It’s not too far to Louisiana — just ask Alberta’s Cajun queen Crystal Plamondon.
The singer now based in the Rocky Mountain House area is gearing up to perform Diggy Liggy Lo and other Creole favourites with her band at a Mardi Gras Music Night on Saturday, Nov. 15, at Red Deer Elks Lodge.
One of her biggest fans at the dinner-dance fundraiser for the Central Music Festival will be her southern “sister” Laura LeBlanc, who’s visiting from Lafayette, La.
Plamondon met LeBlanc about 20 years ago when she first started performing in the southern state that’s home to Cajun-zydeco music.
The woman was impressed enough by Plamondon’s singing to invite her to stay at her house. LeBlanc became one of her first Louisiana fans and has since been adopted as an honourary family member.
“For the first 10 years, it was hard … Cajuns weren’t that friendly. They thought I was copying their culture or trying to use their music to make my name,” recalled Plamondon.
She actually grew up in a fiddle- and accordion-playing family and was turned on to the Franco-American roots music as a child by an older cousin enraptured with “ragin’ Cajun” Doug Kershaw.
After a couple of decades of dedicated performances around Louisiana and across North America, she believes other Cajun musicians came to realize “I’m the real deal …
“Now when I go to Louisiana, young girls say to me, ‘Miss Crystal, because you (perform), now I play too’ … they look up to me.”
Plamondon’s family roots extend back to the Acadians, who were driven out of Nova Scotia by the British in 1755-1764.
As the name ‘Cajun’ suggests, some Acadians became French-speaking settlers in Spanish colonial Louisiana.
Plamondon always thought her talent sprang from her father’s musically gifted side of the family, which hails from Quebec and Michigan. But one day her mother told her “you’ve got to get some from the Landry side of the family, too.”
Landry is a Nova Scotian name and Plamondon noted it happens to be “a big Cajun name,” too.
The singer’s Acadian great-grandmother was remembered fondly by Plamondon’s mother. As Plamondon grew up, her Mom would remark on similarities she noticed between her daughter and her grandmother.
“I grow herbs in my kitchen and my mother would walk in and say, ‘Your grandmother’s kitchen smells like this. She always used to grow this herb (thyme) too. …’
“Or she’d say, ‘My grandmother used to wear earrings just like that. …’”
Plamondon grew up in the Northern Alberta town of Plamondon, which was founded by her grandfather. She remembers singing for people as a way of getting to stay up late at family gatherings when she was a kid.
She began singing publicly at age 10, and has gone on to record five albums since 1991.
Plamondon has had hits in France and her songs have been played across the world, including West Africa. She has performed on Parliament Hill, the Calgary Stampede and opened for Celine Dion in the early 1990s.
“We kept in contact for a while and she would give me free tickets to her shows in Alberta, before (her fame) got so mega-worldwide,” recalls Plamondon.
The Alberta singer also sings smooth jazz, country and gospel tunes and wrote a couple of songs for the CBC-TV show Heartland.
She’s looking forward to releasing an new album of original songs next spring tentatively titled Songs from Little Heaven Ranch.
Meanwhile, she’s anticipating a great time with fans of her band’s toe-tapping Cajun music at Mardi Gras Music Night.
Tickets to the 6:30 p.m. benefit at 6315 Horn St. are $150 and are available from www.centralmusicfest.com or by calling 403-886-5745. Proceeds go towards next summer’s Central Music Festival.