My Louisiana Muse Part 2 - Pilette, LA and the Michot Family

Part 2 – Pilette, LA and the Michots

“You don’t learn how to cook a Gumbo until you leave Louisiana…”

Photo ©Zack Smith 2015
Tommy Michot with his son, Louis

I took the back roads out of Pierre Part after leaving the home of Adam “The Driftwood Man” Morales, and entered Lafayette Parish via I-90 and directly into my own past. I was to meet two members of the Michot family that have been part of my family's life for some time. To make it more interesting, we were going to conduct the My Louisiana Muse interview and shoot across the street from the home where I was born. It was no coincidence we were also meeting at the home of “Papa Lou” Michot, a place that has a very special significance to the Michot family.

Little did I know that from birth to 7 years old I was part of a wonderful tight-knit community that existed at least 2 generations before me. It took me decades to become interested in the neighborhood I lived in from birth to 1982, mostly because I do not remember too much about it. I do remember the Michot's, and the Comeaux’s, and the Ragsdale's, family names and faces, but foggy recollections at best. In the late 90s I forged a friendship with a fellow musician, artist, and traveler Louis Michot. We knew our families went way back but didn’t realize how far until this day.

Louis Michot is currently the lead singer and fiddle player for the revered and evolving Lafayette, LA Cajun band, Lost Bayou Ramblers. Way back when I was taking my first stabs at band promotion photography I photographed the band in 2003 for their album "Pilette Breakdown", and I have been photographing them ever since.  I will save you the long story of how far our families go back almost 2 generations from business dealings to bringing the kids over on Sundays…there are some great stories in there. But what I want to focus on is the connections that were made on my visiting with father and son musicians, bandmates, and storytellers Tommy Michot and his son Louis.

The house and property has since been sold, but we were able to sit on the back porch of the Michot home and talk about the many connections and inspirations this family has been involved in for many generations. You can say music found both Tommy and his son Louis and not the other way around. We all sat down on the porch surrounded by Louis’ two kids and his wife, artist Ashlee Michot, as Tommy struck up a short tune on the accordion to usher in our lush surroundings. 

Photo by Ashlee Michot
Zack Smith, Tommy and Louis Michot on the back porch in Pilette, LA

Tommy Michot started playing accordion about 35 years ago and Louis began the fiddle almost 17 years ago, but their paths to those instruments came by the way of other instruments. Tommy started playing the harmonica and Louis the piano. Music has always been a part of the Michot family and has remained a strong connection of their family to their Louisiana and Cajun French roots. The father and son are leaders of their own bands in their own right, singing and playing the old and new message of their muse. Music has been in their family for generations. Tommy’s father, Louis, played the Hohner piano accordion (a la Clifton Chenier) and his father played the piano.  Although the elder Louis did not play Cajun music, there was always music around for young Tommy and his brothers Rick, David, Bobby and Mike. In the early 80s they started the group Les Freres Michot and still play traditional Cajun music to this day. Tommy’s son Louis began playing the guitar at an early age and even has played double bass for his father’s band with his brother, Andre. (Yes, all this family band intermingling does get confusing).

Louis and his brother Andre started the Lost Bayou Ramblers in 1999 and have evolved their version of Cajun music into many different forms using electric instruments and pounding drums but still singing in Cajun French. The musical journeys that this father and son have had are too many to name here, so we will concentrate on how their connectivity to Louisiana and their creative talents continue to shine.

Louis started to realize he wanted to follow his Cajun roots in a musical way during the first time he dropped out of college at 19. He brought his grandfather's German fiddle with him on a journey to learn Cajun French at Univerisité de Ste. Anne school in Nova Scotia, playing on the street for change and sometimes made some real money. He learned a few songs and started to develop an understanding of the fiddle, so much that he could play his way around Canada and the States. During this time he was learning to sing in French and play a whole new instrument at the same time. Upon returning home, he found out his brother Andre was learning the accordion unbeknownst to him and soon after they wrote their first song and the rest is history.

Louis with brother Andre performing at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
photo ©Zack Smith 2014

Both father's and son’s path in life took them far from their homes so that they may find their place in the long line of music storytellers that they continue to pursue to this day.  Tommy Michot received his MS at Utah State University and it was while living out there that he started to feel the call back home. Sometimes you have to get outside your own world to look back on it and see the true simplistic beauty that existed right under your nose and in your blood. As Louis then said, "Sometimes you have to leave Louisiana to learn how to cook a gumbo"...true that.

Tommy Michot spent 30 years as a biologist with the U.S. Department of the Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS – National Wetlands Research Center). Now a Research Scientist with ICEE (Institute for Coastal Ecology and Engineering at Louisiana-Lafayette), Dr. Michot's research focus is on the ecology and management of coastal marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, and how wintering waterfowl and other birds use those habitats. The inspiration for the music he plays is also a direct result from what he does and the inspiration he gets from his profession. Tommy's day job is all about "Louisiana as a living being and how to protect that". Through his music he has intertwined the two to spread that message in songs such as "Valse de Meche Perdu" aka The Lost Marsh Waltz. A song which they played for me later that day.

All the while talking to the Michot's I began to see the strong currents and connections that ran through their lives, while at the same time those similar connections that strung together each My Louisiana Muse artist. I got this comfortable sense that the stories of Louisiana's joy, pain, sorrow, and triumph were being told time and time again through each generation of "those that feel and hear" the message of their surroundings. It reminded me of what the poet Darrell Bourque said in our interview, that "the land is our first teacher". I think that if Louisiana is our first teacher, all that comes after those lessons are new tools to help speak its message. It's as if she lives through us and I feel she has been for thousands of years...

Stay tuned for the final installment of the 3 P's of My Louisiana Muse when I visit photographer Jenny Ellerbe on the mounds of Poverty Point...