November 11, 2017
The Wall Street Journal declared Lafayette to be the country’s Happiest City in 2014.
Take a stroll down Jefferson Street on a Saturday evening ArtWalk and you get an idea why. The city feels lit up and it’s not just the lights pouring out from galleries, restaurants, bars, and storefronts like Sola Violins on East Vermilion. Doors open wide, art galleries give a come hither vibe that makes you want to walk in. Even if the art isn’t your cup of tea, the smiles on the faces of the hosts whose goal seems to be hospitality first, business second, make it easy to sashay inside. In case you hesitate, nothing says, “Come on in” like tables filled with tasty appetizers.
The appetizers are floating atop an ocean of civic pride, something on the endangered species list in some cities …I’m sure you have your own list.
Lafayette is not one of them. The Acadiana Center for the Arts is a magnet tonight. Have a cocktail. Nibble on appetizers, take in art and sculpture in the main gallery, check out a modern dance in the state of the art theater, admire the creations hanging in the hallway, schmooze with your friends.
Lafayette is a certifiable hotbed of music. Tradition runs deep. Cajun and zydeco bands play the old stuff and plow into new ways of presenting it. If Hank Williams, or Roy Orbison, or Ed Wills, Willie Nelson, the late Professor Longhair or Allen Toussaint were to pass by, they’d find someplace in town that would be music to their ears.
Whoa! On the corner of East Vermilion Street and Jefferson I stop in my tracks. That’s live music.
Inside Sola Violins, there’s Luke Huval, deep in the moment, pumping that accordion and totally locked in to the emotional charge of the times in which they were first sung in the late 1700s. Cajun ballads sound more like a plaintive keening expression put to music of fiddles, accordions, and guitars that describes dislocation, loneliness, heartbreak, hard times on one hand and explosive playful joy at others.
Back in time, all of it was played at a Saturday night fais do do in which families trekked to a neighbor’s house, put the furniture on the porch, put the kids to bed, and sang and danced away their shared cares and trials.
Along side of Luke is the same kid who played accordion in 2012, Zack Fusilier, with the same drive that keeps this music alive. And Megan Brown, a contemporary who has grown up with the music and has the same feel for the emotional territory from which it sprang. You have to feel this music to sing it. They feel it.
Sola Violins is owned and operated by Anya Burgess, fiddle player on two Grammy nominated Cajun bands, Bonsoir Catin and The Magnolia Sisters, and a formally trained violin maker. Her shop, originally in her home outside Lafayette and now in Lafayette, has been a destination for musicians since 2002. It's is the perfect place to showcase Cajun music.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up51PqW0d3Q SLIDE SHOW
Darlene and her young son are sitting next to me on a line of chairs against the store wall. A woman slowly twirls her young daughter to the beat of the music. "I’ve seen little kids dancing on the feet of their father or mother to learn how to dance,” says I.
“I’m teaching my little boy the same way,” says Darlene, from a Creole family in Lafayette, “that’s the way I learned from my grandfather," another way culture is prized and passed along here in southwest Louisiana.
My pal Bernard and I head down the street for some food until something way better happens. Music from Rêve, a coffee shop. Gotta check it out. The Cedar Crest Ramblers are playing fine music. No one on the dance floor. We change that. First time I’ve ever danced with a belly dancer!
Good night Irene... and Bernard... at Réve Coffee Roasters
Such is life in the happy city of Lafayette, LA.