Odyssey de Louisiane: 3 Festivals, 3 Cultures
Okay, travelogues aren't really my gig, but this trip yearns to be shared.
My ten-day week began at the Louisiana Folk Roots Festival at Chicot State Par near Ville Platte on Saturday. The following Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week would include a music camp where aspiring players, such as this writer, can hone their skills under the instruction of top Cajun music stars. An added treat was a daily cooking class that featured famous musicians preparing their favorite dishes.
Upon entry to the site, Le Boucherie, the traditional Cajun feast, had just begun. This rite of passage was my deepest exposure to the inner workings of Cajun life and culture.
How many Cajuns does it take to change a light bulb? I dunno, but I can tell you it takes about 20 to render a hog into barbeque, boudin, head cheese, and cracklins, and it takes about eight hours to do so. The resultant delicacies were beyond all expectations, a euphoria possibly enhanced by a steady supply of Louisiana craft beers, most specifically Abita Amber and LA 31 Biere Noire. Whereas the former brew is an old friend, the latter is a formidable new beer on the scene from Bayou Teche Brewery in Arnaudville.
But that's not all. A dance followed, and after the dance, a jam session that lasted 'til the wee hours of morning ... every day!
My busy schedule required that I cut short the week of Balfa Camp to three days, because the remainder of the week would include Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette and the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Little Neddy was a busy boy.
Our stay in Lafayette was brief, owing to the limited availability of rooms. To secure a room in the best hotel for the festival, the strategically located Juliet, we placed our names on a waiting list in October, 2011. In January, 2012, we received a call that two days were available, which we seized. The first two days of Fest International were a slow start for the diverse musical extravaganza, and we had to move on to the Big Easy for the weekend.
So many festivals, so little time.
In more than 35 visits to New Orleans, my wife and I had avoided Jazz Fest for all the tales of crowded venues and bad weather. Another rite of passage, however, brought us to the Fair Ggrounds for Saturday and Sunday. Jazz Fest was much as expected, though unusually dry, hot at times, and as crowded as Royal Street on Mardi Gras.
Most enjoyable of our visit was not the festival, however, but the musical delights of Frenchmen Street and the French Quarter. Music of the 1940s seems to be the order of the day at the Spotted Cat and D.B.A., where the dancers demonstrate the Lindy Hop with all the skill and poise of "Dancing with the Stars." Palm Court Jazz Cafe served up the only hospital food available in the Vieux Carre', but the spicy house band gave zest enough to make one want to go back. The Kerry Irish Pub has never failed to excite the musical senses, and our stop there was suitably rewarded.
Reflection upon this whirlwind journey is highlighted by the contrast of cultures, Cajun, Creole, Francophone, and Yat. The best food was cooked in the open air, and the most enjoyable music was presented in the small venues.
It was not the glitz and glitter, but the grit (and grillades) of the blended cultures that made this trip one not to be soon forgotten. Uniquely, Louisiana is a place where one can stage a little festival whenever, and wherever, the mood strikes. C'est bon!
Ned Cheever lives in Texas, but his heart belongs to Louisiana. The frequent visitor writes articles for NolaVie. Read his blog at nedcheever.com.