Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cajun Music the Old Way

In Eunice, LA, known as "Louisiana's Prairie Cajun Capital," are the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and, next door, The Liberty Center for the Performing Arts.

The exhibition rooms at the National Park center tell the story of the Cajun people through exhibits of cultural artifacts. An auditorium is used for musical performances that are both informative and entertaining. The day we visited the Park, we heard (left to right) George Sonnier, fiddle; Dules Reed, accordion; and Claudia Wood, guitar.

Claudia showed us an example of a fiddle that was made several years ago with a cigar box at its core. George mentioned that it really did not have the right sound because of the box being rectangular instead of having the curved sides, but, he added, "when you want to play bad enough, this will work fine."

Among the 35 people in the audience were visitors from Georgia, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Canada (Quebec), and France.

After sampling some boudin balls prepared in a cooking demonstration at the Park, we walked next door to the Liberty Theater. This grand old theater was constructed in 1924.

When it opened, the Liberty was called "Southwest Louisiana's Premier Temple of Amusement" and boasted running water and "typhoon-cooled" air as well as several dressing rooms for the live acts which would appear onstage.

Over the years, it has been a vaudeville house, a first-run movie venue, and a dollar cinema before finding new life as home to the Saturday night broadcast of the Roundez Vous des Cajuns radio and television show.

In the first year of the radio program, the theater staff were able to book three bands a week. No band was scheduled more than once, and, amazingly, all the bands came from within 60 miles of the theater.

We had the opportunity to hear some very skilled musicians at the Liberty. Among members of the house band were Merlin Fontenot (far left, 85), Bubba Frey, whom we will meet again (second from left, fiddle), and Jerry Devillier (far right, harmonica, 70).

The program was entitled "Cajun Music the Old Way" and the band featured the Touchet Brothers.

In each region we've visited, I've imagined myself playing one of the instruments featured in the music. In this area, my imagined instrument of choice was the Cajun ditonic accordion--for each key there is one note played as the bellows are extended and a second note played when the bellows are retracted.

Let's see . . . .

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