Etta James once said, “The two things you can’t fake are good food and good music.” You’d be hard pressed to find a state that does either one better than Louisiana.
When it comes to tunes, Louisiana has a style of music to call its own: zydeco, the rich blend of African-Caribbean beats with Louisiana French accordion, all marked with sweet sounds of Creole, Cajun, gospel, and blues. But that’s a textbook answer.
Ask Sean Ardoin, a fourth-generation Creole musician, what zydeco music is and he’ll tell you this: “Zydeco demands your attention. When you hear it, you’ve got to move something. And even if you don’t have rhythm in that toe, it’s got to be tappin’.” He explains that in zydeco, the accordion leads. Then drums, guitar, bass, and sometimes keyboard, are added. The metal scrub board — worn on the chest and known as a frottoir — is the glue that holds it all together. “In Louisiana, it’s stitched into the fabric of our lives. You know it when you hear it.”
Mr. Ardoin would be the one to ask. Hailing from zydeco royalty, Sean is a two-time GRAMMY® nominee. His grandfather’s cousin was Armédé Ardoin, whose songs are the foundation of Cajun and Creole music. Sean calls his version Kreole Rock and Soul a culmination of music, culture, and swag — and he sings about all those things. “In Louisiana, we have a specific way of living and being — it’s flavor through our Creole filter, and everything I do is through that filter.” One example of that is Louisiana slang. “We even have a hashtag for our slang, ‘Yeah, you right,’ or #YYR.”
Music in the State of Louisiana
When not making his own music, Ardoin likes to see live music at the Blue Moon Saloon and Warehouse 535 in Lafayette, The Panorama Music House in Lake Charles, and The Maple Leaf Bar, DBA, Chickie Wah Wah, and Tipitina’s in New Orleans. “In Louisiana, we foster the love of music in children. Here, it’s cool to be in the band.”
And there’s no better place to see them dancing to it than at one of Louisiana’s many festivals (more than 400 each year, to be exact) — it’s Ardoin’s ideal place to see live music. He recommends the Festival International in Lafayette, where “the whole city welcomes you”; The Red River Revel Arts Festival in Shreveport; the Louisiana Pirate Festival in Lake Charles; and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Ardoin says that festivals offer the ultimate combination of what the state does best: music and food.
And About That Louisiana Food…
Louisiana food is so good that bring-you-to-your-knees meals can appear just about anywhere, from atop a white tablecloth or on a gas station counter.
A handful of Ardoin’s favorite places in the state include Ball’s Fried Chick-N in Lake Charles. He also loves Nonc Kev’s in Rayne — a small and simple specialty meat shop that serves daily specials like fried pork chops and crawfish étouffée. That’s the thing about Louisiana — you can get the best food in the humblest of places. Ardoin says, “It’s so great to live in Louisiana because you can get great boudin at the gas station.” (Boudin, a sausage-like dish made with pork and rice, is a Louisiana classic.) For something a bit more upscale, there’s Social Southern Table & Bar in Lafayette. “The chef is super creative and makes items like infused mustard greens and smoked fried chicken.”
Where Food and Music Come Together
Ardoin says that growing up, food and music went hand-in-hand. “I tell people that no matter what our political or social or personal differences, food and music have the power to bring people together and that’s why Louisiana is so special.”
On any given Saturday or Sunday, the Ardoin household might offer up gumbo, shrimp Creole, étouffée, jambalaya, rice dressing, or potato salad — just like anyone else in Louisiana — and there’s always more than enough to go around. For his family, when they get together, music accompanies the spread. “There are always enough people to form a full band — or four.” And he’d even invite you over.
Sean says that if there’s one must-do experience for anyone visiting Louisiana it would be to make friends with a local and get invited to eat in their home. Here’s his secret: “Tell them you’re not from here, and that you’ve never had gumbo or shrimp Creole. I guarantee they will invite you over to eat. We have some of the warmest and most inviting people on earth — and we always have a second plate for visitors.”
If for some crazy reason, you don’t score an invite, he says, “Go to a festival. There’s one every weekend.”
More Ways Louisiana Musicians Feed Their Souls:
- Violinist Anya Burgess plays in two GRAMMY®-nominated Cajun bands, Bonsoir, Catin, and the Magnolia Sisters. In 2014, she opened a shop in Lafayette where she builds and restores violins.
- Cedric Watson plays Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music from every era. He’s a fiddler, but he also sings, plays the accordion, and writes his own music. He is a four-time GRAMMY® nominee, and an avid outdoorsman with a knack for archery.
- Drummer Glenn Fields plays with the GRAMMY®-nominated band, The Revelers, and is responsible for starting the Blackpot Festival which combines music, food, and camping.
- The New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra is 18 members strong and plays vintage orchestrations of music from the 1890s-1930s — especially music native to Louisiana. The band’s banjo player and vocalist, George Schmidt, is also a painter who can often be found at his New Orleans gallery.