Contributions by Laura & Jeremy Rice and Tricia Restivo
Below is a list of notes and observations and not a play-by-play of our last trip to Festival Acadiens. The music, dance, and culture in SWLA is constantly undergoing change, and this article covers some of the interesting changes that we observed plus some travel tips for you next trip to the area. Enjoy!
1) In years past, the Cajun scene seemed to be dominated with older musicians with a dearth of new musicians and bands. However on this trip, the Cajun scene seems to be going strong with plenty of new bands such Lafayette Rhythm Devils and Mouton Noir (Black Sheep). Many with young musicians are doing fairly traditional music such as The The Lost Bayou Ramblers and La Bande Feufolette. Other bands are doing a high energy and more eclectic styles including Sean Vidrine & Swampfyre, Bluerunners, Damon Troy & LA Beat, Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin' Cajuns and The Traitteurs.
Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin' Cajuns: http://www.kickincajuns.com
The Lost Bayou Ramblers: http://www.lostbayouramblers.com/
La Bande Feufolette: http://22.214.171.124/
Damon Troy & LA Beat: http://www.damontroy.com/
Sean Vidrine & Swampfyre: http://www.swampfyre.com/
2) For boudin, a local spicy, stuffed sausage, go to Don's Specialty Meats, just off I-49 about 3.5 exits from Lafayette on the left (just under a prominent billboard easily seen from the road). The also have frozen 5 lb. box for $15 if you want to take some home. JR
3) My vote for the newest must-stop for shopping is Louisiana Heritage and Gifts located two exits up I-49 on Gloria Switch (going north, take right at exit and go about a half mile). The shop has books, CDs and local crafts and is run by Mitch and Lisa Reed, two local musicians (Mitch plays fiddle with Charivari and other bands, Lisa is in the Magnolia Sisters). With the closing of Raccoon records in Lafayette, La. Heritage and Gifts has become the spot for Cajun, zydeco, and Swamp Pop Records. However, the best feature is the room for jamming by local musicians and guests. There is jam session every Sat. from 2 to 5 pm, and sometimes an impromptu jam session will be going. (www.LaHeritageandGifts.com, 500 E. Gloria Switch Rd., Lafayette, LA 70507, 337-237-9258)
4) We met two talented young Creole musicians out of Houston at an impromptu jam session at La. Heritage and Gifts, whom we think will be big names in the future. Corey 'Lil Pop' Ledet - is a whiz on the accordion, playing single and triple row as well as the piano accordion. Cedric Watson is an amazing fiddle player although he first started playing guitar. Beside talent versatility, what struck me about the guys was their desire to play older, more traditional tunes and sing in French. Expect to see these guys touring sometime in the future.
5) Some of the best dancers I saw where at Whiskey River doing the Whiskey River Jitterbug. This dance, sometimes called Lake Charles Slide, is a version of 6 count swing from the SWLA / East Texas area. Many of the dancers were young and doing intricate and fancy footwork that looked way cool the way that good footwork can give zydeco dance that amazing look. If you want to check out and learn the Whiskey River Jitterbug, you should get Michael Seider's new video. You can order the video for $25 and $4 for USPS priority shipping. Personal checks are OK, as well as, money orders, but no credit cards. Michael Seider; 419 Washington Street, Breaux Bridge, LA 70517, Phone: 337-332-0862, email: Zydecoboy@earthlink.net (For more info. on this and other instructional dance videos, see my Reviews of Cajun and Zydeco Instructional Dance Videos).
6) Perhaps the most striking change that we noted was the integration of the crowd as a zydeco dance with Keith Frank at Wranglers on Sunday night. The crowd was completely mixed with respect to black and white, and the DJ music afterwards was a mix or Cajun, Zydeco, and C&W. The same integration was seen at Whiskey River and Grant Street Dancehall. Just a few years ago, the Cajun and zydeco scenes seemed to be fairly segregated, and national news was made when Geno Delafose was denied entry to La Pousierre, a well-known Cajun Club. It was really great to see how much has changed in a few years.
7) Speaking of changes in the dance scene, many of the old stereotypes of dance customs seem to be changing a good bit. The local dancers seemed to switch partners more and fewer seemed to only dance with their date. Often someone will ask before dancing with your date or spouse, but it didn't seem to be as big a deal than it used to be. I also got asked to dance by many local female dancers; something that you used to hear would never happen if you were an out-of-town man.
8) The town of Lafayette seemed to be getting nicer with new businesses and fresh-looking parks. One interesting new place is City Cafe on the corner of Second and Vine Streets, fairly close to Grant St. Dancehall. This is a community arts center devoted to mainly music and theater. The have a 120-seat theater that has productions such A Streetcar Named Desire that is running currently. The theater hosts music and is available to any local group with a reasonable use for it. The space also has a nice little cafe space. They are celebrating their one-year anniversary and are looking to expand. We went there to hear J.J. Callier there one afternoon, but he was a no-show. Too bad, we have not heard him for a long time. We did get to meet a number of nice locals and Hans --, the promoter of the yearly International Cajun & Zydeco Festival in Rammsdonksveer, Netherlands (www.ZydecoZity.NL). The location of City Cafe is 301 Vine St., Lafayettte, LA 70508. Temp. Website: www.bertrandlandservice.com/Cite
9) The coffee served at City Cafe is Mello Joy, a recently resurrected local brand that is competing with Community Coffee, the local heavyweight. Interesting, the brand was restarted by Louis R. Begnaud, a descendant of the original owners, after Community failed to renew their trademark on the name. Community had bought the brand and name about 20 years ago but chose not to continue marketing it. I am glad I am not the employee at Community that failed to renew the trademark.
10) Keith Frank is still the biggest draw on the local zydeco scene. One Saturday night, he packed dancers into Hamilton's Club like sardines in a can. We went but left after seeing the crowd, even though our parking attendant assured us the "place is full of love". Later that evening, Famous DC area dancer Joel Rosenburg quipped that he wondered if sardines being packing a can ever wondered if they were at Hamilton's Club.
11) The Horseman is still the best place to get western wear. The selection is large, and the staff is very helpful. They are as authentic a place as I have ever found with tack, saddles, and other horse supplies. This is the place to go for boots, hats, and other western gear, but one warning, it hard to get out of the place without busting your travel budget. It is located at exit 100 on I-10 (Ambassador Cafferty Pkwy.), just across from Cowboys, a huge dance hall that has Cajun, zydeco, and C&W. We didn't make it to Cowboys this trip, but it a place worth checking out. One last note, Marty Katz discovered the wholesale warehouse across the street sells industrial strength Mardi Gras supplies if you need to outfit a party or parade. The Mardi Gras supplies are seasonal, but the rest of the year you can get wholesale candy, cigarettes, and the all other stuff you probably shouldn't buy in industrial sizes.
12) Our feet and bodies are thankful for the nice wooden dance floors in all the venues. What a difference it makes on how you feel the next day. One notable exception was the actual Festivals Acadians itself. At the second stage, the wooden floor was no more than two 4x8 sheets of plywood beside the stage and outside the tent was pretty pathetic. As many have mentioned, the L.A. festivals may be falling behind in attracting out-of-state tourists compared to C/Z festivals in other states because the L.A. festivals do not provide good facilities for dancing. One positive note about this year's festival was a lack of dust, but the rain instead (at least on Sun.) was really a great trade.
13) Swamp tour recommendation: Atchafalaya Basin Backwater Adventure Tour... not really an adventure, but very informative and interesting. The tour kicks off in Gibson, midway between New Orleans and Lafayette by way of RT 90. The tour lasts about 3 hours and includes sampling of local fare. The tour is run by Jon Faslun.