Louisiana's zydeco music festivals
The roots of these popular annual events reach deep into the Creole culture to times when farm families celebrated their harvests with a big feast and music.
There was a time in Louisiana when, after finishing the annual harvest, Creole farmers gathered with neighbors to roast a pig and dance to music that they called “La La.” The instruments used for these house dances were simple: a washboard, also known as a frottoir, spoons, fiddles, triangles and an accordion.
In the 20th century, Louisiana musicians who loved La La music helped to popularize it beyond its rural roots. The late Clifton Chenier, in particular, became known for his mastery of the style. The Opelousas native came to call the music “zydeco,” a word derived from the French term les haricots, and he ultimately became known as the “King of Zydeco.”
In 1981, a group of southwestern Louisiana residents who aimed to perpetuate zydeco music helped to organize the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival, under the sponsorship of the Southern Development Foundation. The first festival was held in a field near Opelousas. Today, the festival is held each Labor Day weekend in Plaisance, just northwest of Opelousas. It features the best zydeco performers and bands in the state, along with dance events, traditional storytelling, discussions and presentations about the history of the music, including its Creole French, African-American and Caribbean influences. For more information about the next Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival, visit Zydeco.org.
For more zydeco fun, take a short drive to the north for the annual Cane River Zydeco Festival and Poker Run in Natchitoches on Sept. 2-3. Great bands provide the music for a festival highlight: a dance contest. See ExploreNatchitoches.com for details.
St. Martinville will host its Creole Zydeco Festival on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Adam Carlson Memorial Park. Enjoy music by Zydeco Ray & the Creole Knight Riders, Same Ole Step, and Lil Nathan & the Zydeco Big Timers. Visit CajunCountry.org to learn more.
May we offer a tip before your trip? Be sure to wear your dancing shoes because zydeco's syncopated rhythms are infectious, drawing even the most reluctant wallflowers out onto the dance floor!