Wilson Savoy is a man of strong opinions.
He hates TV. He has no interest in sports. And — perhaps most surprising for a lifelong musician — he finds nothing worth listening to on the radio.
Savoy is the accordion player and lead singer for the Cajun band Pine Leaf Boys, performing Saturday in Olympia. What Savoy does like to do is hang out with family and friends. And in his part of Louisiana — he grew up near Eunice — that means making music together.
“The music was always around,” he said. “At every party you’d go to, there was music. When I was 18, I went to a party in the North and there was no music. There was no jam session. People were just sitting around talking and drinking wine.
“I was like, ‘What kind of party is this?’ It was boring.”
In Savoy’s childhood, though, music wasn’t just at parties. He’s the son of musician and producer Ann Savoy, who wrote a respected history of Cajun musical culture, and Marc Savoy, who plays and builds accordions and runs the Savoy Music Center in Eunice, a shop known for its weekly jam sessions. He plays with his parents and brother Joel in the Savoy Family Band.
In fact, the elder Savoys played at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts years ago, said center executive director Tom Iovanne. “The Pine Leaf Boys are the next generation of Cajun music,” he said.
Wilson Savoy said he grew up taking music for granted. “It took leaving Louisiana to really get a great respect for it,” he said.
“If you grow up with a refrigerator in your house, it’s nothing special. It’s always there. But then you go somewhere that doesn’t have a refrigerator, and you realize how special it is.”
While he has the greatest of respect for Cajun music of the past, the 28-year-old Savoy doesn’t consider the Pine Leaf Boys to be a traditional band.
“I never wanted to be a museum piece,” he said. “We have kept it traditional in that we sing everything in French, and we use traditional instruments such as the accordion, the fiddle and the guitar.
“We made it a point to not let it feel like it’s trapped in a box. We’re a snapshot of what young people are playing today in Louisiana while being careful to pay respect to the older people.”
Of course, the three-time Grammy-nominated quintet is not just any group of Louisiana young people. The band has been on two State Department tours, visiting the Middle East and Europe.
“The tours are meant to show the world that United States has other music than all this bubblegum music you hear on the radio,” he said. “They want to show the world that we do have a culture.”
The group also has been spotlighted on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and praised by Rolling Stone and the New York Times.
Writing in the New Orleans weekly Gambit, Alison Fensterstock described the band’s 2008 album “Homage Au Passé” as “thoroughly and delightfully old-school, with smoking fiddle and reeling accordion sounding like a sweaty, stomping good time at a Eunice dance hall on a Saturday night.
“The record places classic covers like the rollicking drinking song ‘Parlez-Nous A Boire’ alongside originals that perfectly match the roadhouse two-step atmosphere, not just in sound but in sentiment,” Fensterstock wrote.
And it’s the sentiment of the music that matters most, Savoy said, whether it’s a sad song about lost love or a rollicking drinking tune.
That’s why singing in French to audiences who mostly don’t speak French (and who can’t necessarily understand Cajun pronunciation if they do) is no problem.
“Even if people don’t understand a word of what we’re singing, people can hopefully feel the emotion of the music,” he said. “If you feel the emotion, the words aren’t so important. Music is an international language.”