On Wednesday, March 9, Flying Cat Music presents Dennis Stroughmatt et l’Esprit Creole in concert in Phoenicia at the Empire State Railway Museum located at 70 Lower High Street. This unique musical experience embraces the traditional French creole music of the Ozark foothills. The doors open at 7:00 p.m. with the show beginning at 7:30 prompt. Admission is $16 or $14 with RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 845-688-9453.
Dirty Linen Magazine says Dennis Stroughmatt is “a jaw dropping fiddler” while Off Beat Magazine describes him as akin to “a driving demon.” Sing Out Magazine calls Stroughmatt’s fiddling style “an energetic and driving combination of Celtic, Canadian and Old-Time styles.”
Dennis Stroughmatt has performed his infectious traditional creole music with various ensembles around the world, appearing on NPR’s “Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keilor,” on CNN’s “World Beat” on Mardi Gras, and on many stages including the Illinois State Fair, “The Louisiana Folklife Festival,” “The Cajun French Music Awards” in Lafayette, LA, and at “Mardi Gras World” in New Orleans.
He has received awards and recognition for his work in the French language from the Illinois Arts Council, the Missouri Humanities Council, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and the Center for Traditional Studies. The 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured Dennis Stroughmatt’s music with this by way of introduction:
“A medley of music, language, stories, and culture secreted away in the Missouri Ozarks now has a voice in the tapestry of this world. With the blessing of the Creole people of the Midwest, Dennis Stroughmatt et l’Esprit Creole are its passionate ambassadors, expanding interest and excitement in a region that has been, in many ways, ignored by the history books.”
Originally from southern Illinois, Dennis grew up in the shadow of the French Creoles of Vincennes, Indiana and was always curious about that part of American culture. Most of us associate early America with the English colonies rebelling against King George. Before the culmination of the French and Indian War in 1763 though, all of the Great Lakes and the entire Mississippi and Ohio River valleys were claimed by France as a part of Nouvelle-France. Cities with names like Detroit, Michigan; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; and Saint Louis, Missouri still bear witness to that past.
The musical roots of Dennis Stroughmatt et l’Esprit Creole (Creole Spirit) are in the Creole and Cajun music of “Upper Louisiana,” the historic Acadian settlements that are now part of Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana. This lively and spirited fiddle-centric tradition reflects the roots of the mid-continent and bridges the gap between contemporary Canadian and Louisiana Cajun styles. Preserved by families in the Ozark foothills, the music remains largely intact, in contrast to the more contemporary styles of other French-influenced regions. While it is common to link Creole music and the culture that spawned it to a region closer to New Orleans, hidden away in the hills of the Missouri Ozarks there’s a saying still repeated; “On est toujours icitte (we are still here)”
While attending college in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Dennis became involved with the French Creole population of the Old Mines area. He spent about three years attending weekly house parties or “bouillons,” learning to speak Creole French with many Creoles in the area including Kent Beaulne and Pete Boyer, and learning to play the fiddle styles of the Missouri French. He also recorded old-timers’ oral histories and uncovered scratchy wax cylinder recordings.
Stroughmatt has been playing his fiddle now for well over twenty years. And when Dennis gets booked as a musician, his audiences get the bonus of a master’s degree he earned in history and his intense continuing interest in the Creole French culture. “Storytelling is a tradition in my family,” is how he likes to put it. Joining Dennis Stroughmatt in l’Esprit Creole is Douglas Hawf, a wizard of stringed instruments from a French Creole family in southern Illinois with a real passion for playing music from his family’s heritage.
To say that history will come alive with their concert at the Empire State Railway Museum fails to do justice to the exuberance you can anticipate!