Pictured here is the Illinois fiddle player Dennis Stroughmatt who will performing his brand of French music at this year’s Le Grand Hoorah. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Stroughmatt)

Illinois lagniappe

Dennis Stroughmatt from Illinois performing for Grand Hoorah

As members of the Francophone world descend on Chicot State Park for Le Grand Hoorah, they will be delighted to many authentic sights and sounds of the French culture. Some of these sights and sounds will come from musicians who hail from the Midwest.
The Illinois native Dennis Stroughmatt and another member of his group called L’Esprit Creole will perform their brand of French music on Sunday afternoon to kick off the week long heritage festival. “We’re going to do a bunch of the old fiddle tunes and some ballads if people want to dance,” he said. “We’ll be talking about the songs and some of the history and then performing the songs to give people a chance to learn about our style and where it fits into Louisiana’s cultural history.”
“I’m also going to be there for the whole week teaching people who are interested in our Illinois and Missouri music,” Stroughmatt continued. “I’ll also be teaching a class on Cajun and Western swing music. I used to play and study a lot with Hadley Castille, so I’m pretty fluent in that style of fiddling too.”
Stroughmatt described the French culture that exists in Southwestern Illinois and Southeastern Missouri. “None of the French families here are Cajun or Canadian,” he stated. “They’re something else. Our ancestors came from Normandy and Brittany directly for the most part. Our French music is very Celtic in a lot of ways. It’s very fiddle driven, and we have no accordion in our French music.”
“As far as the language goes,” he continued, “we have fewer than 20 people who can speak our French language anymore, and I’m one of the 20. But, our music is very much alive.”
Also alive are the French celebrations. “We have Mardi Gras,” Stroughmatt said. “The second largest Mardi Gras in the United States is in St. Louis. Then, on New Year’s Eve, we have a celebration where people dress up in costumes and go house-to-house begging for food. Sometimes, too, they chase chickens. It’s very similar to Mardi Gras in Louisiana except that we do it on New Year’s Eve.”
He also gave a description of the largest French festival in the area that takes place in Old Mills, Mo. “It’s probably the most authentic and usually brings about 5,000 people,” said Stroughmatt. “It celebrates one of the local families. We have dancing, storytelling, and games. It’s a chance to keep the culture together as much as possible.”
Stroughmatt concluded, “This is not Louisiana. We don’t have the mass French population, but, in the little coves where we have the French towns, there’s a lot of pride in our French traditions.”

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