Love That Cajun Music

One of the best things about our stay in Cajun Louisiana was the music.  Music and dancing is a big part of the lives of the people here.  There are all kinds of places to listen to good Cajun music – restaurants, bars, dance halls, clubs, cultural centers and theaters.   We could have spent months exploring all the possibilities.  There were more quiet venues such as restaurants like Prejean’s in Lafayette that features a Cajun band nightly to a rowdy anything goes bar on the levee next to a bayou.  Several locals recommended a Zydeco Breakfast.  There were two, a place called Buck and Johnny’s on Saturday mornings offering breakfast while you listen to a Zydeco band and dance.  The other one is Fred’s Bar, open on Saturday mornings in the small town of Mamou and serving up only alcohol with the music.  I found out about Fred’s too late for us to plan to go – but Mark and I are not early risers and these places fill up with people early in the morning.

We started out our exploration of Cajun music one Saturday morning by going to Savoy’s music shop in the town of Eunice.  On Saturday mornings for the past 40 years, this shop has hosted a jam session with local musicians and anyone else who shows up.  The morning we visited, there was a lady guitarist from Quebec and a male accordionist from England.  People that don’t play and just want to come listen are welcome as well.  I am glad that we did a little research on how to find this place.   People on the internet advised to just look for a line of cars parked on the highway outside of town.  Sure enough the cars were our only clue as there was no sign.  Someone told us later that it accidentally burned down while Mr. Savoy was burning refuse from the last big storm.  Above is a picture of me at the entrance which is obscured by foliage with no sign or identification any where.

Mr. Marc Savoy (pronounced Sav-wah) has been playing and making accordions all of his life.  His family is also very involved in music.  The shop is well worn, but that made it all the more atmospheric and there were chairs to sit on as well as great music.  What a fun way to start the day!  Different people came and went with their instruments and often there would be a dozen or more people playing along.  Occasionally someone would sing along in French.  I got a kick out of wandering around reading the many interesting notes Mr. Savoy has placed on bulletin boards.  This is maybe my favorite.  He is known to be a colorful character.

After the jam ended, we headed into Eunice and stopped at the Acadien Prairie Cultural Center run by the National Park Service.  They have exhibits on Cajun history and culture as well as music each Saturday afternoon.  The local band was great.  Mark and I figure that many of the musicians have grown up playing much of their lives.  The gentleman on the far right sang some and played rhythm on a metal triangle which we learned was a basic part of early Cajun music.  There was actually a sign at Savoy’s jam session that allowed only one triangle player at a time.

The Cajun Hall of Fame in Eunice is a small building that showcases the best of Cajun musicians – there were just over 100 inductees.  There are photographs and other memorabilia packed into the small space.  The lady running the museum was friendly, showed us around and helped Mark pick out his first Cajun CD.

Just down the street from the hall of fame is the Liberty Theater where we attended a Cajun music show that night.   The Liberty opened in 1924 and almost every Saturday night the theater has live music.   It is home to the Rendez-Vous de Cajun radio show which is broadcast live on Saturday nights with the announcements made in French.   The band that night was Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas and the Cajun Cousins who turned out to be one of our favorites.  Couples danced in front of the stage while the music played.  People at the show were quite friendly and interested where we and others were from.  During the show they announced:  “We have visitors from England and California on the dance floor tonight.”  The English couple were definitely dancing and pretty good at it – but Mark and Beth remained sidelined – haven’t taken up dancing yet and probably wouldn’t be too good at it.  It was a fun day immersing ourselves in Cajun music at three different venues.

The next day, we headed back to Vermillionville where we had previously learned about the history and culture of the Cajuns.  Each Sunday afternoon they have a Zydeco band with dancing in the auditorium.  We got there early and there were few people until the band started playing.  Then it seemed people came out from nowhere and hit the dance floor.  The auditorium became rather crowded with all ages from very young to very old dancing.   The featured band was “Lil Wayne and Same Ol 2 Step.”  I love the peppiness  of Zydeco music and watching the people dance and having a great time.  Here in Cajun country, music and dance is definitely intertwined and a big part of the culture.

The cute little guy in the picture below strummed his guitar steadily for several hours throughout the show.

The next Sunday we decided to visit La Poussiere, a dance hall in Breaux Bridge that has been open since 1955 and features music each Sunday afternoon.  We were welcomed by very friendly owners who were happy to have out of town visitors!  While we were there, other people also came up to visit with us including two of the band members’ wives.  Mark figured out that this was the same band, Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas and the Cajun Cousins that we had heard at Liberty Theater.   They play here each Sunday.

We were curious about the meaning of La Poussiere.  We found out that the first dance hall had a floor that was loose and allowed dust to filter up between the boards and create a dust cloud in the room.  Patrons lovingly referred to the Hall as La Poussiere which means “The Dust” and the name stuck.  When a new larger building was constructed across the street, eighty percent of the original building’s floor came too, but none of the dust coming up the floor boards during dances.   The owners of La Poussiere are proud of their dance hall as there are not many of them like this left.   A number of tables surround the dance floor and there is a bar, but no food is served here.

An elderly gentleman who could dance like a twenty something invited me to dance and said he was a great teacher.  I managed to get around the dance floor a few times without falling all over my feet!   So began our Sunday afternoon ritual the month we stayed in the Lafayette area.  Twice we went to Vermillionville to hear Zydeco music and twice to La Poussiere to hear Cajun swing music.  Below is a picture of the Zydeco band of Leroy Thomas.

The two different styles of music were a contrast from each other.  It was La Poussiere and the traditional style that won our hearts.  The people there were so friendly and the music so relaxing and enjoyable.  The two band members’ wives gave us a CD from the group before our last afternoon was over – a remembrance of our time listening to Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas and the Cajun Cousins.

The accordion is the most popular Cajun instrument and Martin Accordions are known as the best.  We visited the Martin shop in Lafayette to see where they make them.

Junior Martin’s daughter, Pennye Huval gave us a tour and showed us some of the accordions.   The two of them also played a few songs for us.  Do you see the crawfish on the bellows of the accordion?  This is a Martin signature.   The Martin family performs shows regularly for tour groups.

The accordions are beautiful, handmade instruments and Mark was really wanting to get one, but alas, practicalities intervened.  I’m still not sure we won’t end up with one – sales tax is very high in Louisiana and you save hundreds of dollars by having one shipped out of the state.  Today we left Louisiana and are now in Mississippi?

Our last show before our month at Lafayette ended was back at Liberty Theater with the popular group of Steve Riley and the Mamou Play Boys presenting a Cajun Christmas show.  The show also featured children playing and singing including Mr. Riley with his two young sons.  It seemed that in many of the shows we attended, children played along which would definitely be important in keeping Cajun and Zydeco music alive through the generations.

We wish you all a very happy holiday season and new year to come.  See you next time!   Thanks to the Huber clan for taking a look!

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