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Kevin Wimmer: Lost in a Cajun Reverie

Kevin Wimmer



KEVIN WIMMER, one of Louisiana’s foremost Cajun-style fiddlers and member of several top

Cajun bands including Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, is originally from New York City. He started his music studies at age of four with his mother, Shirley Givens (1930-2018), who was a violinist, teacher of children at The Julliard School in NYC, and developer of the Givens Method for Teaching. Kevin was her one of her first pupils, but Givens taught the children of many celebrities including Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Robert Mann, Claude Frank, Lilian Kallir, Rudolf Firkusny, Jerome Lowenthal, Peter Max, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Shirley Givens was author of a series of influential books on playing the violin: Adventures in Violinland. Kevin Wimmer’s father, Harry Wimmer, a noted cellist, co-produced the books. Cajun music has been the focus of Kevin Wimmer’s career

Joel Savoy and Kevin Wimmer

since meeting Dewey Balfa. He even lived with the Dewey Balfa’s family for a few months in the 1980s. After playing as a member of the California Cajun Orchestra, Wimmer relocated to Lafayette, Louisiana to become a founding member of the band, Balfa Toujours, with Balfa’s daughter, Christine Balfa. According to one account, “Kevin Wimmer was born in New York City and had trained as a classical violinist, but after attending a fiddle workshop directed by Dewey Balfa

Kevin Wimmer and Christine Balfa in Balfa Toujours

at the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College, he traveled to the teacher’s home to learn Cajun fiddle firsthand.”

Another account from the Balfa Toujours website describes Kevin Wimmer succumbing to the Cajun music lure: “Another adopted son of the Cajun culture, Kevin Wimmer, was also a student of Dewey Balfa. Kevin learned Cajun style playing second fiddle with Dewey and stayed at his home for a period

David Greely and Kevin Wimmer

of time. Kevin suddenly headed south one day in search of Dewey and was taken in. Cajun music has the ability to touch the soul and kidnap its audience. It expresses a sense of the community and carries the warm traditions of the Cajun people, lost to our modern society.”

Playing with the band Good Ol’ Persons, the band describes Wimmer: “We also had fiddler Kevin Wimmer play with us for the last five years of the band (1990-95); he came to Europe

Kevin Wimmer and Ed Poullard at 2009 Black Pot Festival

with us twice, and played on the last Kaleidoscope record, Anywhere The Wind Blows. Kevin is a wonderful musician and he brought such cool elements to the band, including his wide vocabulary of old time, swing and Cajun styles.”

Wimmer continues to play with Balfa Toujours, but has become a fixture in the Cajun music community and member or collaborator with a number of top bands and artists: Red Stick Ramblers, Ray Abshire, Racines, Preston Frank, Ann

Kevin Wimmer and Preston Frank

Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights, and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (since 2011), to name a few. Wimmer’s relationships with the members of those bands have led to a multitude of performances with virtually every Cajun artist in the Lafayette area.

When Kevin Wimmer joined Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys in 2011, Riley published this introduction to the artist who would be replacing his longtime friend and founding

Kevin Wimmer and Brandon Moreau at 2010 Beaux Bridge Crawfish Fest

band member, David Greely: “Kevin is originally from New York City and comes from a great musical family. He began his musical training at age four with his mother, a respected violinist who is on the Juilliard School of Music faculty. Ever since meeting Dewey Balfa 26 years ago, Cajun fiddle has been the focus of his career, though he also enjoys playing jazz, western swing, and old-time.”

On another occasion, Riley said this: “Kevin is one of the

Kevin Wimmer and Linzay Young in Red Stick Ramblers, 2007

finest fiddlers around. Period.”

Both Wimmer and Riley are disciples of Dewey Balfa. Steve Riley commented, “I had the opportunity to play with him from age 15 until his death in the early ’90s,” says Riley. “I learned so much from him, musically and how to present myself and our music and the history behind it all.”

When recording My Suitcase Is Always Packed, Chaz Justus of the Red Stick Ramblers had a perfect song for Kevin

Kevin Wimmer with his mother, Shirley Givens, in 2012 Wimmer to sing: “Morning Blues.” Justus explained, “He’s a great singer,” Justus says, “and we wanted to get the different personalities of the band on the record. It was written for him to sing — he’s not really a morning person!”

With Racines, which means “roots” in French, Steve Riley of Mamou Playboys fame has assembled a band of young, supremely talented practitioners of the Louisiana-born folk music rooted in the French-speaking Acadian culture of Canada. In addition to Riley (accordion, fiddle, guitar and vocals), the quartet includes Kevin Wimmer of Balfa Toujours and The Red Stick Ramblers (fiddle, vocals), Mitch Reed from

Kevin Wimmer and Steve Riley in Racines, 2008

BeauSoleil and Charivari (bass, fiddle) and Chris Stafford who plays with Feufollet and Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole (electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel). “Attending a Steve Riley & Racines concert is like going on a mini-tour of southwest Louisiana musical styles with stops at Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop and blues,” according to one reviewer.

“Festivals Acadiens has always been very special for us because Dewey’s presence is so strong there,” Wimmer told

Dan Willging. “At Festivals Acadiens, we have always brought out the best in audiences. There is something about the feeling we have playing there, which has to do with being Dewey’s festival and falling in that tradition.”

While Wimmer has not been a prominent solo recording artist, his violin and vocals are part of a long list of recordings which includes: Anywhere The Wind Blows with Good Ol’ Persons (bluegrass) Anywhere The Wind Blows with Good Ol’ Persons Good N’ Live (20th Anniversary Collection) with Good Ol’ Persons Not Lonesome Anymore with California Cajun Orchestra Midnight Moonlight with New Riders Of The Purple Sage North Of The Border with John Reischman Matters Of The Heart with Kathy Kallick Use A Napkin (Not Your Mom) with Kathy Kallick New Cajun Tradition with Balfa Toujours Allons Danser with Balfa Toujours Deux Voyages with Balfa Toujours À Vieille Terre Haute with Balfa Toujours Pop, Tu Me Parles Toujours with Balfa Toujours

Live at Whiskey River Landing with Balfa Toujours La Pointe with Balfa Toujours Allons Boire Un Coup with Red Stick Ramblers Made In The Shade album with Red Stick Ramblers My Suitcase Is Always Packed with Red Stick Ramblers Racines with Racines Voyageurs with Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys Not On Label with Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys Party At The Holiday, All Night Long! with Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys 30 Years Live! with Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys Adieu False Heart with Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy If Dreams Come True with Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights Black Coffee with Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights I Want to Dance With You with Charivari Grassroots 2012 with Preston Frank Arrête Pas La Musique with Ray Abshire Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell with Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell Evangeline Made: A Tribute To Cajun Music Doctors, Professors, Kings, & Queens: Big Ol’ Box Of New Orleans Travailler, C’est Trop Dur: The Lyrical Legacy Of Caesar Vincent