Jo-El Sonnier November 10, 2017
Jo-El Sonnier: Warming Hearts at River Ranch, Lafayette, LA
November 9, 2017
I arrive at my host’s home in Lafayette at 7 PM. “Here’s a quick snack," says he, “Jo-El Sonnier is playing over at River Ranch until 8:30 PM!”
Unsaid, no lollygagging. This is gonna be good, stow your luggage in the guest room, we’re leaving in a few minutes.
7:35 PM Park the car. I can hear music a block away. Loud music… carrying sonically through the moist air on this chilly November evening. Which is when I discover the show is outdoors. A five-minute walk away, we’re in the center of an upscale development called River Ranch. The music is pouring out from a brightly lit bandstand in a tiny park in the midst of the development.
And there’s Grammy award winning accordion player Jo-El Sonnier cranking out some good ol’ Cajun songs upbeat to ballad, a sprinkling of waltzes, a few country two steps, and a surprising song or two with a distinct rumba beat heard in saloons like Tipitina’s in New Orleans.
Born to French speaking sharecroppers in nearby Rayne, LA, Sonnier, like so many other musicians from this region, could play the accordion not long after he learned to walk.
He began his career as a country singer-songwriter, switched to Cajun mid career, has won several Grammys and is in the Louisiana Hall of Fame. No wonder there’s a sweet vein of country in his repertoire. And here he is playing to a local crowd who understand the music, respect the musicians whose music is a natural fit with what they grew up with and certainly how they relax and let off steam.
A crowd of listeners wrapped in blankets sit on their camp chairs. It's around 55 degrees F, which certainly doesn't stop people from spending a Thursday night outside, in their winter coats, to enjoy the kind of music they listen to on KBON-FM. Teenagers and their grandparents stand around wiggling to the beat and a bunch of them dancing on the grass or the little strip of brick sidewalk in front of the bandstand.
In other words, a typical scene in Lafayette, LA, where music and dance are as much a part of life as grocery shopping and doing the laundry.
My flight arrived in Lafayette at 6:10 PM, I picked my baggage and rental car by 6:45 PM and at 7:45 PM I’m dancing on the grass with women I’ve never seen before. I smile, hold out my hand, they say yes, and off we go.
I’m here to celebrate Mr. Rodney Bernard’s 80th birthday and his 72 years of musicianship on Sunday. What a great start.
I’m lovin’ this.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.