La Danse de Mardi Gras

Say “Mardi Gras,” and it’s almost guaranteed: most people will think first of New Orleans. Other cities have their celebrations, but only in New Orleans has the combination of beads, bare breasts, fancy-dress balls, beer and Bourbon Street been elevated to high art.

In Cajun country, there’s no lack of beer and beads, but the traditional Courir de Mardi Gras at the center of the celebration has a slightly different emphasis: community, Capitaines, charity and chickens. (Yes, chickens. More about that later.)

In places like Iota, Church Point, Eunice and Mamou, the Mardi gras (when used as a plural for participants, it’s pronounced “grahz”) prepare for the courir, or run, under the direction of their Capitaine.  On horseback or in wagons, they visit surrounding farms, collecting ingredients for the communal gumbo that will be served later that night.

In exchange for rice, potatoes, or even a chicken, the Mardi gras frolic for the entertainment of the farmer and his family, singing a variation of a song known variously as  La Danse de Mardi Gras or La [Vieille] Chanson de Mardi Gras. A mainstay in Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations, and often heard in dance halls or concerts, the song may be the oldest in the Cajun repertoire.
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Published in: on February 14, 2015 at 10:37 am  Comments (91)  
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The Kingfisher’s Carol


The Common Kingfisher – Alcedo atthis

When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. My traditions may be idiosyncratic, but it just isn’t Christmas without pickled herring, a string of cranberries on the tree, bayberry candles, and Medieval carols. Pink and lavender trees, Mannheim Steamroller, and Elves on the Shelves will come and go, but I’m satisfied with my old ways, and probably always will be.

Still, there are times when something new emerges from the clutter and cacaphony of the season and attracts my attention. Last year, it was a snippet of song that stopped me in the yogurt aisle of a local grocery.  Light and rhythmic, it lilted through the store: a memorable melody with words sung in a language I couldn’t decipher.
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Planet Clapton

He’d been around, of course.  I was the one not paying attention.

In those early years, as he moved from the increasingly commercialized Yardbirds to John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, I was being introduced to Tom Paxton and Lead Belly. While I practiced my 12-string, Cream (Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Clapton) came and went in just two years, disbanding a few months before Woodstock. 

After Cream, Clapton formed a new group.  Derek and the Dominos released Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in December of 1970. A tale first told by the Persian poet Nizami, the story of Layla and Majnun became one of rock’s definitive love songs: its famously contrasting movements composed separately by Clapton and Jim Gordon. (more…)

Fiddlesticks, Footsies and Spoons

Stern. Reserved. Strict. Perhaps even judgmental or cold.

So she appears in this photograph from an indeterminate time and an unknown place, but as she herself might have said, appearances can be relieving [sic].

To her cousins, she was a caution.  To my mother, whose great-aunt she was, Rilla was just slightly dangerous, a force to be reckoned with, a strange, self-possessed woman whose refusal of rules and wicked sense of humor made her a favorite among the children.

She returned the children’s affection, although she often scandalized more conventional relatives with her baby-sitting techniques. Confronted with a passle of bored children, she was capable of sending them to the back yard with a stack of 78 rpm records and a hammer, essentially saying, “Have at it.” From what my mother recalled of the unfolding events on one such afternoon, “It was fun.” (more…)

Published in: on January 19, 2014 at 6:25 pm  Comments (112)  
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Remembering T-Model Ford

Cheating. Grudges. Abandonment. Shootings. Woman trouble. Man trouble. Too much whiskey. Not enough whiskey. Flophouses and fixin’-to-die. The blues has it all.

It’s a musical world rife with I’m-down-here-in-the-ditch-and-I-can’t-get-out resignation if that’s your preference, but there’s more to the blues than blank despair. If I were forced to describe my feelings about the blues in a single word, I wouldn’t choose sad or depressing any more than I’d choose anguish, tribulation or woe. When I hear the blues, I feel like traveling. The music overflows with highways and journeys, crossroads and railroads, picking up and leaving, heading home or wandering off  – to Chicago, to Memphis or Helena, to Anywhere-But-Here.

Robert Johnson went down to the crossroad.  Tab Benoit’s night train is rollin’.  R.L. Burnside did some rollin’ of his own, and a little tumblin’ for good measure.  R.L.’s grandson Cedric and his buddy Malcolm bought a lemon of a car and ended up having to hitchhike home. CeDell Davis says he’s gonna be moving on and suggests we might want to heave ourselves up out of our own chairs to start packing.  Sitting around’s not going to get us anywhere.

Unfortunately, James Lewis Carter Ford has done the last of his traveling – at least in this world. Known as T-Model to friends, admirers and detractors alike, he died at home of respiratory failure on July 16 at the age of 88 – or 83 or 93, depending on which report you read or whom you choose to believe. (more…)

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