St. Jean Baptiste Celebrated in Style!
On 6/24/15, the Maine Folque Co-op provided a merry band of minstrels to play a program of traditional French music planned as part of a festive St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration which took place in the Twin Cities of Lewiston & Auburn.
June 24 is Saint Jean Baptiste Day, the feast day/birthday of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Quebec, and as such it is celebrated as a major holiday in that province and also holds significance among Maine's Franco-Americans.
To commemorate the occasion, eight Folque Co-op musicians (age 14 to “ageless,” and most of them of Franco heritage) gathered that afternoon on the front steps of "Place St. Louis," a beautiful former church located in New Auburn, to perform for an enthusiastic crowd of more than150 local residents who gathered on the lawn and sidewalks below.
The repertoire included a variety of jigs, reels, waltzes and polkas, many of which were brought down to Maine by fiddle-playing farmers who emigrated from Quebec several generations ago. Also on the program was music which has sprung more recently from their Franco-American descendants in this area, including the late Maurice Gagnon – who was, in fact, born on St. Jean Baptiste Day in 1927. A gifted harmonica player, Maurice recorded several of his favorite tunes on an album, and two of these – Carnival Reel and Joan's Polka – were performed in his honor on this occasion. Making the event even more meaningful was the fact that the Folque Co-op musicians were led in this performance by Maurice's granddaughter, fiddler Jessica Estabrook. She never knew her grandfather because he passed away, sadly, before she was born, but she felt that he was smiling down on her as she stood there fiddling away on his birthday, playing the polka that he named after her grandmother, Joan, who he married on St. Jean Baptiste Day in St. Louis Church.
Comprising the Folque orchestra were fiddlers Josh White, Victor So, Mona Theriault and Abbie Collette; bass player Abram Collette (Abbie's twin brother); guitarist John Cote; mandolin/banjo player Don Cunningham; and Cindy Larock on guitar & spoons. And when Quebec-born accordion player Normand Gagnon appeared unexpectedly in the audience, he was eagerly invited to sit in with the group, lending an extra touch of authenticity to the event.
The audience was also treated to a semi-spontaneous performance of an old-time Quebecois contra dance by a troupe of dancers recruited on the spot from the band and the audience.
The predecessor to “Place St. Louis,” St. Louis Church was attended by legions of French Catholics in the New Auburn neighborhood before being closed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine in 2013. To save it from being torn down, the structure was purchased recently by a group of concerned citizens dedicated to seeing the 100-year-old structure brought back to life as a cultural center. The Maine Folque Co-op was pleased to play a central role in presenting this, the facility's premiere public event, and looks forward to many more such inspiring collaborations in the future!