Friday, January 20, 2017

BOOGIE TOES, PART TWO: History, Culture and More Zydeco

You just can’t do Lafayette and its surrounding towns in a day or two. Carol and I spent almost a week there, and barely skimmed the surface of an area steeped in a rich, cultural heritage.

It was primarily a dance trip, but we like to absorb the culture and history of the places we visit. I wrote about our first night and full day, Tuesday and Wednesday, in last week’s post. Thursday, it was on to New Iberia, where we toured an 1834 mansion and a small local history museum before more Zydeco dancing at two locations.

Built for a wealthy sugar planter, Shadows-on-the-Teche was home to four generations before becoming a National Trust Historic Site. Live oaks draped with Spanish moss cast shadows on the house, gardens and Bayou Teche (pronounced Tesh), which its back door faces. It was an interesting tour, but unremarkable.

We had lunch at a local hole-in-the-wall called Bon Creole. Not being in the mood for Cajun food, I opted for a green salad topped with fried chicken. After lunch, we toured the small Bayou Teche museum, where we learned a lot about the history of New Iberia. It was the only Spanish settlement in Louisiana, and its 11 sugar mills produce more sugar than any of Louisiana’s other 21 parishes. The inner portion of the cane is processed for sugar, but the outer bark is re-used as fuel for the sugar refineries. Molasses and brown sugar are extracted in the four-kettle process. Molasses goes to Wisconsin and into animal feeds, according to our guide Catherine Segura, whose last name matches that of one of the original seven families of New Iberia.
Bon Creole Cafe

That night, we danced at the Feed & Seed and at Warehouse 535, both in Lafayette. Four Zydeco bands played to an enthusiastic crowd at the F&S, a rustic setting that actually started life as a warehouse but is now used for all kinds of events. We were supposed to get food at 7 p.m., but it didn’t arrive until 7:45 and we were famished. However, the scrumptious Cajun fare, cooked by locals just outside the back door, made up for the delay. The price made for quite a bargain, too. A small bowl of red beans and rice with a fried-chicken thigh was just $4; a larger bowl was $6. It was the best RB&R I’ve ever tasted, including my own home-cooked version. 

The high-energy music created an electric-charged atmosphere that made for great dancing at this seventh annual tribute to the man who had such a tremendous influence in his field. The bands playing were Dikki Du and The Zydeco Krewe; Double Trouble, a young Zydeco band fronted by twin brothers; The Corey Ledet Zydeco Band; and Jeffery Broussard and The Creole Cowboys, all well-known in these parts.

A highlight of the evening was seeing 85-year-old Zydeco legend Willis Prudhomme join Zydeco Trouble onstage for a song. As accordionist and vocalist, Willis had his own band in 1970, before most on stage tonight were born, as fellow blogger Paul Tamburello Jr. pointed out. (Click on this link to see his dance article: .) His style was more traditional rhythm & bluesy, with plenty of waltzes, which is the way I prefer my Zydeco. The music used to be slower and the dance steps more subtle, because the dances started in Creole living rooms where folks were elbow-to-elbow. I recall my first trip to SW Louisiana back in the late 1990s, when I danced at several clubs with an elderly African-American gentleman who wore a black cowboy hat and string tie. He steps were so subtle and understated that I had to pay close attention to know when he started.

Nowadays, most of the music is so high-energy you can’t help but break a sweat after two or three dances. I’ve seen local (Birmingham-area) guys with do-rags tucked into their pockets or wrapped around their heads like bandanas. Every dancer seems to have his own individual style, and many of the high-steppers and arm-flingers don’t understand that they need to reign it in when on a crowded dance floor. I can’t count the number of times during this week of dancing that I got hit with an elbow or a woman’s flying hair! The latter feels a lot like getting swatted in the face by a horse’s tail!

We were hungry for some Cajun music, so we left a fun party at the F&S to hear Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys at Warehouse 535. It was a big disappointment for a Cajun fan. I thought of Riley as a modern Cajun band, but this night he was all bluesy Christmas songs and funky swamp pop. We should have stayed at the F&S, where we were dancing our tootsies off with folks we had come to know. 

The F&S charged $20 for its tribute to Roy Carrier, while other venues were only $15 that week. We had heard that the extra money would go toward reopening the OffShore Lounge in Lawtell. Dance organizer Dick Brainard says that was the original premise seven years ago, but it’s a lost cause now, because that venue is in such terrible shape. The tribute is what it is — a nod to the man who started the Offshore and used it to help up-and-coming musicians learn their craft by allowing them to play with the pros. There are no extra monies anyway. Even though Dikki Du (a.k.a Troy Carrier, Roy’s son, who uses his childhood nickname as his professional moniker) plays for free, others have to be paid, along with the sound man and the Warehouse owners. Brainard has had to kick in extra money in years past to meet expenses. I just wish we hadn’t left the place early, because we wasted $15 at the Warehouse 535.  

My hat is off to Brainard and Troy Carrier, alias Dikki Du, for planning this annual event.

I promised I'd give you a peek of my own dancing style. If interested, click on the arrow in the dance photo. It takes you to John Moran's YouTube channel. Look for me about 5:37 into the video. I’m toward the right, in the background, dancing with a man in a black shirt and white pants. Enjoy!

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