Cajun Country

Zydeco and étouffée still reign in western Louisiana, where the zesty gumbo known as Acadian culture has simmered since 1764

At Café Des Amis in Breaux Bridge, breakfast comes with zydeco music and dancing on the side, a tradition begun in 1998. Melding "pragmatism and adaptability," says historian Carl Brasseaux, is typically Cajun. (Tyrone Turner)
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"The first thing the Acadians did when they stepped off the boat was to give a prayer of thanksgiving," says attorney Perrin. "And then they danced." Music in homes and dance halls has served to keep Cajun heritage (including the French language) alive. About an hour north of Lafayette, the town of Eunice (pop. 11,499) is home to the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum (housed in another former general store) and to the recently restored Liberty Theater, originally a vaudeville palace dating from 1924. A five-dollar admission gains entry to Rendez-vous des Cajuns, a 90-minute variety show—a sort of Cajun Prairie Home Companion—broadcast live on local radio Saturday nights, with the banter often in French and the music ranging from zydeco to blues and rock. One recent evening featured the traditional music of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. No sooner had they hit their first chord than couples crowded the dance floor, swaying to the rhythms of accordion and bass.

Later that night back in Lafayette, at the Blackpot Festival & Cookoff, a band known as Feufollet (the name refers to the ghostly, luminescent marsh gases, once believed to be specters haunting the bayous) belted out traditional Cajun songs in French. Twenty-somethings with tattoos shared the floor with dancers in their 60s and 70s, all of them—no matter their age—swinging and swooping and hollering. Cajun culture, it would seem, is alive and well, and ready for another century.

Freelancer Wayne Curtis is based in New Orleans. Photographer Tyrone Turner works from Arlington, Virginia.

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