The many ways to revel in Cajun country

Two little boys stood under a misty street light in the warehouse district of Lafayette, La. Faintly, in the stillness of this damp bayou night, a huffing tuba riff wafted down the silent residential street toward the little boys, a couple of cops, a traffic barricade,  and a few dozen other locals.  Gravel crunched under our feet, a very tall man i a cowboy hat smiled as his kids talked to a photographer taking their photo.

Then headlines appeared,  beamed  the promise of an approach. Tuba chuffing was now joined by the whack of a big marching drum, trumpets. The little boys froze in the middle of the street, outlined in headlight hite.

And suddenly there was — a parade. The first of the season, a walking parade kicking off Mardi Gras events in Lafayette. A litany of  oddnss, Girls in white, fairy-light blinking  tutus; guys in traditional bayou tatter-costumes and terrifying masks,  swinging shiny gold and purple beads; a big school band blasting brass notes in that only down here way that makes your feet move before you can stop them,

And, as I had been warned by a man wearing an Evangline Maid bread button, a discorporated loaf of marching bread slices.  Or, call them people sandwiches if it’s easier to imagine, bodies wedghed between two soft foam pieces of Evangeline Maid bread — the wonderbread, I gathered, of these parts .  Some with matching hats, miniature slices around the brim. Alas, the buns hasd all been thrown by the time the parade arrived at our location. No bread slices either. Not even a crouton.

A marching sandwich handed me an empty bread bag, with not even a crumb inside. I handed it back, as some bees flapped by; maybe they had honey? No, but they had beads, which the children grabbed greedily, then dropped to the sidewalk, immediately going back for more.

A mosquito, complete with a drop of blood at the end of its, what, proboscis?  hovered near the insects, and the children, and anyone with a camera.

And as quickly as they had arrived, they were going away, drifting into the haze, toward a hulking former warehouse that is now a home to music, and tonight two bayou faves will be hitting the stage — the New Natives Brass Band  and the Lost Bayou Ramblers, just back from their Grammy win.

I’d been i Lafayette about two hours, and was already on my way to my third celebration. Mardi Gras in New Orleans may be bigger, but everything about these Cajun country festivities were certainly stranger, and more unexpected!


There’s air conditioning —  a happy suprise — and a bright, expansive bar, and the parade people, of course,  checking their bling,  straightening wings. The music hadn’t started, and Warehouse 535 really was a warehouse, big and industrial scattered with round tables. But the people watching was entertainment enough,  everyone sparkling, from their LED-blinking  crowns and implausible hairdos  to their spangled sneakers. Parish beers (a happy discovery), Blue Moons,  the bottles begin to gather, then crowd, the tables. condensation making them slide easily across to a fellow reveler.

The New Natives fill the stage with brass — end to end horns, trombones sliding over the crowd in front, and also with bodies — some of these guys were kind of huge, making the one small trumpet player go positively teeny.

There are older couples with mirror-image smile lines, skinny teenagers with cell phones and butterfly capes, couples from Los Angeles and a contingent from Columbia, nodding with the beat.  The call and response comes without coaxing, the crowd knows the words,  everybody’s helping the evening just … lift off.

Young women (men?) in slithery spandex have commandeered three wobbly chairs, but  still they dance, energetically and ceaselessly, striking the occasional bending, arching tableau. They  are beautiful and a little frightening, too.

We are all dancing, in our own ways, together. My voice has gone ragged from shouting with the Ramblers.  Fiddle and accordion and,  jeez, a  triangle, too  – like a serious come to dinner triangle. Capable of triangle solos. So there.

Another thank-you-God-and-now-I-can-die moments.


Son of a gun.

Finding the Lost Bayou Ramblers


Ramblers in the bayou. Photo by

Kalenda, the album that won Best Regional Roots Music Album at the 2018 Grammys, was the ninth release from a band that’s been around since 1999. Lost Bayou Ramblers were also Grammy nominees in 2007,  were featured in the soundtrack to “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”  and guest artists on their albums have included Scarlett Johannson and Dr. John.


I kinda hate that though I knew the name (and saw/loved “Beasts”), I only experienced LBR’s  actual music a few days ago. I have to thank Lafayette Travel, the region’s official tourism office, for the introduction.

So much music, so little time. I guess I knew that from my days (OK, decade) as music critic for The Arizona Daily Star;  I hate knowing it, though, and am grateful every time someone helps me discover another almost-lost-to-me musician or group.

Here is just a little window into their music.  It ends a bit abruptly (still figuring out fadeouts), but check it out.


Check out some additional tunes on their website. Oh, also, they’re playing at the Patchogue Theater on Long Island Feb. 16 and at National Sawdust in Brooklyn on Feb. 17 — plus numerous gigs in Louisiana, of course. You’ll find more on their site.

OK! Bayou at the Grammys

Dwayne Dopsie, at a pre-Grammy, Only in Cajun and Creole Country Celebration.                                                                                                                                                                  Photos by Jill Schensul

Saw Dwayne Dopsie and the (aptly named) Zydeco Hellraisers along with the Lost Bayou Ramblers at BB King’s Blues Club yesterday — it was the “Only in Cajun and Creole Country Celebration” thrown by the tourism folks of the Lafayette region, in southern Louisiana, west of New Orleans.

“What’s this? Cajun? Creole?” my friend asked while dancing to the  Ramblers.  She had tears in her eyes (I was still sweeping sweat out of my own eyes from the hellraising zydeco that had preceded it.)

Hellraiser Paul Lafleur plays a wicked washboard.

Cajun, Creole, zydeco  — whatever.  New Orleans and environs are what they are because of the patois, the gumbo — the mashup, you might say — of influences.  They don’t call New Orleans the Big Easy for nothing. Don’t worry about categories.

Shut up and dance.

Yesterday was the first time I’d seen both of these bands. And I was blown away, in different ways, by both.  It reminded me that there are so many ways to be amazing. ramblers2

Both bands’ albums are up for Grammys tonight (glad to see both bands also highlighted in the NY Times piece today, “Grammy Gems in the Shadows.”

My fingers are crossed while I’m typing this.  But really, it isn’t about luck (er, gris-gris).  All you have to do is listen, cher.

    —  Cajun: French Acadians who settled here after immigrating from Canada.
    — Creole: Descendents of French, Spanish, and Caribbean slaves and natives; it’s also come to mean any person whose ancestry derives from the Caribbean.
    Zydeco: Blues-influenced Cajun music, usually including accordion, guitar, and violin (and don’t forget the washboard!).

Please go to Jazz Fest

The lineup for New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2018 (April 27-May 6) was just released, and (as usual) I am psyched. David Byrne, Aretha Franklin, a special Tribute to Fats Domino – featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Jack White are among the headliners. It’s not just about big-star musicians (well, OK, sorta). It’s more that, bottom line, it’s #JAZZFEST!

If you’ve been, I need say no more. But here’s the more for those who haven’t.

I have never been able to convince any of my friends to come with me to JazzFest.  OK, sure, maybe the idea of spending a long weekend away with me scares them. But more likely is that once they see photos of the giganticness of the event, masses of people, the litany of musicians in the lineup, they are turned off. One year, I almost got my husband to go; then he saw an aerial shot of the crowd, and that was that.

I understand the teeming masses turn-off. I am not  a crowd person., But at JazzFest – as at many music or other festivals where everyone shares a particular passion – the crowd is a huge (so to speak) part of the joy (especially if you get VIP tickets that come with upgraded bathroom facilities and a little section where the people per inch ratio gives you a fighting chance at breathing/seeing a stage).

Back to crowd joys, though. An example:  I’m dancing my head off in front of a band with a big crazy washboard player and a granny playing the spoons and a brass section and “zydeco” or “stompers” or “hellraisers” in the name. I’m by myself (as noted)  and sweating under a  merciless New Orleans in May sun and lots of swampish humidity, salt stinging my eyes, and everybody looking the same, like they just pulled us all out of the Mississippi. And all around me, people are  dancing: some Brooklyn-esque hipsters with bookish spectacles all fogged up and sliding down; an old married couple with their matching leather-roadmap faces close together and  steppin’ at a bayou pace;  a woman in a red insanely big self-made hat (a J.F. thing) with her face  toward the white-hot sky and a smile shaped like bliss. And I catch her eye and we smile and I realize my cheeks are beginning to smile-hurt.  And the music, the joy, the moment, and the high somehow, unbelievably, get higher.

JazzFest is like the Northern Lights: It’s something I wish/ hope everyone can experience before they die. Continue reading “Please go to Jazz Fest”