“Can You Wear Cowboy Boots To The Grammys?”
● By Aimee Cormier
By Shanna Perkins | Submitted Photos
Only 10 years ago, Yvette Landry was a teacher at the Episcopal School of Acadiana who hadn’t touched a musical instrument in nearly 20 years. Today her resume includes: Grammy nominated musician, children’s book author, all-around award winner, world traveling musician and beyond. If Landry’s story seems unbelievable to you, don’t worry, she’s not completely sure how it all happened either.
“I actually had this moment where I went, ‘Whoa! I went from zero to Grammy nominated in 10 years.’ It makes no sense to me,” she laughs showing off her infectious broad smile. Landry’s musical history is a two-part journey. With a genetic inclination to music, Landry began playing the piano when she was 3 years old. In fourth grade she started to play the clarinet and continued playing woodwinds through high school.
“I wasn’t really passionate about music,” she admits. “I liked the competition aspect of it. We’d go to festivals and compete, but I really hadn’t embraced the music too much. After I graduated high school, I actually toured Europe with the National Collegiate Wind Band. We toured Europe for six weeks and when I got home, I put my clarinet in the closet, closed my piano and that was it.”
And so the first part of her journey came to an end. Unbeknownst to her, it concluded with a clandestine “to be continued…” While teaching at ESA, one of her colleagues asked if she would be interested in playing the bass guitar for a program the French department was hosting. Having no experience with the guitar, she responded with conviction, “absolutely not!” Landry eventually decided to give it a shot.
“I told her, ‘I’m not saying yes, but I‘ll take the bass and work on the song for a month. If I don’t feel totally ridiculous, maybe,’” she recalls. “I brought the bass home and just kind of figured it out. I worked on it for a month and said, ‘I think I’ll do this. It’s for the kids; it’s not about me.’ Then Hurricane Lilly came through the day we were supposed to perform. School was canceled and I never performed. She took the bass back and that was the end of that.”
About two years after the debut performance that never was, Landry’s father was diagnosed with cancer and she found herself in the middle of some of life’s biggest transitions. Desperately seeking something to positively occupy her time and energy, her mind went back to the guitar.
“I just thought, ‘I really enjoyed that guitar. Maybe that’s what I can do to occupy myself. I could take it with me to Houston when we go to MD Anderson,’” she says moving her heavy brunette bangs away from her face. “So, I went on a whim and I bought a bass guitar. I intended it to be just a form of release and that was all.”
Landry shared her excitement and disbelief over her purchase with one of her friends, and as good news so often does in small towns, it started to spread through her hometown of Breaux Bridge. One day, an old friend stopped her on the street to let her known about a Cajun jam session that was held on Gloria Switch Road.
“I had no intention of going. Then one Saturday, I was on the road and saw all of these cars and realized it was the jam session. I turned my car around and walked in. I was blown away,” she recalls throwing up her hands, stacks of artisan bracelets sliding down her wrists. “There were people there from 2 to 92-years-olds. Everyone was playing Cajun music, smiling and having a great time. I just got this tremendous burst of pride.”
Just like that, Landry was hooked. She began attending jam sessions around Acadiana and slowly learning more and more about the guitar. One day, she got a phone call from Randy Vidrine, guitarist and vocalist for the Cajun band The Lafayette Rhythm Devils asking her to join them as the bass guitarist for a gig at Randol’s in Lafayette. “I said ‘uh, no! I’ve only been playing the bass for a couple of months,’” she recounts. “But, he convinced me and I said ‘If you’re crazy enough to ask me, I’m crazy enough to go.’”
A couple weeks later, still elated from the experience of her first gig, Landry received a call from Vidrine asking her to be a permanent fixture with the Lafayette Rhythm Devils. Landry finally stopped saying “no” and conceited to be an active participant in her own musical journey. She learned how to play the fiddle and accordion. Serendipitously, she met a songwriter and started writing songs. Then, she started singing songs. Landry is one of the founding members of the power group Bonsoir Catin. It’s with this group that she received a 2015 Grammy nomination for their 2014 release, “Light in the Stars” in the Best Regional Roots Album category.
“You submit your work, you cross your fingers and you wait for the announcement of nominees. You know you’re going to go ‘oh, OK. Well, we tried,’ but we went ‘oh, OK. Well…What? Shut the front door! No way! Can you wear cowboy boots to the Grammys?’ It was pretty ridiculous,” she says laughing and shaking her head still in disbelief.
Bonsoir Caitin didn’t win the Grammy and Landry didn’t wear cowboy boots, but she did enjoy a whirlwind once-in-a-lifetime experience. She checked off bucket list celebrity encounters one by one: Buddy Guy and Tim O’brien. Not to mention her close proximities to the likes of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
Landry has performed across the world, from Siberia, Russia as a cultural ambassador to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and various music festivals across the globe. Landry refers to herself as a “bass for hire.” In addition to The Lafayette Rhythm Devils and Bonsoir Catin, she’s been affiliated with Joel Savoy, Balfa Toujour, Acadiana Cajun Band, the Pine Leaf Boys and, of course, the Yvette Landry band. Yvette’s charismatic performance skills are not limited to the stage. She also has three studio albums, “Should Have Known,” No Man’s Land” and Me & T-Coe’s Country.”
“While he was in the hospital, my dad kept telling me I needed to make an album. I couldn’t imagine who would want to hear my music. One day, I was driving home and I found out my dad had died,” she says somberly of the 2010 event. “A couple months later I realized that now I had to make an album. So I put a team together, we went into the studio and we finished it in a weekend. It was absolutely magical.”
Landry’s contributions to the Acadiana’s musical culture extends beyond live performance and studio records. She is the current Director of Louisiana Folk Roots Kids Camp. The camp gives students the opportunity to get instructions from masters of Cajun and Creole music. Landry was recently voted into the position of Governor to the Memphis Chapter of the Grammy Foundation.
“I’ll act as this area’s liaison between our region and the Grammy Recording Academy,” she explains. “If there’s anything interesting and exciting happening or if there’s anything needed in our area, I go and present it to the board. It’s a two-year term. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a difference.”
Out of all of her musical accomplishments, one gives Landry more pride than the rest. One that makes her smile wider than when she’s speaking of her Grammy nomination or her albums. “When I’m playing with my son Trevor,” she beams. “I swell up like a momma bird.” Landry’s son is the drummer for the Yvette Landry Band.
Music aside, Landry has accomplished other fascinating feats. In 2012, her first book, “The Ghost Tree” was published. The children’s book, which is based in the Louisiana Swamps, was nominated for a Louisiana’s Young Readers Choice Award. She is also an educator, teaching sign language and song writing at UL Lafayette. Her skills as an interpreter for the hearing impaired have allowed her to be a resource for the local police department.
When asked what’s next, Landry smiles coyly and says ‘nothing’ before rattling off a long list of dreams and goals. But if she’s learned anything, it’s that where she goes next isn’t up to her. “It’s been a wild ride. It’s been something that’s bigger than me. This is not my path that I created. Something in the universe is pushing me and I’m just along for the ride.”