Café des Amis
Breaux Bridge, LA
Way early in the morning: 8:30-11:30 AM
Saturday, November 6, 2010
The insistent beat of a Zydeco band may have a different tempo than the Siren song that lured Ulysses onto the shoals but it can seize control of any who venture close enough to Bridge Street in Breaux Bridge on a Saturday morning.
The gatekeeper has temporarily stopped entrance to the famed Café des Amis at 9:30 AM. Twenty dancers are in one of Dante’s Infernos. Our sin is that we’ve arrived late and the place is near capacity. Our tribulation - we can hear the music but can’t get access to the smooth wooden dance floor a few feet away.
Through the huge plate glass window we can hear Leroy Thomas, his back turned from us as he joyously pumps his accordion, facing the dancers shaking it up inside. We could be on Mars or in Idaho or Poughkeepsie Oh the pain.
Leroy Thomas and The Zydeco Road Runners roll into a slinky bluesy number that demands action. I tap the shoulder of the woman standing in front of me. She turns. I extend my hand. She folds into my arms. We dance. On the sidewalk. Close. This, mes amis, is the way dancing goes down here in Louisiana.
Minutes later, we’ve all paid our $5.00 and are inside a café the likes of which you’ve never seen. The music is aural caffeine, the energy level is absurd. Tourists fill the tables that have been pushed toward the edges of the café to create a dance floor. Tourist dine on omelettes and pancakes. For the dancers, breakfast is an afterthought. For some of the more hardy, a cold beer or a Bloody Mary will suffice.
Everybody is dancing, or, in the case of the tourists, wishes they were dancing. Local farmers, oil field workers, government officials, speech therapists, teachers, dental hygienists, secretaries, lawyers, dancers who’ve come from afar to this morning Mecca pack the dance floor from 8:30 to 11:30 every Saturday morning.
“This is the best place to be anywhere in the USA on any Saturday morning.” Leroy Thomas says as he begins his second set. No argument here.
Leroy breaks into a grin. “I want to introduce my father, Leo Thomas, one of the five living legends of Zydeco, to do a few songs with us.”
Leo, dressed in an electric blue suit, powder blue shirt and matching fedora, and red and white striped tie, sings “Why You Want To Make Me Cry Tonight” and several other classic songs. If you think his attire draws attention, listen to him sing. The man has soul and pizzazz. He’s as comfortable connecting with the audience as I am sitting at my kitchen table.
The sweetest thing about it is the smile on Leroy’s face as he plays behind his dad. Love, admiration, pride. We’re in the presence of one living legend and perhaps another legend in the making.
This must be guest star morning. Lee Allen Zeno, renowned bass player for Buckwheat Zydeco, stands in for several songs and shows his stuff. The music community down here is tight - everyone knows everyone else and a whole bunch of them are related by blood or marriage.
Every musician I’ve ever talked to in Louisiana is down to earth and friendly. “Leroy invited me over when he knew his dad was going to sing today,” Lee says when I talk with him after the show. “My brother Ray is a musician, too,” he says and brings me over to meet him. “His band is Zydeco Ray and the Creole Night Riders.”
“My brother makes the best Jambalaya on the planet, Call me up when you come to town I’ll pick you up, spend some time with us in Maurice, we’ll give you some good home cooking then you’re on your own after that!”
He hands me a card with his telephone numbers on it. People ask me why I keep returning to Louisiana. How’s this for one reason?
Lee Allen Zeno, long-time bass player for Buckwheat Zydeco and his brother Ray, leader of Zydeco Ray and The Creole Night Riders. Lee has played with such luminaries as Charlie Rich, Dalton Reed, Guitar Shorty, Solomon Burke, Marcia Ball, and Irma Thomas. I had to google him to find that out - these men are as unassuming as they are highly talented
Friends relaxing at the Coffee Break, a block away from Bridge Street: Bernard, Mae Louise, pt, Rubiah, and Gus (make sure you spell it with one 's', he tells me). They're from Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, and Abbeville and make this Yankee feel right at home.