French Canadian fur trappers, known colloquially as coureurs des bois, or “runners of the woods,” were among the first wanderers of European descent to explore the American West.
They crossed into Idaho in the early 19th century, leaving linguistic marks upon much the state’s landscape and people. Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Paris (obviously) and even the eponym Nez Perce all bear evidence of French Canadian influence.
Though toponymical remnants are clear to behold, the cultural predilections of these francophone trailblazers did not take root as firmly in Idaho. Partly, that’s due to the fact that the cultural identity of what was then “le Canada” was still evolving. Since becoming the Canadian province Québec, a more distinct cultural, and especially musical, tradition emerged.
Defined by its roots in northern France and featuring a noticeably Celtic lilt introduced by Scottish and Irish immigrants in the later 19th century, Québécois folk music often features fiddles, guitars and a healthy dose of raucous foot-stomping.
Now, to bridge that gap of more than 2,500 miles, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts is reintroducing some French Canadian heritage to the mountains of Idaho.
Residents of and visitors to the Wood River Valley can prepare their boots for stomping and their hands for clapping in warm welcome to the Québécois musical trio Bon Débarras (which, ironically, translates into English as “good riddance”).
The band consists of three Montréal-based artists, Dominic Desrochers, Jean-François Dumas and Marie-Pierre Lecault.
With four instruments among the three of them (guitar, banjo, harmonica and violin) the members of Bon Débarras create a sonic fusion of traditional French Canadian folk styles and contemporary rhythms from around the world to produce a unique musical blend.
Though rooted in this historical style, Bon Débarras’ repertoire consists entirely of original compositions.
“We build upon the traditional heritage and we do our own stuff,” Dumas explained. “It’s all original lyrics and original music inspired by the language.”
Courtesy of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum will play host to a one-night-only concert from the trio on Friday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m.
“When I think of the music of Québec, it puts a smile on my face because it’s just plain fun,” said Kristine Bretall, The Center’s director of performing arts. “[Bon Débarras] fuse Québécois folk music, step-dancing and more into a high-energy, rhythmically driven show.”
In contribution to The Center’s ongoing educational outreach efforts, Bon Débarras, like the other musical groups participating in The Center’s 2018-19 Performing Arts Series, will perform their music and lecture before every elementary school in the Wood River Valley.
Their educational programs, taking place from Jan. 16-18, will delve into the rich tapestry of the French Canadian folk music tradition, its mixed heritage from different immigrant nationalities, its technical musicality and more.
“It’s important for the translation of the culture,” Dumas said. “Here in Québec, traditional music is a bit on the fringe. The children are not aware of their own culture. It’s important for us to actualize and show where Québec’s traditional music and culture come from.”
Since “food” is the theme of The Center’s winter exhibition, “At the Table: Kitchen as Home,” Bon Débarras’ Sun Valley sojourn will include an appropriately culinary soirée at The Center’s Hailey House location.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, the band will perform a short set at the Winter Warmup Veillée. Appropriately brumal libations, namely mulled wine and cider, will be served to complement an array of Québec-inspired desserts.
Regular admission to the event is $10 per person, though The Center is offering an extra incentive to those who wish to help foster a sense of community at the evening gathering. Anyone who comes bearing a homemade dessert to share will have the cost of admission waived. In a sense, The Center hopes to make this event a community potluck.
“This evening promises to be a fun way to get a taste of the project in a setting that speaks to home,” said Kristin Poole, The Center’s artistic director. “Besides, who doesn’t like good food, good music and good people?”
The Center’s Hailey House, the historic birthplace of modernist poet and literary critic Ezra Pound, is at 314 Second Ave. S. Pound spent several years living in Paris, so the French connection strengthens further. He was later arrested for treason after voicing support for Mussolini’s fascist regime and spreading anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda.
Tickets for both the Winter Warmup Veillée and the concert are now on sale from The Center at a range of prices. For premium seating, tickets retail at $55 for members, $65 for nonmembers and $27.50 for students. Regular seating runs $30 for members, $40 for nonmembers and only $15 for students.
Bon Débarras is currently working on their fourth studio album, which they anticipate completing next year.