Dancing the Blues Away

by Pableaux Johnson - Louisiana - Aug/Sept 2009

Why the people of Mamou, Louisiana, wake up ready to boogie

It's 9:00 on a sultry Saturday morning, and Fred’s Lounge in tiny Mamou, Louisiana, is as crowded and smoky as a big-city bar at midnight. You’d never know that outside this low-slung brick and cinder-block barroom things are all quiet and peaceful (after all, a fair amount of Mamou’s population of just four thousand are inside, and the rest of them are sleeping).

The weekly ritual of local Cajun dance aficionados trekking to Fred’s is anything but sleepy. The locals call it “dancin’ on the radio.” This morning, in the center of the room, a seven-piece Cajun band plows its way through an up-tempo two-step, broadcast on Ville Platte’s KVPI 1050 AM radio, as about a hundred people crowd the dance floor. A lanky accordion player blasts staccato melodies against the gliding fiddle lines while guitar and drums provide a rhythmic chop and bounce. The crowd nods along at the cadence of a horseback trot to the trademark “chank-a-chank” pulse of traditional Cajun music.