That's pronounced Fay' dough-dough if, like me, Cajun-speak is truly foreign to you. There's the strict definition: fais means dance and do-do means to make sleep; then there's the Cajun definition: the liveliest of occasions with food, Cajun music and plenty of dancing. That's just what we enjoyed this weekend...and a little lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap) or something extra to boot.
If there's such a thing as professional partiers, the Cajun people fit the description as they certainly know how to have a good time but you couldn't ask for a friendlier and more welcoming group that we encountered this weekend. The event was well-organized and everywhere we went, someone was asking us where we were from or wishing us a good time, all with an accent that by itself made me smile. Believe me, those wishes came true.
From Friday through Sunday we spent many an hour on the festival grounds. We caught throws (i.e., beads and candy) at the Mardi Gras-like parade, strolled through the craft booths, watched the Cajun and Zydeco dance lessons and cheered on the dance contestants. The only area we didn't explore was the midway but we weren't there for the carnival. And, of course, we dined on these creatures of the swamp:
Well, the one's I ate didn't exactly look like that; in my opinion, peeling them is entirely too much work for the meat you get and I'm certainly NOT going to be sucking any heads like the natives do. But the meat itself is good...a little like lobster only not quite as rich. I had some in etoufee (pronounced ay-too-fay, a tomato/vegetable/crawfish stew served over rice), some fried and some mixed with a creamy spinach concoction served in a bread bowl. The spinach dish was my healthy choice to offset the one that was fried. And I strayed off the crawfish path for a little red beans and rice too. Wayne put away some gumbo, fried alligator and Cajun sausage as well as some etoufee. It was all delicious...and full of Cajun spice too.
Crawfish are a big deal in Louisiana. They're abundant in the local swamps and were a favorite food of the Native Americans and early settlers in the area. They're still harvested from the natural wetlands there, mostly from the Atchafalaya Basin and Breaux Bridge is right in the heart of it. If you've ever driven Interstate 10 and remember the really long bridge over the swamp, that's that Atchafalaya. Now, though, there are 111,000 acres of freshwater crawfish farms and the area produces 75 million to 105 million pounds of the little crustaceans annually. That's more than 90% of the domestic supply of what some refer to as "mud bugs." And with spring being the peak of the season, it's a fine excuse for a party...as if Cajuns needed a reason to eat, dance and have a good time.
While the food was terrific, the music was even better. Let me just say I wouldn't have been able to name a single Cajun or Zydeco song before we arrived and it's questionable whether I could even now but I loved every minute of all that we heard. You'd think that after three days it would get old but it didn't.
There were two stages, each with its own dance floor, and they were busy even when the temperature hovered around 90 degrees in the middle of the afternoon. Those bright colors in the foreground are umbrellas the spectators put up for shade because there was precious little otherwise until the sun began to slip behind the trees about 6pm. We'd listen and watch for a while then disappear to find somewhere that did have shade. That's how I now know how to tell when the dancers are doing Cajun or Zydeco dance moves...I watched the dance lessons from a grassy spot under a big old oak. We left our chairs right where they were next to the dance floor (like everyone else did) and they were right there when we came back. No matter where you went on the festival grounds you could still hear the music.
Just like the dances, there's a difference between Cajun music and Zydeco music too. Cajun music has its roots in the French-speaking Catholics who relocated to Louisiana from Acadiana in Canada. It was originally based on the fiddle but the accordion played a bigger and bigger role as it evolved. Zydeco is the music of the Creoles, the French-speaking people of color in Louisiana. It started out as Cajun but after WWII it was influenced more by blues and rock and roll so it has a driving rhythm. The accordion is still there but the most distinctive musical instruction of Zydeco is the corrugated metal rubboard called a frottier.
Even within these two genres are more variations. Country, soul, 50's rock and even heavy metal influences were all heard over the course of the weekend. You've never really heard Chubby Checkers' The Twist until you've heard it by a Zydeco band. And the headliner band Saturday night (ten members or so, including a trumpet, saxaphone and keyboard) went from Mustang Sally to Glenn Miller's In The Mood to some Cajun waltz with lyrics in French. There was far too much variety to be bored and if you didn't like the group playing at one stage, you could hear something different at the other.
The musicians all had a workout, playing two-hour sets without a break and often a new song would start directly from the end of the one they were finishing. The guy on the rubboard, however, danced the whole time in addition to playing so he had to be spent when it was time for a new band to take the stage. And while these bands were unknown to me, they were a huge draw for most of those attending the festival. One band had won a Grammy and had three other Grammy nominations, including one this year. Our vote for the best musician at the festival, however, went to Jason Bergeron. He was the accordion player in the High Performance clip I posted Friday. He was absolutely amazing, especially for such a young guy.
And I think that's where the lagniappe comes in. We expected good music and good food...and maybe even to learn something about the Cajun culture. I'm not sure we expected to come away with an appreciation for the effort of the younger generation to preserve and carry it on. There were a lot of young people involved...young people performing traditional songs and writing new ones, many of which are sung in French. And young people on the dance floor, doing traditional Cajun and Zydeco dances and singing along with those French lyrics. I may not be Cajun but I am an appreciator of history and ancestors and honoring your past so seeing that hit home with me and with Wayne too.
This whole trip came about as a fluke when Wayne and I both happened to watch the King Crawfish documentary independent of one another and came away wanting to attend the festival. If you get the Documentary Channel, you can watch it too. Maybe then you'll want to join us at next year's Crawfish Festival because I have a feeling we'll be going back.