describe it is like trying to explain Mardi Gras, Graceland or the Grand Canyon. No words – or even photographs – could ever do it justice. So I won’t try. Ask Siri to do that.
And much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, as the event unfolds each year, you wonder how the hell the authorities allow it to happen. There have been incidents and accidents over the decades. A sharp breeze, a stray ember and – poof – another old wooden cottage along the River Road gone down in flames.
Hey, stuff happens.
I am writing this from St. James Parish right now, where my partner and I are visiting with the Louques for the third year in a row, the third of what will be every Christmas for as long as I – and they – live. I love this place. I love his music. And since he seems intent on you never hearing it, allow me to introduce the one, the only, the sublime: Dustan Louque. He writes a new Christmas songs. Here’s one for the season.
And do yourself and favor, a holiday gift to your self: Find this guy, listen to this guy. No matter how hard he tries to make that not happen. He’s a rebel with a good cause.