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Acadiana Center for the Arts - James Devin Moncus Theater
Acadiana Center for the Arts - James Devin Moncus Theater
101 W. Vermilion Street


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Thu, April 11, 2024


7:30 pm




Nashville up-and-comers return to their hometown for an electrifying evening of music, as they bring their unique blend of folk, rock, and Cajun influences back to where it all began.

Johnny and Stevie Rees are brothers who were born to swim against the current─not rebelliously, but naturally and comfortably. As members of a family most would call unconventional, the two were performing in front of audiences before their teens. Primarily self-taught musicians, they relied on instincts rather than method books. They learned to play professionally by playing professionally, with Johnny taking up drums and Stevie the fiddle at ages 10 and 8, respectively. 

Now adults in their mid-30s who’ve learned to trust those instincts more completely, they’ve joined forces as Arbo, a self-described country band that departs from country’s norms nearly as often as it embraces them.

The X factor lies in their unique upbringing around strong Irish and Cajun/Acadian bloodlines in their native Louisiana, a bastion of rich musical roots and proud cultural heritage in which family history and identity loom large. It resides, too, in formative experiences performing nationally and internationally in a family band while most kids their ages were learning about geography and world cultures in a middle school classroom.  

In their teens, the Rees brothers joined their two older sisters in L’Angélus, a band based out of Nashville but founded upon a conscious return to the family’s Louisiana roots. Flowing with confidence and vigorous abandon on stages in the U.S., Ireland, Norway, the U.K. and more, the quartet learned that there are rewards for being exactly who you are.

Internationally recognized inspirational artist Michael W. Smith tapped the siblings to be his backing band, touring throughout 2012, while forward-thinking country traditionalist Marty Stuart resonated with the free-spirited L’Angélus strongly enough to feature the then-mostly-unknown act on his national TV show. There, they tore through the title track of their self-released and primarily band-written Ca C’est Bon album, which they had been selling independently in the tens of thousands.

These and other instances of early acclaim encouraged Johnny and Stevie to grow into independent-thinking music professionals, playing it by ear both literally and figuratively. It comes as no surprise that they’re now pursuing the off-roads traveled by artists they admire─musical outliers who have found success without compromising to accommodate mainstream expectations.

Stevie expresses admiration for “independent-minded country guys like Cody Johnson and Aaron Watson and the Red Clay Strays, who aren’t worrying about other people’s lanes,” and also notes the influence of the self-contained Texas music scene that often blew across Louisiana’s western border. “I just think that it’s really cool what they have─that regional Texas thing.”

Johnny namechecks Michigan-based Vulfpeck, a funk band that, while not musically kindred, set a standard for self-generated success, selling out Madison Square Garden without a manager or record label support. “They’re definitely a band that we’ve kind of studied a little bit, like, ‘Hey, how did they do this?’”

Independent research took place, too, as the brothers explored separate paths in the years between L’Angélus and Arbo. Both musicians found session work in Nashville; Stevie placed original music in film projects and later served as fiddler, rhythm guitarist and harmony singer on tour with Sara Evans while Johnny joined up with the steadily touring Scythian, a similarly off-the-grid act drawing from Irish and gypsy styles. These divergent adventures, Stevie says, were crucial to the professional development of both men. “We came back together with a clearer picture of what we wanted to make musically and also as business partners.”  

“I would say that Arbo is very influenced by our Acadian/Cajun ancestry,” Stevie says, “but we’re not a Cajun band. We play country music that has, like, hot sauce on it.” While the sounds of Louisiana might be distilled in Arbo’s particular stylistic blend, the spirit of that southern state shows up in an even deeper sense, as Johnny explains. “I know that Stevie and I both love where we come from,” he says. “We love the culture, we love the history of the Cajuns and we love the music. We love what the music does to the community in Louisiana. It brings people together: all ages, all sizes, all races. And that’s what we want our music to be like.”

Even the band’s name is linked to that notion─it’s short for the historic Arbolada neighborhood located near the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. “To me, a neighborhood is a bit of a metaphor for a village and a band is kind of like that,” says Stevie, noting that Arbo’s lineup presently remains fluid. The anchoring members are Stevie and Johnny, enthusiastic and muscular performers whose youthful vitality belies their more than two decades of experience. 

An Arbo show is an exhilarating expression of musical skill, passion and unselfconscious originality intended to draw listeners and musicians together. “The way I look at our performances,” Stevie says, “is it’s like we’re there to have a party and you’re invited.”

The event is finished.