Acadian Driftwood

Acadian Driftwood” is one of the The Band’s most celebrated songs, and likely the most widely heard song about the deportation ever written.

"All we had was gone

Broke down along the coast

But what hurt the most

When the people there said

You better keep movin' on"


Acadian Driftwood: The Band

The Band recorded a Robbie Robertson song in 1975 called “Acadian Driftwood,” arguably the most popular song about Acadian history of all time. The song initially appeared on The Band’s Northern Lights – Southern Cross album (Capitol, 1975) and has since appeared on a dozen of the group’s compilations.

Robbie Robertson is said to have been inspired to write “Acadian Driftwood” by his French-Canadian wife, Dominique. That’s part of the story. After his Woodstock years, Robertson lived briefly in Montreal, where he was reportedly moved to write this song after viewing the film Acadie Acadie (1971).

The song has been praised for powerfully recreating a devastating course of events, but there are a few disconcerting inaccuracies. Then again, Shakespeare took liberties with historical events, and Longfellow, who never set foot in Acadie, had a pastoral vision of the old settlement that didn’t reflect Acadian reality with total accuracy.

The Band’s song nonetheless drew attention to Acadian history and the historical inaccuracies didn’t stop other artists from covering the song. Rather, the song helped spread an awareness of Acadian and Cajun history beyond Acadie and the bayou. Robbie Robertson’s story of the deportation of the Acadians brought this tragedy to light in the eyes of millions of fans of The Band.

Listen to Acadian Driftwood


A feature on The Band that appeared in American Songwriter magazine in 2012 included a list of what the editors considered to be the group’s best songs. “Acadian Driftwood,” which they lauded as “a masterpiece,” was their second choice, after “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The group’s biggest hit, “The Weight,” was listed in third place. Songwriter Robbie Robertson “channels all the pain of being a stranger in a strange land,” the editors observed. “It helped to have his brilliant band mates delivering the message. Garth Hudson concocts a virtual symphony of regret through a combination of bagpipes and piccolos, and the harmonizing in the chorus by Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko is indelibly moving.”

The venerated critic Robert Palmer also declared the song to be a masterpiece. In his notes to the Northern Lights, Southern Cross CD reissue, Chris Morris states that “the saga of an entire people is encapsulated in the song's seven minutes; as the song sails out on a wave of French-Canadian lyrics, one palpably feels the tug of ancient time.”

Song Lyrics

The war was over and the spirit was broken
The hills were smokin' as the men withdrew
We stood on the cliffs
Oh, and watched the ships
Slowly sinking to their rendezvous
They signed a treaty and our homes were taken
Loved ones forsaken
They didn't give a damn
Try'n' to raise a family
End up the enemy
Over what went down on the plains of Abraham

Acadian driftwood
Gypsy tail wind
They call my home the land of snow
Canadian cold front movin' in
What a way to ride
Oh, what a way to go

Then some returned to the motherland
The high command had them cast away
And some stayed on to finish what they started
They never parted
They're just built that way
We had kin livin' south of the border
They're a little older and they've been around
They wrote a letter life is a whole lot better
So pull up your stakes, children and come on down

Fifteen under zero when the day became a threat
My clothes were wet and I was drenched to the bone
Been out ice fishing, too much repetition
Make a man wanna leave the only home he's known
Sailed out of the gulf headin' for Saint Pierre
Nothin' to declare
All we had was gone
Broke down along the coast
But what hurt the most
When the people there said
"You better keep movin' on"

Everlasting summer filled with ill-content
This government had us walkin' in chains
This isn't my turf
This ain't my season
Can't think of one good reason to remain
We worked in the sugar fields up from New Orleans
It was ever green up until the floods
You could call it an omen
Points ya where you're goin'
Set my compass north
I got winter in my blood

Acadian driftwood
Gypsy tail wind
They call my home the land of snow
Canadian cold front movin' in
What a way to ride
Ah, what a way to go