■ BY SUSAN HANAFEE
Jon Bertrand has an easy Louisiana accent and a quiet manner that evokes an image of genteel southern living. But put a guitar in his hands, and he becomes what one writer describes as a “rhythm machine.”
Bertrand is a member of the Pine Leaf Boys, Louisiana’s finest, four-time Grammy-nominated, toe-tapping, put-on-your-dancing-shoes and have-a-good-time Cajun band.
The group will return for its third visit to Boca Grande on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Community Center grounds. Tickets are available at the Boca Grande Historical Society website or at the office at 170 Park Ave., phone 964-1600.
Playing for the slightly older folks that make up a Boca Grande crowd isn’t that much different from performing for younger fans, Bertrand says.
“Many of them liked Cajun music from the beginning, when it wasn’t considered cool, and they’ve never stopped coming out to dance.”
The New York Times even described the band as “the link that connects the young and old generations.”
The scenery is another reason the Boys enjoy a visit to Southwest Florida. “It’s beautiful down your way; it’s a novelty for us to go to the beach. Our music was not born in New Orleans or from down in the bayou, so we’re not around water much.”
Like their wild, good-time performances, the Pine Leaf Boys had a bit of a raucous beginning. Bertrand remembers when he and Pine Leaf Boys Manager Wilson Savoy moved to Lafayette, Louisiana and started playing music on the street. It was their signature brand of Cajun, Creole, swamp pop, country and soul.
“We’d play on the University of Louisiana campus. The students liked us, but the police didn’t; they’d chase us off. Well, Wilson thought that was unacceptable, so he wrote some letters to the newspaper about how we were being treated.
“We started getting gigs at bars because of the letters. But I guess the police weren’t too happy with us, so they’d come and close down the bars. That just made the crowds bigger.”
The group grew to include three other members: Courtney Granger on the fiddle, Drew Simon on the drums and Thomas David on the bass. Savoy, a Grammy Award-winner in 2012, plays accordion and piano.
By 2005, their performances were still exuberant but no longer considered a threat to law and order, and the Pine Leaf Boys group was born.
“We had this group and were sounding good, and we needed a name. Somewhere was a list of band names. We just went to the one on the top,” Bertrand said, chuckling. “Some people say, ‘Well, pine trees don’t have leaves.’ To that I say that a pine needle is a leaf.”
Over the years, the Pine Leaf Boys and their music have flourished. They have performed in 47 states and will once again appear at the New Orleans Jazz Festival as they have for the last 12 years. They also have been invited on six occasions by the U. S. State Department to tour the world, performing in 23 countries.
Tickets to the Pine Leaf Boys are $85 and include an Italian dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Crowninshield Community House. The band will begin playing at 7:30 in a tent on the Community Center grounds. Proceeds benefit the Boca Grande Historical Society and the Crowninshield House.