at the Liberty Theater
The Liberty Theater is ordinarily the home of Cajun music,
sustaining a tradition that reflects the courage, strength, and love of life of a people
who overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges in their arduous passage from Acadie
toward a strange land where they would shape a unique culture whose purest expression is
probably found in their music. During a break in Balfa Toujours performance in early
April 2000, the Liberty also became briefly home to Appalachian music that Dirk Powell
cherishes as part of his heritage from his ancestors in Elliott County Kentucky, passed
down to him from his grandfather, whose banjo playing held him in awe when he was a
teenager. Accompanied by Christine Balfa on guitar, whose own ties to the Cajun musical
heritage are equally strong, Dirk gave the Liberty audience a sampling of his talents as a
banjo player and as a fiddler in the Appalachian tradition.
Audiences who do not have an opportunity to hear Dirk perform
Appalachian music live can hear him play on several CDs. Two recent albums, Hand Me
Down, produced by Dirk Powell for Rounder Records and released in 1999, and Songs
from the Mountain, released by Howdy Skies Records in 1998, display Dirks
remarkable talent and artistry playing both instruments. In Hand Me Down, he
demonstrates that the banjo can be a source of both powerful and delicate music, and the
fiddle playing on the album offers an Appalachian version of the joys and sorrows that
also resonate under the bows of Cajun fiddlers. Most of the songs are traditional,
including two hauntingly beautiful ballads sung by Ginny Hawker, "Keys to the
Kingdom," an oldtime gospel song, and "Poor Soldier," a simple yet profound
lament. Jim Millers natural, unaffected vocals on other songs like "Wild
Bill Jones" and "Moonshiner" also contribute to the albums
traditional sound. Christine Balfa plays guitar on the CD. Dirk also wrote instrumental
pieces for the album and an imaginative gospel song, "The Cradle, the Coffin, the
Cross on the Hill." In the last song on the CD, "Ride with the Devil," Dirk
gives his interpretation of the theme song of director Ang Lees film of the same
name (he performed other versions of the song on the movies soundtrack).
Songs from the Mountain is a unique album. In it, Dirk
Powell, Tim OBrien, and John Herman perform songs that are either played by
characters in Charles Fraziers 1997 novel, Cold Mountain, or Appalachian
music that in some way evokes the atmosphere of the novel. Cold Mountain tells the
story of a wounded Confederate soldier who has abandoned his cause late in the war and has
embarked on a dark, unrelenting pilgrimage toward his homeland in the mountains of North
Carolina. In alternate chapters, the novel tells the story of the daily struggles of the
woman whom the soldier loves as she tries to carry on with her life running a farm after
the death of her father. Several of the songsfor example, "Wayfarin
Stranger," "Fair Margaret and Sweet William," "Back Step
Cindy"are actually sung or played by characters in the novel. Other songs like
"Lonesome John," "The Blackest Crow," "The Drunkards
Hiccups," and Stephen Fosters "Hard Times" are suggested by lines and
images in the novel or are related to the novels themes. All three musicians also
contribute their own tunes or lyrics suggested by the novel.
Charles Frazier himself researched the music of the period while
writing the novel, and the narrative in the novel refers to "music that sums up a
culture and is the true expression of its inner life." This sense of connection with
a whole way of life expressed through music seems to be one reason why people are
attracted today to traditional music. That traditional way of life, whether Appalachian or
Cajun, is deeply independent, resisting the encroachments of mass culture, and audiences
respond to the music, perhaps because for many in their present lives achieving such
independence seems beyond their own grasp.
Other albums featuring Dirk Powell include If I Go Ten Thousand
Miles (1996) and Tony Furtado and Dirk Powell (1999), both on Rounder.
The latter album offers a variety of musical genres, including Cajun tunes. One of the
cuts on Jay Ungar and Molly Mason's 1999 CD, Harvest Home: Music for All Seasons
on Angel Records features Christine Balfa singing "La Chanson de Mardi Gras"
with Kevin Wimmer and Jay Ungar on fiddle and Dirk Powell on fiddle, horse clops, and
Time Again, another CD of Dirk's Appalachian
music, was released by Rounder in 2004.
to see Balfa Toujours at the 2000 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.
to see Balfa Toujours at the 2000 Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette.
to return to the first Balfa Toujours page.
Check out Balfa Toujours' MySpace Page.
Toujour's Official Web Site.