Those of you who are reading this in Eastern Iowa: Go to the Cajun Fest in the Amanas this weekend, and be sure to go early enough to see Marce Lacouture at noon.
There was a time when I resisted the Cajun Fest. It wasn’t the strange juxtaposition of Cajun and Amana. My resistance was a response to the tackiness of the whole thing, with garish plywood alligators and Mardi Gras everywhere, though we are solidly in Easter season, thank you very much. And it was the way they treated musicians—overworking them a bit while making them stand in line to buy their own (bad “Cajun”) food. Not very hospitable.
But after a few years I came to know people at the Fest. Some were Iowans who were seriously grooving on the music, like Richard and Diane Luther. This Cedar Rapids couple has learned to dance Cajun in the past few years and is generous souls who have taught hundreds of other Iowans how to waltz, two-step, and jitterbug. Others were Louisiana ex-pats, like Preston and his impressive entourage. They circle their RVs in the campground, taking turns cooking meals that dazzle. Crawfish pies, gumbos with potato salad. And they rope you in to eat over there with generosity characteristic of Louisiana. I don’t know which I like better, the food or the chance to speak Cajun French.
In recent years, I have known some of the musicians slightly or more than slightly; it would not be thinkable to skip out on their Iowa gig, plywood alligators or not.
This weekend’s music lineup is just great. Rosie LeDet has a great voice and accordion style—it’s hard to believe that she is shy if you see her on stage. Jamie Bergeron I don’t know well, but I hear that his music makes the party. Roddie Romero is a great guitar electric player but also a fiddler and a dynamite accordeon player. He does everything from the most traditional of Cajun tunes to no-apologies, no-prisoners rock and roll. Jodi Hebert is teaching dance: just seeing her dance is a real treat.
Hadley J. Castille is a consummate professional who loves to meet people around the world; his band is great, too. You’ll hear a little swing, a little blues in his fiddling, which has its roots in the pre-WWII, Texas-swing influenced string-band era. Mr. Hadley is a great fiddler and songwriter, too. Dennis Stroughmatt is the most amazing guy. He’s a Midwesterner who has learned French, the fiddle, and the accordion. He long ago earned the label “Louisiana musician.” Marce Lacouture has collected the Cajun music that never went to the dance-hall: danses rondes, children’s songs, lullabies, women’s songs, home music. Her voice makes me think of diamonds: strong, clear, timeless.
Naturally, I’m crushed that I can’t be there; it’s that darn sabbatical again. But do go, listen, meet the musicians, get raucous, dance, be sure to clap on 2 and 4, and have a great time. And let me know how it was.