the Music to Louisiana
If there is one state that can blow its own horn as the birthplace
of three or more musical styles, it's Louisiana, says music buff
New Orleans is the acknowledged birthplace of jazz and both cajun
and zydeco music developed in Cajun Country in the south-central
part of the state. No one is sure where rock and roll was born but
the first song using the word 'rock' was New Orleans-native Roy
Brown's Good Rockin' Tonight in the late 1940s.
Throw in gospel, swamp rock, the blues, rockabilly, country and
even classical, which are all thriving, and Louisiana has events
and festivals for visitors no matter what their musical tastes.
So important is music to Louisiana's past and its present, that
the state is making music the basis for its marketing for the next
Louisiana boasts 600 festivals a year, many of them devoted to
music and many of them free. Even a major event like the New Orleans
Jazz and Heritage Festival, which drew 455,000 visitors last year,
charges an entry fee of only US$15 or $20 on weekends. No matter
what time of year a visitor arrives, a music festival will be booming
somewhere in the state or visitors can visit any number of spots
to hear live jazz, blues, cajun, rock or country music.
Shreveport/Bossier City, in northwest Louisiana near the Texas
and Arkansas borders, was the home of the Louisiana Hayride, a radio
show broadcast from Shreveport's art deco Municipal Auditorium that
launched the careers of Johnny Horton, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.
A Shreveport native, James Burton, has a rock club in Shreveport.
Burton wrote Suzy Q for Ricky Nelson and toured with Nelson and
Elvis Presley for years. A member of the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame,
he is considered one of the great rock guitarists who is still in
demand for session work. He has recorded with scores of the biggest
names in music and his club is full of memorabilia.
Shreveport/Bossier City has seen increased tourism since the opening
of the Isle of Capri Casino and Resort Hotel. Other casino hotels
are now going up on the Red River. Cajun country, in south-central
Louisiana, draws visitors for its food and music. Some 30 years
ago a representative of the Newport Jazz Festival was in Louisiana
to look for acts when he turned on the radio and heard some old
timers playing Cajun music, which was then unknown outside the state,
on a local station. He searched the group out, signed them up and
they were a sensation at Newport, putting Cajun music on the map
nationally in the U.S.
Cajun music is unique in the U.S. because it is sung in French
and developed by the descendants of the Acadians expelled from Nova
Scotia by the British in 1755. It survives today because of musicians
like Marc Savoy who makes his living by handcrafting 77 Cajun accordions
each year. This yield may seem low to most businesses, but Savoy
is doing more than making a living. He's preserving history, replacing
accordions that used to be made in eastern Germany before the Second
World War. Like most of Louisiana's musical instrument makers, Savoy
was taught by his family to "fait à la main," or "make by hand,"
musical instruments and how to play them at a very young age. It
is this age-old tradition of passing down musical talent through
the generations that has preserved unique musical genres, such as
Cajun and zydeco.
"In Louisiana, music truly defines our culture," said Lt. Governor
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who oversees the Louisiana Office of
Tourism. "If children are born in a musical family, learning to
make the instruments and play the notes is a very dear family value.
Parents in Louisiana pass music down to their children the same
way they pass down family gumbo recipes." Savoy owns Savoy Music
Center and Accordion Factory in Eunice, and he opens his doors every
Saturday morning to host a live jam session. He also performs at
a number of music festivals held throughout the state.
Cajun music drives much of the tourism to south-central Louisiana
and restaurants which feature Cajun music most every night are Prejean's
and Randol's in Lafayette, Mulate's in Breaux Bridge and DI's Restaurant
in Basile. The Liberty Theatre in Eunice offers the French-language
Rendez-vous des Cajuns show on Saturday evenings. Louisiana's musical
heritage is also well represented year-round in the state's festivals
- events such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival, the
Zydeco Extravaganza in Lafayette, the Cajun Music Festival in Eunice,
and the Red River Revel in Shreveport showcase the variety of musical
talent that is Louisiana. Live performances are available every
night of the week featuring all of these different styles of music.
Anyone travelling through the state could hear great jazz at the
Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in New Orleans one night, then outstanding
R&B at Tabby's Blues Box in Baton Rouge the next, rock and roll
at Enoch's Pub in Monroe, zydeco at Slim's Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas
and country music at the Piney Woods Opry in Abita Springs.
Louisiana Tourism: Phone: 1-800-99GUMBO
Music buff Patrick Dineen is editor of Travelweek, Canada's most
prominent travel trade publication.