Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jammin' With the Queen

We are big fans of Cajun music. Performances by nationally-known professional bands are experiences to be treasured, those by local bands are to be enjoyed and shared with family and friends, and those per-formances in community gatherings are especially important because they preserve the Cajun culture.

One location dedicated to the preservation of the Cajun language, music, and all phases of Cajun life is the Savoy Music Center in Eunice, LA. The chief preservationist is Marc Savoy (right), internationally-known accordionist (and accordion maker) "...hosts an acoustic jam session every Saturday morning, beginning at 9 in the A.M., and jamming until noon. All are invited to join in, no permission or approval is needed, but we ask only one thing... Please, no more than ONE triangle player at a time.

"If you're wondering how to find the music center, just look for thirty cars lined up Hwy. 190 between Eunice and Lawtell."

(On a recent Saturday morning, Wilson Savoy [right] joined the jam.)

"We are open for business, and admission is free, but a small box of boudin or cracklins would make you the most popular guy in there for about 2-3 minutes" (

On any given Saturday, some 12-18 musicians gather to play and get caught up on the latest news, and another couple of dozen come to listen to the music. Also, there is a steady stream of customers at the music store.

After the Savoy jam, we will often catch a quick lunch and make the roughly 30-mile drive to the Visitor's Center at historic Vermilionville (in Lafayette) for the weekly Saturday afternoon jam.

"The sessions always feature at a minimum two professional Cajun musicians, one on fiddle and another on the accordion. On any given weekend you will have the opportunity to visit, speak with and learn from veteran professional Cajun music musicians.

"The Cajun music jam sessions are open to the public, you don't have to be a musician to come and enjoy great acoustic music. No amps, no filters, just pure Cajun music from the heart. Many visitors remark at just how much they've enjoyed their visit to Lafayette because they were able to experience first-hand our wonderful Cajun music" (

We attended two jam sessions; in each the guest fiddler was Al Berard (center, brown shirt), whom we first met about 25 years ago when he was performing with The Basin Brothers.

The host for the jam announced that Al had just returned from New York where he had recorded some fiddle music for the intro to episodes of Swamp People for the History Channel.

Also, at this jam was 14-year-old Zack, who watched every move and technique that Al was using when playing. Zack seemed able to absorb this information very easily.

Appearing with Al was Sheryl Cormier, who, I believe, administers the per-formance schedule.

"She is known as the Queen of Cajun Accordion and Cajun Music and was the first Cajun female musician to record playing the accordion.

"When she was seven, Sheryl began to learn to play her father’s accordion while he was working in the fields. Initially, he did not approve, but eventually, she began performing occasionally in her father’s band" (

She has been inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Cajun French Music Association Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was awarded the status of a "Living Legend."

Throughout the afternoon, some of the participants were recognized by the host. He asked Becky Miller, I think that was her name (left), to sing one song. Her soft, velvety tones were quite a contrast to the loud singing characteristic of most Cajun songs.

It was quite a turnout for the jam; at one point there were 25 musicians in the circle. (The host mentioned that the jam had officially outgrown this site. In two weeks the jam will be held in the much larger Performance Center on grounds.)

Another item on my list of "Things To Do" is: learn to play the Cajun accordion.

We caught up with Al after the jam and learned his schedule, which included a week in Red River, New Mexico, to celebrate Mardi Gras there.

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