If a rich history and world-acclaimed cuisine are the head and heart of Louisiana, music is surely its collective soul. So it’s only fitting that the first post on the LouisianaTravel.com blog be by me, a 30-year hobbyist musician, talking about Louisiana music. Part of the reason I love my home state so much is that music is everywhere—spilling from notable venues and nightclubs, performance halls and arenas, from recording and rehearsal studios, outdoor festivals, downtown businesses, open vehicle windows, front porches, back yards, restaurants and even museum exhibits, in cities and towns big and small statewide. We just can’t get enough of it. And I tell people all the time that, when packing for a trip to Louisiana, be sure to throw comfortable shoes in the suitcase—specifically, dancing shoes. They learn why when they get here.
Louisiana has a special connection to music—you can’t find another U.S. state that can say it’s the birthplace of multiple musical genres. Jazz, Cajun and zydeco all started here and still thrive today. And when you add the state’s notable contributions to American blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll, it’s no wonder that thousands of tourists flock to our state primarily to experience these sweet sounds firsthand.
Jazz fans will want to focus on New Orleans. No city in America is home to more jazz talent—one-of-a-kind composers, musicians and singers. In addition to notable venues such as Preservation Hall, Snug Harbor and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, jazz enthusiasts will appreciate Congo Square in Armstrong Park and the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, which includes a performance venue at the Old U.S. Mint.
Cajun and zydeco is the music of what we call Cajun Country—the region in and around the city of Lafayette, northward to Opelousas and Eunice and westward to Lake Charles. But it also includes the bayous southwest of New Orleans. While these genres have similar roots, Cajun is closer to the European folk music of 18th-century French-Acadian exiles who settled Louisiana’s swamps, prairies and bayous. Zydeco, on the other hand, was created by Creole sharecroppers and farmers in the region and is rooted more in American blues.
Back to the shoes. Dancing is a mainstay for both musical genres, especially zydeco (it’s practically impossible to stand or sit completely still at a zydeco show). But whether you’re listening to a Cajun waltz or a zydeco strut, you’ll at least find your hand drumming the table or your toes tapping on the floor. It’s that infectious. Insider tip: My favorite Cajun music experience is the Rendez-Vous des Cajuns concert series every Saturday night at Eunice’s Liberty Theater. For zydeco, the Sunday afternoon fais-do-do (FAY-dough-dough) at Angelle’s Whiskey River Landing near Henderson is a monthly ritual for my wife and me.
I’ll delve into each Louisiana music genre and the state’s role in all popular American music in future blog installments—the subject’s just too big to digest in one post—but in the meantime, check out LouisianaSoundtrack.com, an online tool that we at the Louisiana Office of Tourism created for music lovers. It tells you when to come visit, where to go and what to do to get the full Louisiana music experience. It has comprehensive venue listings, popular festivals, music-related historical sites statewide and recurring concerts and jam series. You can even view sample travel itineraries based on genre preference (I suggest downloading several and taking a buffet-style approach).
Finally, there’s a list created by Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne (a Louisiana music junkie like me) of top Louisiana songs so travelers can pack their music devices with appetizers for their drive or fly in. While this list may have been made for out-of-towners, my wife and I both have all the songs in our players’ constant rotations. Go figure.