{ subscribe_url:'//blogs.loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/folklife.php' }

Homegrown Plus: Steve Riley and the Riley Family Band


10 year old boy Burke Riley holds an accordion. His father Steve holds a fiddle, and his little brother Dolsy rounds out the trio.

Steve Riley (center) flanked by sons Burke (left) and Dolsy (right).

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!)

We’re starting a new season of Homegrown Plus with the last full season of Homegrown concerts, Homegrown 2020. Our audiences will notice some differences between these and previous years of Homegrown. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we did these concerts in 2020, and we’ve retained the changes for 2021. Instead of doing live concerts in the Coolidge Auditorium and Whittall Pavilion, we asked the artists to produce concert videos, either solo or with whatever musicians they could safely work with in pandemic conditions. We got a great range of videos, from solo artists in their homes and studios, to bands who played outdoors while observing social distance guidelines, to artists who ventured out to beautiful locations to shoot fantastic videos.

I’m very happy to continue the series with Steve Riley, an artist I’ve personally known for over 20 years. Steve is a widely acclaimed master of the Cajun accordion, and also sings and plays fiddle and guitar. He began his musical career at seven, growing up in Mamou, Louisiana. As a teenager he honed his craft as a student of NEA National Heritage Fellow Dewey Balfa, touring and playing throughout south Louisiana with Dewey until the older musician’s death in 1992. For the past 31 years, Steve and his renowned group, the Mamou Playboys, have traveled the United States and the world as ambassadors of Cajun music and culture.

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have won numerous awards and been nominated for many Grammys over the years. We would obviously have loved to have the band in the Homegrown series, but of course, in the pandemic the band’s activities ground to a halt. Luckily, Steve has two very talented sons in his household: Burke, who was 10 when the concert was recorded, and Dolsy, who was 7. They both play multiple instruments like their father, and had already logged hours playing and singing with him onstage and online. In this concert father and sons perform together in their own backyard, billing themselves as The Riley Family Band. See the concert below!

In the oral history interview, I asked Steve about his whole musical history: his upbringing in Mamou and his earliest musical memories; learning from his grandfather and from the great Dewey Balfa; attending the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles; meeting David Greely and founding The Mamou Playboys; and taking the band from playing the local restaurant and dancehall market to being an internationally famous touring band. Along the way, we talked about his composing and songwriting, and about other friends and influences, including Sean Ardoin, Keith Frank, the Savoy family, Zachary Richard, and Barry Jean Ancelet. We also talked about some of Riley’s other projects, including the dance group High Performance, the more traditional outfit called Racines, the swamp-pop project Li’l Band of Gold, and The Band Courtbouillon, a project which Riley formed with Wayne Toups and Wilson Savoy, and with which he won a Grammy award in 2012. Naturally, we also talked about his family and his work with Burke and Dolsy. I first interviewed Steve Riley in 1994, so it was great to catch up with him after all these years!  See our conversation in the player below.

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Read more about Steve Riley at the Mamou Playboys website.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

Native American Cylinder Recordings at No Depression

As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve been working with No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music, which is published by the nonprofit Freshgrass Foundation. They’re publishing a column called Roots in the Archive, featuring content from the American Folklife Center and Folklife Today. Find the series at this link, over at their website! The latest Roots in […]

Finding Uncle Earl-How Searching For My Namesake Led to the Library of Congress

The following is a guest blog post by National Court Reporters Foundation Chair, Early Langley nee Zimpfer. Most individuals arbitrarily assume that I was named “Early” as I was a premature surprise for my parents. The reality is that I came after. I was named after my uncle, Pvt. First Class Earl K. Zimpfer, a […]

Full Circle: From Military Service to Agriculture

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Dachos, a Navy veteran, farmer and beekeeper, who works in ecological food waste diversion and environmental justice. She is one of the participants on the Veterans History Project’s (VHP) virtual discussion panel, “Veteran Grown: Urban Farming.” I joined the Navy in 1989 for many of the […]

Military Veterans Cultivate Agriculture Careers

The following is a guest blog post by Margo Hale, Southeast Regional Director of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and moderator of the Veterans History Project’s (VHP) virtual discussion panel, “Veteran Grown: Urban Farming.”  My maternal grandfather left the timber stands of South Arkansas to serve in World War I. When he returned, […]

Summer 2021 Paid (Virtual) Internships at the AFC!

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is happy to open applications for paid summer internships for 2021! In summer 2018, we launched a paid internship opportunity as part of a program established through a generous gift from our late colleague and longtime AFC staff member, Peter Bartis (1949 – 2017). These positions introduce […]

Get Your Daily Dose of Archive Challenge the Week of March 15

Every day next week, March 15-21, at noon Eastern time, you can listen to, and sing along with, a respected musician performing a song from the American Folklife Center archive at the Library of Congress. That’s because next week, the American Folklife Center is working with the Daily Antidote of Song, a daily online concert and singalong in which diverse singers lead a single song each day at noon Eastern time. Next week, starting March 15, all the singers will be performing songs they learned from the AFC archive! AFC staff members Stephen Winick and Jennifer Cutting will be there to co-host each day’s Antidote as well. Gallery of images featuring Dom Flemons, Low Lily, Hubby Jenkins, Kumera Zekarias, Steve Winick & Jennifer Cutting, Kevin Elam, and Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. March 15: Jennifer Cutting & Steve Winick/ March 16: Low Lily/ March 17: Kevin Elam/ March 18: Dom Flemons/ March 19: Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer/ March 20: Hubby Jenkins/ March 21: Kumera Zekarias

Homegrown 2021 Concert Series Starts at Noon on March 10

Here at the American Folklife Center, we’re busy working on the 2021 Homegrown at Home Concert Series.  These concert videos, recorded at home by the artists, will be presented online every other Wednesday starting at noon (Eastern U.S. Time Zone), initially on the AFC Facebook page and then permanently on the Library of Congress YouTube […]

Caught Our Ears: Two French Songs from Maine

In this blog, Stephen Winick looks into the mysterious background of two French-language folksongs in AFC’s Maine Acadian Cultural Survey collection, “Fox Henry” or “Faux Henry,” sung by Ida Burgoin Roy, and “Chambre et chaînes” sung by Connie Morin Desrosier. He identifies other versions of each song and provides audio, transcriptions, translations, and pictures of the singers.