Louisiana Essentials: The Music
If a rich history and world-acclaimed cuisine are the head and heart of Louisiana, music is surely its collective soul.
Jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis performs at Snug Harbor in New Orleans.
Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet performs at Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette.
Zydeco artist Chubby Carrier at the Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival.
If a rich history and world-acclaimed cuisine are the head and heart of Louisiana, music is surely its collective soul. One of the many reasons Louisiana is so great 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.
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 The Jazz Playhouse, jazz enthusiasts will appreciate Congo Square in Armstrong Park and the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park and The New Orleans Jazz Museum 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.
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 great choice.
Click here to get the full Louisiana music experience––from comprehensive venue listings and popular festivals, to music-related historical sites statewide and recurring concert and jam series.