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It’ll Be Music to Your Ears

Louisiana Coast, June 2016 – Louisiana is famous for the abundance of musical styles developed here, as well as for its far-reaching influence on music that spans more than a century. The state is, of course, the home of jazz, and is often credited as the birthplace of the genre. But all along the Louisiana coast, the exuberant dance music styles of Cajun and Zydeco rule, especially with the French-speaking Louisianans that live there.

Cajun music is rooted in the ballads of the Acadians, who made their way from Nova Scotia to the Louisiana coast in the late 1700s, and typically showcases just three instruments: the accordion, fiddle and triangle. Zydeco evolved mainly in southwest Louisiana from French Creole speakers, and blends blues with the indigenous music styles. For visitors looking for the chance to learn more about these musical genres, the following venues offer the opportunity to take in a live show, kick up your heels and dance or maybe even try your hands at playing a tune.

Jazz music traces its roots to the northern shores of Lake Ponchartrain as well as to neighboring New Orleans, and visitors looking for the “real deal” will want to take in a show at what is believed to be the world’s oldest rural jazz hall: The Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall, in Old Mandeville. Known simple as The Dew Drop to locals, the venue was founded in 1895 by a group of civic-minded African-American residents as a way to raise funds for needy individuals in their community. Today, the unpainted cypress building looks as it did more than a century ago, when musicians playing a new type of music called “jazz” took steamboats across the lake to play here…including a young Louis Armstrong. The Dew Drop still hosts some of the region’s favorite musical acts, including Don Vappie and the Creole Serenaders, Donald Harrison, and the Hot Club of New Orleans, who come to play for visitors sitting inside on wooden benches or outside in lawn chairs (windows are thrown open so the sound carries). All proceeds from the shows go toward preservation and jazz education and admission is $10 a person. Because the hall has no heating or cooling, concerts are mostly held in the spring and fall.

Just four blocks down Lamarque Street from the Dew Drop stands another Louisiana Northshore music icon – Ruby’s Roadhouse. The ramshackle wooden structure believed to date to the 1920s, which has previously been called “Ruby’s Rendezvous,” “Mable’s Brown Derby” and “Buck’s Brown Derby,” is still a hopping place to be on a Friday night when live music is always on tap. Through the years, Ruby’s headliners have included the Dixie Chicks and Maria Muldaur, Anders Osborne and Beau Soleil. Some of the region’s best musicians play regular gigs, including Big Daddy O, Rockin’ Dopsie and Tab Benoit.

As part of a tradition that’s been carried on for more than 20 years, Cajun musicians and music lovers alike come together every Monday night in the town of Thibodaux for the Cajun Music Jam at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park. This family-friendly music jam gets everyone involved in the experience of the bayou through authentic Cajun music and lyrics, and guests are encouraged to dance, sing and play along; in fact, bringing an instrument is encouraged. The Cultural Center, which traces the history and culture of the Cajuns from the 1600s to the present, is the ideal spot to listen to musicians tell the story of the culture in Lafourche Parish through songs and conversation in both French and English.

Perhaps the most unlikely music venue along Louisiana’s coast is Abbeville’s Richard Sale Barn, built in 1937 by J. Avery Richard to serve as a cattle auction house. Due in part to its proximity to the river, the sale barn ran successfully for many years, but when the cattle auction market bypassed Abbeville the Richard Sale Barn closed in 1978. Avery’s grandchildren, Johnny and Bert, got the idea that the building might make a good music venue when they heard a musician passing through town playing the guitar inside. For many years it served as an unofficial party venue, where music always figured heavily, but in 1997 after a proposed highway project threatened to take down the barn, Johnny Richard and his wife listed it on the National Register of Historic Places and decided to make it an official music venue. In 2006, the first event of the Le Bayou Legendaire Concert Series took place with a performance by Michael Juan Nunez. Now in its fifth season, the family-friendly venue has featured concerts by Baton Rouge bluesman Henry Gray, Cajun great Hadley Castille and the Nouveau String Band.

Collectively known as the Louisiana Tourism Coastal Coalition (LTCC), the coastal parishes of Louisiana promote natural, recreational and cultural experiences to residents of and visitors to these parishes. The LTCC is also an advocate for the sustainable development of coastal communities and protection of the area’s fragile wetlands.

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