Doug Lemoine remembers like yesterday the first time he performed at the Slidell Food & Fun Festival. He was 15 years old, and The Nobles, a popular band from New Orleans, asked if he’d come on stage for a song.
This was back in the day when the festival was known simply as the St. Margaret Mary Fair, and school Principal Bobby Ohler was playing with The Nobles at the time. So the band was aware that Lemoine, a former St. Margaret Mary student, had a great voice and a burgeoning stage presence.
“I sang ‘Stand by Me,’” Lemoine said. “It was crazy. They really liked it.”
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Lemoine is back on stage at the Slidell Food & Fun Fest — not as a fresh-faced teenager looking to make an impression but as the 36-year-old leader of his own cover band that aims to play before packed houses sometime in the near future.
They’re called The Quills, and they’re playing Oct. 23 from 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. on the main music stage at the 48th annual fair. The quintet plays a mishmash of 1980s and 1990s cover songs everyone knows by heart, as well as more current standbys like, “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms and “Only Wanna be With You” by Hootie and the Blowfish.
It’s been a long and winding path for Lemoine, who perfected his singing listening to songs such as The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” on karaoke tapes loaned to him by his former teacher, Norma Ladner. She heard Lemoine sing “Silent Night” when trying out for the school play one year and said, “You have a gift.”
He played the tapes until he wore them out and then began practicing with fellow St. Margaret Mary alum Rick English, who now is a member of one of New Orleans most popular bands, The Molly Ringwalds. English taught Lemoine stage presence, and the protégé soon was taking guitar lessons from a church parishioner. A few years later, Lemoine became a choir leader and helped guide that group for more than 15 years.
All the while, Lemoine was a constant presence at the Slidell Food & Fun Fest — not as a musician but as a sanitation worker who would help pick up the trash scattered by the thousands of people who attend the annual fundraising festival.
“It was humbling,” Lemoine said of the job. “I was a choir director, my mom is the parish secretary and people knew me as a performer (trying to make it.) They’d see me with dirty clothes dragging trash bags around. It wasn’t people saying, ‘Hey, looking good, Doug.’”
Still, Lemoine performed at least a song or two at just about every Slidell Food & Fun Festival since that first sit-in with The Nobles. English would have him sit in with a couple of different projects he was involved with, and Lemoine sang again with Ohler’s bands and also would perform karaoke tunes now and again. Every performance drew the kind of applause and admiration that drive many musicians to the stage.
“It’s very addictive,” he said of being on stage before a receptive audience. “It really is. It feeds you. The more you have it, the more you want it. It’s pretty intense. A lot of the gigs (we’ve played in metro-area bars) recently, the people don’t care if we’re there or not. We’re practicing hard, and we’re up they’re playing hard. You give everything you have, and people are (feigns lackluster applause.)”
That’s one reason Lemoine and his bandmates are so excited about the Slidell Food & Fun Festival gig. The final day of the fair is a huge family day, and their good-humored brand of rock 'n' roll standards is sure to be a hit. They’ll also be playing in front of a friendly crowd and may try out some of the new popular songs they’re perfecting as they transition into an act known as the Box Office Giants. Lemoine said the idea came from rhythm guitarist Jeff Funk, and they’ll play music popularized by movies and television shows.
Other members of The Quills/Box Office Giants are Matt Pruett (bass), Mike Little (drums) and Ben Brown (lead guitar) and Jeff Funk.
Lemoine still sings and plays rhythm guitar — things he began doing at St. Margaret Mary in the early 1990s and then at Pope John Paul II (he’s a 1998 graduate.) He’s also a bank vault technician by trade, and he and his bandmates share a combination of stable jobs and family obligations in addition to their music.
“We’ll never do this professionally,” Lemoine said. “We have our other jobs we really like that are good jobs, but we’d like to get to a place where we could pack a house … to whenever you play, you can pack it out. This is not to get rich or anything, but just to get that energy.”
For more information on the Slidell Food & Fun Fest, which features food, drinks, games, midway rides, music and much more, visit saintmmchurch.org/slidell-food-fun-fest- or call (985) 643-6124. The school/church are at 1050 Robert Blvd. in Slidell.