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A MUSIC LOVER\'S FEAST - ENJOY LOUISIANA\'S VIBRANT SOUL
 
(2012 - Winter Issue)

Writer: CHERE DASTUGUE COEN



 

The popularity of HBO’s Treme has shown others what New Orleans residents have known all along—that the city’s music owns a distinct but varied sound, a vibrant soul mirroring a unique culture that perseveres and changes.

There’s jazz, of course, in all its varieties but also brass bands, funk and pop—even klezmer!

On any given night it’s easy to hear cool jazz and hot blues on Frenchmen Street, the Rebirth Brass Band shaking up the Maple Leaf Bar uptown and The Iguanas rocking the unique Rock ’N’ Bowl, where you pay to bowl and music is lagniappe, a little something extra.

But New Orleans is only the tip of the musical iceberg—if they had ice in Louisiana. Throughout the state music reigns supreme, and is as varied as its culture, language and demographics.

Cajun/Creole Country

It’s virtually impossible to be sad in Cajun Country, even if you know the lyrics to the haunting Cajun waltzes and their stories of unrequited love. There’s an underlying power beneath the pulse of Cajun and zydeco music that puts a smile on your face and makes you want to dance.

You won’t be alone. Everyone dances in Cajun/Creole Country, whether it’s a band playing at a festival of thousands or two guys in the back of a bar. Tables and chairs are moved out of the way, no matter the space, because dancing is a must!

Lafayette is the heart of Cajun and Creole Country, located two hours to the west of New Orleans, four hours east of Houston. Like New Orleans, music venues run the gamut, from the traditional dance hall of Vermilionville, part of a historic village showcasing Cajun and Creole life of the 1800s, to the Blue Moon Saloon and Guesthouse, a hostel with a rocking back porch where local and visiting musicians perform, including many who cut CDs here.

In addition, Lafayette hosts two major festivals that are world-renowned. Festival International de Louisiane, held the last weekend in April, is one of North America’s largest Francophone festivals, attracting musicians from around the world. Canada is well represented every year, from traditional Acadian music of the Maritimes to The Duhks. In the fall, the largest Cajun and zydeco festival happens in Lafayette’s Girard Park. Festivals Acadiens et Créoles highlights Louisiana’s indigenous musicians performing Cajun and zydeco plus visiting bands from Canada and Europe.

“Louisiana is a music lover’s feast,” said music journalist Herman Fuselier, who hosts a weekly zydeco show on Lafayette’s KRVS, a public radio station. “New Orleans is the cradle of jazz and Cajun music and zydeco come out of the southwest, the French-speaking part of the state called Acadiana. But here you can name any genre of music and you’ll find performers who are not only doing it, but doing it well.”

South Louisiana spawns so many outstanding musicians people take the unending talent for granted. Tabby Thomas, for instance, is one of several Baton Rouge bluesmen beloved in Europe, but back home finds it hard to make a living. Another is Cajun pop star Zachary Richard who has a stronger following in Canada.

“Zachary Richard is a major artist in Canada,” Fuselier said. “But in his native south Louisiana he gets lost in the flood of all the musicians here.”

For tourists visiting Louisiana at the right time, it’s not uncommon to see these world-class musicians playing in intimate settings. Richard, for instance, performs regularly at Lafayette and New Orleans festivals.

“Many times you can see these artists at festivals and other events for free or a minimal amount of money,” Fuselier said. “We’re really spoiled by the musical riches in this state.”

Visiting the Source

If you want to visit the source of Louisiana’s music, there are many attractions, museums and authentic dancehalls.

Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium was home to the Louisiana Hayride radio show, which began in 1948 and featured performances by famous country music stars, such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Doug Kershaw, George Jones, Huddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Lead Belly) and James Burton. The most famous person to grace its stage, however, was Elvis Presley, who performed 84 shows here before moving on to greater glory. It was at the Municipal Auditorium where the famous sentence, “Elvis has left the building,” was coined.

The Opelousas area birthed Creole music, which later became zydeco, and many original dancehalls still exist with bands performing the indigenous Louisiana music. In neighbouring Ville Platte, there’s the Swamp Pop Museum, honouring the musicians who started the unique musical genre.

In New Orleans, traditional—and modern—music flows everywhere, from the traditional Dixieland jazz performed at Preservation Hall to the more famous clubs of Tipitina’s and House of Blues, with everything in between. Be sure to opt for the more authentic experience, such as trumpeter Kermit Ruffins (who plays himself on Treme) performing at Vaughan’s in the neighbourhood known as Bywater. Get there early on Thursdays because the club packs them in and there’s free red beans and rice and gumbo at midnight.

Another great attraction, especially if you want to learn more about the Mardi Gras Indians portrayed in Treme,is the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the actual Tremé neighbourhood. The non-profit organization displays numerous costumes and accessories related to the African-American traditions of Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, and more.

Travel Planner

For information on travel to Louisiana and its musical heritage, visit louisianatravel.com/passions/music.

 
 
 
 
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