December 28, 2013
Trying to find a place to dance in the Lafayette, LA area on the days preceeding New Year's Eve? Forget about going to all of them, reason having to do with some law of physics about not being able to be in the same place at the same time (unless you're a sub atomic particle). From December 28 when I arrived until New Year's Eve there were forty dances within a 20 mile radius of Lafayette. A ton of locals and carloads of dancers from all quarters of the cajun/zydeco universe descended upon La Poussiere in Breaux Bridge for their first stop on Saturday night, December 28.
The place is positively packed to the gills, the floor is undulating under the syncopated weight of hundreds of pairs of feet. If this were any other part of the world I'd be thinking earthquake. Here? Think "good time". Two-step songs slow to fast and lovely waltzes, all sung in French, blast out from the bandstand. Most dancers don't leave the floor, they just turn around and find someone within tap on the shoulders distance and keep dancing.
Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys singing traditional French cajun music. Always a good draw, they've been playing together 25 years. David Greeley and Steve Riley, two of the founders, above left.
My hosts Bernard Ussher and Rubia Solis of Lafayette. They know a ton of people and introduce me to them every place we go.
December 29, 2013
The only time you'll see anyone outside the dance hall at Vermilionville is during break. This dance,the weekly "Bal de Dimanche," is held from 1 PM to 4 PM. The happy guy above is yours truly.
The usual scene, wall to wall people. You learn to "dance small" in crowd like this - at 1 PM Saturday afternoon! Quite a delegation of dancers: from San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, OR, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Florida, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, to name some I met today. You'll see loads of cowboy boots and dancing shoes, some with high heels, along with the Nikes, work boots, loafers and lord knows what else. In summer, I've seen dancers in flip flops. How they manage to dance in them is beyond me.
Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble play today. Curley started playing drums in his father's band when he was 16. Music is a family business in southwest Louisiana. Nearly everyone in every band has a relative, living or dead, who played or is playing in a band.The two boys playing rubboards are getting a head start. (Boy at right is the son of Zydeco Mike who plays with Cedric Watson) This kind of music will evolve over time. Curley Taylor's style is different from his father Jude's. The youngsters playing alongside with him? They'll choose their paths later, either "old school" or urban style or another variation yet to be born.
Younger musicians like Curley Taylor sing an urban flavored zydeco influenced by hip hop. To me, it's less interesting, same lyrics repeated over and over, not as much emotional depth or 'pop' as the "old school" traditional zydeco. To my ears, there's a subtle difference in the backbeat; it's not the old school "chanky chank" beat that goes from your ears right down your spine and into your feet.
December 30, 2013
4th Annual Tribute to Roy Carrier, Slim's Yi Ki Ki, Route 182, Opelousas, LA
Organized by Dick Brainard and Troy "Dikki Du" Carrier, this event draws nearly every out of town dancer in Lafayette for New Year's Festivities. They love to dance and support anything that helps musicians who make this special brand of out-of-your-mind happy music. Proceeds will help re-open Roy Carrier's Offshore Lounge in Lawtell, LA, where musicians like Geno Delafose's father John played back in the day.
Troy "Dikki Du" Carrier and Roy "Chubby" Carrier and their sister Elaine are proud of their late dad, Roy Carrier.
Dexter Ardoin is in the lineage of the most storied families in Louisiana music. Bernard Ussher, my congenial all-around guide to what's happening in Lafayette, made it a point to arrive early enough to hear Dexter's set.
Dexter doesn't front a band right now. No problem. Dikki Du Carrier says, "Use mine!"
Ears perk up and people reach for iPhones and cameras when Dexter introduces Willis Prudhomme and asks him to play. At 82, Willis can trace his career back as far as the first musicians to make zydeco popular, men like Beau Jacques and Roy Carrier.
Raised in rural Louisiana in a farm family, he came to music when he began playing harmonica when he was 45, switching to accordion later and tutored by Cajun legend Nathan Abshire. Dexter Ardoin played drums in Prudhomme’s band (and sits at the drum kit after he introduces Prudhomme) and invited Prudhomme to this event. Both project a Creole flavor to their music.
“I haven’t played in five years,” Prudhomme says as he straps on his accordion, then reels off a couple of two steps and a lovely waltz. Once he begins, many dancers abandon the dance floor to watch a legend. Prudhomme played drums for John Delafose (Geno Delafose’s father) and Leo Thomas (Leroy Thomas’s father).
“I used to have so much fun playing on this stage,” he says after the second song. You can almost feel him standing in a time warp as he plays. For the next hour, men and women walk to his table to meet him and take photos of a major link to zydeco history. I am one of them.
This is the kind of treat that within a decade or so will vanish. But... trust me, they can still light up the joint.
Corey Ledet straddles "old school" zydeco and urban zydeco. He mixes hip hop influenced songs with pretty waltzes and two step songs in French. The urban songs feature less story telling, more "I want it - I want it now..." lyrics with repeated over and over and the drum backbeat is not as pronounced as in "old school" songs. Creole music is driven by percussion - drums, rub board. Musicians like Geno Delafose and Dexter Ardoin started as kids playing drums or frattoir then when older were encouraged to find their instrument, fiddle, bass and, most often, accordion.
The old wooden dance floor at Slim's has been marinated in cigarette smoke, beer and sweat for several decades. It can feel like dancing on taffy but hell, the music is good and it's the day before New Year's Eve. Besides, once you've danced in Louisiana, anything other than a parking lot or a muddy field is a step up.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.