Backroad Acadiana: Fests and Dancehalls

Since Opelousas native Paul Prudhomme blackened his first redfish several years ago, the interest in Cajun food and music has garnered world attention. The interest in the music and dancing has grown in geometric proportions since then. Cajun music festivals are now held annually in Rhode Island and San Francisco, and bands are traveling to venues in Russia, Japan and throughout Europe. Who would’ve dreamed that the Cajun culture would gain such widespread appeal in such a short time?

Locals and tourists alike seek numerous festivals throughout Acadiana to satisfy their cravings for good Cajun food and music. It is only fitting that the little town of Mamou, which bills itself as the “Cajun Music Capital of the World,” should hold one of the finest Cajun music festivals in the world. The festival kicks off on the first Friday evening of June each year, with a street dance usually featuring the music of Marc and Ann Savoy. On Saturday, some of the foremost traditional Cajun bands in Acadiana perform from under the shade of old pecan trees through the early evening. Some of the frequent music mainstays from year to year include the Fred’s Lounge Radio Show Band, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, the Cajun Tradition, Dewey Balfa, Les Freres Michot and Nonc Allie & the Basile Cajun Band. The aroma of boiling cracklins, the taste of hot boudin and the sound of traditional Cajun music makes even a foreigner to the area feel like a Cajun.

Another festival that highlights Cajun food and music with great aplomb is the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Tens of thousands flock to this sleepy little town on the first weekend of May each year to pay homage to the tiny freshwater crustacean. Music and dancing abound all weekend as visitors satiate their appetite for crawfish prepared in a myriad of forms. For the purist there’s plenty of boiled crawfish, but this is your chance to try crawfish bisque, boudin, etouffee and boulettes.

This town of crawfish fame is also home to another noteworthy festival held at Mulate’s, “The World’s Most Famous Cajun Restaurant.”

The Fourth of July marks the second annual Mulate’s Accordion Contest, featuring musical talent ranging in age from 8 to 80. Inside the restaurant, each contestant is judged on his or her rendition of three songs. Outside there’s non-stop music and dancing all day. Last year’s heir to the title of “World’s Best Accordion Player” was 20-year-old Steve Riley. Riley, a native of Mamou and rising Cajun music wonder, is also leader of the Mamou Playboys.

The Super Bowl of Cajun music festivals is the Festivals Acadiens held in Lafayette on the third weekend of September. Girard Park is center stage for the music at Festival de Musique Acadienne, and draws increasingly huge crowds year after year from near and afar. The line-up of bands each day are some of the best to be found anywhere, and represent all styles of Cajun music today from traditional to progressive. Dancers moved by the music seem undaunted by the changes in weather and create a cloud of dust or stir up the mud in front of the stage. “Allons danser!” is their raison d’être.

Also part of Festival Acadiens is the Bayou Food Festival, which includes the food of great restaurateurs and chefs of Cajun country. It is conveniently located next to the music stage and offers samples of favorite Cajun dishes. The Louisiana Native Crafts Festival is held at the Lafayette Natural History Museum and Planetarium and presents many Cajun skills, arts and crafts.

For Cajun dance devotees, no trip to Acadiana is complete without a visit to one of the old country dance halls. The grandfather salle de danse (or dance hall) is La Poussiere in Breaux Bridge. Years ago the hall had a dirt floor and was appropriately named La Poussiere, meaning “the dust.” The present wood floor has a wonderful surface—large, smooth and waxed. Walter Mouton and the Scott Playboys have been the house band for about 25 years. Little has changed in this place over the years, and patrons are primarily French-speaking locals who frequent the hall religiously every Saturday night.

Harry’s Club is another Breaux Bridge favorite for local dancers. Sunday afternoons this place is packed with many of the same people who were at La Poussiere the night before. The ease and grace with which these couples glide across the floor is attested by the years of practice they’ve spent in perfecting their skills at similar clubs throughout Acadiana.

The Rainbeaux Club located south of Lafayette in Cade is a little known gem. Most dancers think they’ve found nirvana the minute they walk in the door. The charm of this dance hall is that its spacious floor is made of old bowling alley lanes. Dancing on such a floor is like gliding effortlessly on ice. Some of the Saturday night patrons are in their nineties and are still driven by the sound of a good two-step.

North of Eunice near Mamou is another popular Cajun dance hall that’s nestled in trees and part of a campground. The Lakeview Club is home to bands like the Cajun Tradition and Nonc Allie & the Basile Cajun Band. Saturday nights call out to all the locals to celebrate the weekend with fine Cajun music.

No one can claim to have been to Mamou without a stop at Fred’s Lounge. Fred Tate and his ex-wife Sue hold court at this tiny bar every Saturday morning for an international clientele in search of Mecca. For nearly thirty years, a live radio program has been broadcast from Fred’s to the delight of thousands of tourists and locals. People come from Paris, Quebec, Rome and Japan to this little town bar to witness an event that is difficult to describe. The inevitable crowd grows impatient as they wait for the band to start up this breakfast tradition once again. The release of energy is palpable to everyone present the moment the first two-step begins. Dancers waste no time as they vie for space on the minuscule dance floor sprinkled with cornmeal.

While not a dance hall, Marc Savoy’s Music Center in Eunice is home to the Saturday morning jam session for musicians. On any given Saturday, one is apt to find well-respected veteran musicians playing alongside young novices enamored with the sound of traditional Cajun music. Nearly everyone in attendance has some musical instrument in hand and joins in with the score of other musicians. The sound of eight accordions, five guitars and seven fiddles performing an old waltz or two-step is as beautiful as it is intoxicating. The allure of events such as these demands that the visitors keep coming back for more.

 

Cajun Dance Halls

BASILE

D.I.’s Restaurant: Hwy. 97; Nonc Allie & the Basile Cajun Band every Tuesday, 7-9 p.m.; (318) 432-5141.

BATON ROUGE

Brunet’s Cajun Restaurant: 135 Flannery; music Wednesday & Saturday nights; (504) 272-6226

F.O.P. Hall: 10777 Greenwell Springs Rd.; music 1 Saturday each month; (504) 275-1684

K.C. Hall: 11277 Airline Hwy. at Sherwood Forest; CFMA band every Friday; (504) 293-1558

Mulate’s: 8322 Bluebonnet Rd.; music for lunch & dinner 7 days a week; (504) 767-4794

Port Allen Community Center: 749 N. Jefferson in Port Allen; music 1 or 2 times each month; (504) 383-6481

BREAUX BRIDGE

Harry’s Club: 519 Parkway; Take I-10 Exit 109 and go south 1/2 mile; music on Sunday from 5-9 p.m.; (318) 332-5180

Kaiser’s: 1/2 mile west of Mulate’s; Cajun bands on weekends; jam session on Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; (318) 332-9583

La Poussiere: 1212 Grand Pt. Rd.; On Hwy. 347; Waller Mouton & Scott Playboys every Sat. 9 p.m.-1 a.m.; open some Sundays 4-8 p.m.; (318) 332-1721

Mulate’s: 325 Mills Ave.; Take I-10 Exit 109 to Hwy. 94 and go west 1 mile; Live Cajun Music 7 days a week for lunch and dinner; (318) 332-4648 or 1-800-42-CAJUN

CARENCRO

Prejean’s: 2 miles north of I-10 on I-49 (Exit #3); Cajun music 7 nights a week from 7-11 p.m.; (318) 896-3247

CROWLEY

Belizaire’s: 2307 N. Parkerson; Take I-10 Exit 80 South; Cajun music every night except Tuesday; (318) 788-2501

ERATH

Smiley’s Bayou Club: On Hwy. 14; Cajun music on Saturday nights from 9 p.m.-12 a.m.

EUNICE

Gilton’s Club: on Hwy. 190 east of Eunice; Zydeco on Saturday nights; (318) 457-1241

Lakeview Club: On Hwy. 13 between Eunice & Mamou; Cajun band every Saturday evening from 8 pm.-12 a.m.

Liberty Theatre: Corner of Second and Park Ave.; Live radio show every Saturday from 6-8 p.m.; Cajun & zydeco music and Cajun humor; $1 donation; (318) 457-7389

Savoy’s Music Center: East of Eunice on Hwy. 190; Cajun jam session every Saturday morning from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

LAFAYETTE

El Sido’s: 523 N. St. Antoine; Zydeco music on weekends; 235-0647

Grant Street Dance Hall: 113 Grant St.; Cajun or Zydeco on some weekends; (318) 237-8513

Hamilton’s Place: 1808 Verot School Rd.; Zydeco or Cajun on weekends

Randol’s: 2320 Kaliste Saloom; Take I-10 Amb. Caffery Exit 100 and go south 5 miles then turn left on Kaliste Saloom for 1/2 mile; Cajun music 7 nights a week; 981-7080 or 1-800-YO-CAJUN

Vermilionville: music every day; (318) 233-4077

LEWISBURG

Bourque’s Club: 8 miles south of Opelousas on Cedar Street; Saturday nights, 9 p.m.-1 a.m.; (318) 948-9904 or (318) 948-8646

Guidry’s Friendly Lounge: 8 miles south of Opelousas; Sat. & Sun. 6-10 p.m.; (318) 942-9988

MAMOU

Fred’s Lounge: Sixth Street; Cajun music every Saturday morning from 9 a.m.–1 p.m.; radio broadcast on KVPI 1050 AM from 9–11 a.m.

Brass Rail: Sixth Street next to Fred’s Lounge; Cajun band every Saturday from 12-4 p.m.

NEW IBERIA

Rainbeaux Club: Cajun music on Saturday nights; (318) 367-6731

NEW ORLEANS

Cajun Cabin: 501 Bourbon Street; Cajun music 7 nights a week; 8 p.m.-til; (504) 529-4256

Crystal Seafood Cajun Cafe: 600 Decatur St. in the Jax Brewery; Bon Ton Roullet plays Cajun music on weekends; (504) 522-0336

Dutch Alley: 900 block of Decatur St.; Louisiana music (Cajun, Zydeco, Jazz, etc.) on Sundays, 12-3 p.m.; sponsored by Jean Lafitte National Park Service; (504) 589-2636 or 522-2621

Aremen’s Hall: 307 4th St. in Westwego; Cajun music on some Fridays or Sundays; (504) 341-8264 or (504) 899-0615

Four Columns: 3711 Westbank Expressway in Harvey; Cajun music on Tuesday from 7:30-11 p.m.; (504) 340-4109

Maple Leaf Bar: 8316 Oak Street; Cajun and Zydeco music every Thursday and some weekends; (504) 866-LEAF

Michaul’s: 701 Magazine St.; Cajun music Mon. – Sat.; 522-5517

Mudbug’s Saloon: 2024 Belle Chase Hwy., Gretna; Cajun band on Sunday afternoon from 3-7; (504) 392-0202

Mulate’s: 201 Julia St. at Convention Blvd.; “World’s Most Famous Cajun Restaurant” has live Cajun music at 7 p.m. every night and from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays; (504) 522-1492

Tipitina’s: 501 Napoleon Ave.; Bruce Daigrepont’s Cajun Band on Sunday afternoons, 5-9; (504) 895-8477

OPELOUSAS

Richard’s Club: 4 miles west of Opelousas on Hwy. 190; Zydeco music every Friday and Saturday night 9:30-1:30 & some Sunday afternoons

Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki: North of Opelousas on Hwy. 182; Zydeco music every other Friday and every Saturday, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., (318) 942-9980

Toby’s Little Lodge: 1 mile south of Opelousas on Hwy. 182; Cajun music Thursday nights & live radio show on Saturday mornings (1230 AM); (318) 948-7788

VILLE PLATTE

Snook’s Bar: Cajun music Saturday nights 8-12