The fourth annual Texas Cajun Heritage Festival, featuring dancing, crafts, food and music from headliner Jo-El Sonnier, Jackie Caillier and others; combines this year with the first-ever Speckled Trout Fishing Tournament May 16-17 at the Orange recreation / boat ramp area off Simmons Drive.

Rounding out performances are Fred Wherland and the Blues Tonic, Billy Poullard and the Zydeco Combo, Kevin Naquin and the Ossun Playboys and Chris Miller and Bayou Roots.

Tournament hours will be from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

Deadline for the weigh-in line is 4 p.m.

Sonnier comes to Orange fresh from a Norwegian Cruise Line trip along the Gulf of Mexico – a working vacation where he was accompanied by his wife and manager, Bobbye. 

Popular for his versions of pop songs with a Cajun flair, as well as his forays into country music, Jo-El’s tunes have been covered by Johnny Cash, one of his personal heroes. He has also played with some heavy-hitters in the business such as Hank Jr., Alan Jackson, Robert Cray, Neil Diamond, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton. 

Sonnier lived in Nashville for many years, networking and recording. A few years ago he chose to settle around Lake Charles, La., moving closer to his birthplace of nearby Rayne.

“It was exciting,” he said of the cruise in a phone interview. “You get so many different types of people, and whether they liked our prepared material or wanted to make requests, it all worked out great.”

Fans can expect his show to be “tighter” than some of his past performances, he said, and believes his current band provides the best backing of any in his career.

“We’re always ready to play,” he said. “And if they want to hear ‘Jolie Blon’ or ‘Big Mamou’ – we can do those too.”

Sonnier couldn’t say enough about XM Satellite Radio, which he credits with not only helping younger listeners discover his music, but with allowing him to hear the music he grew up with – artists such as Ray Price, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.

“They’re pretty heavy on all my recordings,” Sonnier said. “I can’t thank the fans enough. They do a great job. They do a lot for me.”

He said he thinks of each day as a blessing, especially after the recent hurricanes. Sonnier suffered damage during Ike, which was repaired. However, he wound up moving for another reason:

frequent power blackouts at the old location.

Choosing early on to lead a musician’s life, in 1974 he signed a recording contract with Mercury Records. He tried his luck in California where he began performing solo shows with the help of many notable friends including guitarist Albert Lee and the Band’s Garth Hudson. By the mid-80s, Jo-El had a Grammy-nominated recording to his credit with “Cajun Life.”

A new recording deal with RCA in 1987 resulted in the release of “Come On Joe,” which included “Tear-Stained Letter” and “No More One More Time.” In 1988, Jo-El was named by Performance Magazine as New Country Touring Artist of the Year. 

As a songwriter, Jo-El has had his songs recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, George Strait, EmmyLou Harris, John Anderson and Jerry Lee Lewis. He has also taken on film roles in “Mask,” “A Thing Called Love” and “They All Laughed.”

In 2006 Jo-El received his fourth Grammy nomination for best traditional recording with the CD “Cajun Mardi Gras.”

His 30th recording was released a few years ago – “The Real Deal.”

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The first act up at the Heritage Festival is Jackie Caillier and the Cajun Cousins. Caillier has family in the Orange area. He has won Accordionist of the Year several times from the Le Cajun Awards sponsored by the Cajun French Music Association. The Cousins’ “Allons Faire La Poussiere Voler” (“Let’s Kick Up the Dust”) won the 2003 Le Cajun CD of the Year. The title refers to the Cousins’ regular hangout club, La Poussiere (The Dust) in Breaux Bridge. Ivy Dugas, Caillier’s bassist and main songwriter, is a past Le Cajun Male Vocalist of the Year winner many times over. His steel guitar player Danny Cormier is from Cajun music royalty, being the son of Lesa Cormier and grandson of the late Sundown Playboys founder Lionel Cormier. That group holds the distinction of having the only Cajun song ever released on the Beatles’ Apple label, 1973’s “Saturday Night Special.” It happened as a fluke, but what a resume name-dropper it was.

Caillier recorded with the late Church Point producer Lee Lavergne, writer of Charles Mann’s “You’re No Longer Mine” – one of the few swamp pop songs ever played on ABC’s “American Bandstand.”

Complete music schedule:

9 to 11 a.m. – Jackie Caillier and the Cajun Cousins.
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Fred Wherland and the Blues Tonic.
2 to 3:45 p.m. – Billy Poullard and the Zydeco Combo.
3:45 to 4:15 p.m. – Tae Kwon Do demo.
4:30 to 6:30 p.m. – Kevin Naquin and the Ossun Playboys.
7 to 8:30 p.m. – Jo-El Sonnier.

1 to 5 p.m. (with a break mid-afternoon) – Chris Miller and Bayou Roots.

For more festival information, call the Orange Convention and Visitors’ Bureau at 883-1011.

For fishing tournament rules, or more information, go to