Lafayette and Cajun Country, Louisiana
Welcome to the heart of Cajun Country. It’s a place where you’re never far from a good dance, fantastic live music, great food and one of America’s best-preserved and most unique cultures. Cajun Country clearly moves to its own beat. Here, hospitality isn’t a travel buzzword, but a way of life. It’s easy to see why Lafayette and Cajun Country are a place to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
Dance, Eat, Repeat
Looking for the fastest way to immerse yourself in the local Lafayette culture? Go to Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Designated as the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” this annual festival celebrates the crawfish– fried, boiled, in an étouffée, bisque, boudin, pie or jambalaya, and crawdogs, along with other Cajun favorites.
The festival is as much about food as it is live Cajun and Zydeco music and dancing. Over 30 bands play throughout the festival. I had the great pleasure of meeting musician Wayne Singleton, the lead singer and accordion player of Wayne & Same Ol 2 Step. Zydeco is feel-good music that hails from Louisiana and has been passed down for generations. Accordions are its most distinguishing characteristic, and it’s meant to be danced to. Zydeco and Cajun are different styles of music, but they influence each other. Think of them as cousins.
IF YOU GO
The world famous Crawfish Festival began in 1960. Every spring, thousands of hungry people flock to Breaux Bridge to enjoy the festivities. It’s always held on the first full weekend in May.
Learn more about the Breaux Bridges Crawfish Festival here.
The Sound of Cajun Country
Have you ever really looked at an accordion? It takes a lot of pieces to build this incredibly complex instrument– so many that Junior Martin doesn’t even know the actual number of components. That says a lot, considering he’s spent the last 30 years building and repairing them. Junior gave me a crash course in accordion playing. The right side keeps the melody while the left carries the tone. The sound is created when you push and pull the lungs. I never knew the accordion is actually a reed instrument and a part of the bag pipe family!
Accordion players aren’t only responsible for the melody, but often the vocals. No pressure! According to Martin, this part of Louisiana has the greatest concentration of accordion players in the United States.
GOOD TO KNOW
It takes Junior about 5 months to make an accordion from scratch, depending on the level of detail.
2143 W. Willow Street
Scott, LA 70583
Dusting off My Dancing Shoes
With the amount of live music in Lafayette, it didn’t take long for me to realize I needed a dance lesson. Thank the lord for Harold Bernard, a dance instructor who’s taught people to dance Cajun and Zydeco all over the word.
Harold shows me how to do a waltz, a basic two step, a dance he describes as low and slow… it’s too hot to move quickly! He also showed me the jitterbug, and Zydeco style dance. One thing that’s notable here is a relationship between the band and the dancers– they feed off each other. The band is playing expressly for the dancers, and in fact, the band typically thanks the dancers at the end of a show.
IF YOU GO
Don’t get into analysis paralysis… if you find yourself listening to Zydeco music and don’t know the dance steps, just get on the dance floor anyway. Someone will show you the ropes. It’s about having fun, not perfect dance moves.
15 Jefferson Street
Lafayette, LA 70501
Fishing the old fashioned way
They say if you teach a woman to fish, she’ll never go hungry. When you’re in town, head to Mrs. Rose’s Bed and Breakfast. It’s one of the few places in Louisiana where you can learn how to crawfish. Owner Barry Toups took me out on his man-made pond to pull up the traps and sort the crawfish. Our vessel? A combination of a tractor and boat with a wheel in the back, which allows him to both fish and drive from one levy to the next.
I’ll be honest, fishing wasn’t the best part of the day… that honor goes to eating! Barry boiled up huge amounts of crawfish, serving me about five pounds of the stuff. I felt like I was in a competitive eating contest, but in reality, five pounds of crawfish renders about a pound of meat. I didn’t think I’d make a dent in my plate, but these were delicious and so fun to eat. They’re addictive!
DID YOU KNOW?
Crawfish are cousins of lobsters. However, they’re technically not seafood because they live in fresh water.
Mrs. Rose’s Bed and Breakfast
Kaplan, LA 70548
Step back in time at Vermilionville
There’s no doubt that the Cajun people have managed to preserve their culture in ways few others have in the United States. Set on a beautiful tree-covered 23-acre site on the banks of the bayou, Vermilionville lets you see the area’s cultural roots first-hand. Walk through an original settlement dating back to the mid-1700s, complete with volunteers dressed in period costumes, showing how the original settlers of this area lived.
IF YOU GO
Want to get out on the Vermilion Bayou? Book a boat trip. Experience the tidal river while riding on a traditionally built bateau called Cocodrie, French for alligator. Please note, tours must be booked two weeks in advance.
300 Fisher Road
Lafayette, LA 70508
Paddle a beautiful (yes, beautiful!) swamp
The word swamp doesn’t typically conjure up visuals of beauty. In this case, beautiful is the right word. Cruising through a forest of cypress trees enveloped in water, I found myself spellbound. Whereas a bayou is a slow moving river, a swamp is a flooded forest. Either way, a great way to experience Louisiana is to get on the water. I opted for a kayak tour with Cory at Bayou Teche Experience, the first and only outfitter in the region offering shuttle service to and from the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin and along Bayou Teche. You can do a self-guided tour, or go for a guided natural history and wildlife or Cajun heritage tour.
DID YOU KNOW?
Tens of thousands of migratory birds flock to this area during the winter and spring months. During the spring nesting season, many of the birds grow extra, more colorful plumage to help attract a mate.
Bayou Teche Experience
317 E Bridge St.
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana 70517
Song-making Soul Sisters
Cajun music is one of the great American heritage musical genres. I met up with Ann Savoy, a writer and musician whose incredibly well-versed in the history of the music. Twenty years ago, she started Magnolia Sisters band with friend Jane Vidrine (and later, Anya Burgess and Lisa Trahan) to celebrate Cajun records cut in the 1920s and 30s. Though their musical roots may be almost 100 years old, their music still speaks to today’s audience.
It’s worth mentioning that Magnolia Sisters are a rare breed of band– all women! It was taboo for women to play music here into the 1970s, as dance halls were notorious for rough crowds. I saw these women play at the Blue Moon Saloon, and their chemistry was palpable, all playing with so much heart and soul. The legendary live music venue also offers accommodations.
America’s Favorite Hot Sauce
You probably have a bottle of Tabasco in your kitchen right now… but do you know the story behind this iconic hot sauce? It all stems back to Edmund McIlhenny. A food lover and avid gardener, McIlhenny was given seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers that had come from Mexico or Central America. In 1868, he sowed the seeds on Avery Island in Louisiana, then developed the recipe for TABASCO® Original Red Pepper Sauce. The now world-famous recipe has been passed down from generation to generation. To this day, the company is still family-owned and-operated on that very same island!
It takes a whopping five years to create this sauce, from seed to bottle. The sauce is aged for three years in caves. The original recipe is actually buried in a vault in one of those caves.
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