Ardoin, Riley distant relatives

Joel Ardoin of Orange missed his last family reunion. 

Sometimes they take place in Baton Rouge, sometimes in Ville Platte, La. 

But on Feb. 14, here at home, Ardoin will have a mini-reunion with cousin Steve Riley.

The acclaimed accordionist and fiddle player will be one of the performers at Mardi Gras in Orange. 

Ardoin, 42, director of Orange County’s environmental health and code compliance office, can remember when Riley was playing weddings.

“I’m not sure how it works, but I think it goes like this,” he says. “His grandfather and my grandmother were brothers and sisters, so that makes me second cousins with his mother and third cousins with him.”

For 20 years Riley has etched a decent living with his group the Mamou Playboys, achieving notoriety in not only Louisiana but the national scene. His fame increased when he was signed by Rounder Records, which caters to eclectic and culture-specific listeners with acts such as Jo-El Sonnier, Bruce Cockburn, Cowboy Junkies, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the Tragically Hip and Loudon Wainwright III.

Unlike his cousin, Ardoin isn’t fluent in Cajun French. “I can understand it rather than speak it,” he says.

Riley is from Mamou, and Ardoin is from more western parts.

“I was born in Eunice,” he says. “From there, my parents moved to Sulphur, La., when I was young.”

Joel commuted from Sulphur to attend St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles, then eventually graduated from McNeese State University. He arrived in Orange County about eight years ago as the new county extension agent; and made the switch to the health department in 2005. 

But if he can’t speak the language, that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the music. 

Ardoin lists favorites from old-timers like Iry LeJeune, to more recent artists such as Kevin Naquin and Wayne Toups; and of course his famous cousin. Ardoin says he took up the accordion briefly many years ago, but is more at home with his agricultural interests. 

Riley’s latest CD is “Bon Reve,” (Good Dream) a “best of” collection available for download at At 15, Riley was invited to join Dewey Balfa’s touring group. He lists the Balfa Brothers as influences, as well as another cousin, Marc Savoy. In 1988, he and David Greely, also a student of Balfa’s, formed the Playboys. 

As for the rest of the band, Sam Broussard has recorded with Jimmy Buffett. Brazos Huval of Breaux Bridge came up as a fiddler and saxophonist in the Huval Family Band. Drummer Kevin Dugas played with Belton Richard and spent five years with Walter Mouton and the Scott Playboys. 

A section of Riley’s Web site is dedicated to Jimmy Domengeaux, a band member who perished in a car accident in 1999.