Louisiana has helped create or deeply influenced nearly every genre of American music, from the country stars who shined on the old “Louisiana Hayride” radio show out of Shreveport to the Cajun and zydeco musicians of Acadiana and the impressive roster of New Orleans greats who were such a prominent part of the history of jazz, blues and rock ’n’ roll.
Music lovers who want to explore that rich legacy can now just tap their smartphones for guided road trips and musical history lessons offered through a new cultural tourism effort called the Americana Music Triangle.
“They are interested in the real thing, kind of like farm-to-table food. They like going to the source,” said Aubrey Preston, a businessman and preservationist from Tennessee who has been working for three years to pull together the project.
He was at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette on Wednesday, one of six stops in a five-state tour this week to launch the Americana Music Triangle.
The Web-based guide, optimized for smartphones, lays out travel itineraries meandering through more than 30 communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.
Three musical capitals serve as anchors — Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans; and Nashville, Tennessee — but the site also guides tourists through a string of other cities and communities with musical traditions not so well known in the larger world.
“What this does is connect big attractions to the smaller places,” Preston said.
The itinerary from New Orleans to Natchez, Mississippi, for example, takes the visitor through Houma, Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, Baton Rouge and St. Francisville, pointing out interesting stops along the way — Preservation Hall and Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, Teddy’s Juke Joint in Zachary and the Blue Moon Saloon or El Sido’s Zydeco & Blues Club in Lafayette.
The Americana Music Triangle site also offers bits of local history and musical lore, photo galleries, a regionwide event calendar, tips for side trips and information on music-related attractions, such as museums, historical sites or, if you’re in the Lafayette area, how to set up a tour of Junior Martin’s accordion shop in Scott.
Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission President and CEO Ben Berthelot said music always has been a big tourism draw for Acadiana, but the new website could literally put Lafayette on the map for an international audience possibly unaware of what Lafayette offers.
“They already know about New Orleans,” Berthelot said.
Preston said bringing areas like Lafayette to a larger stage is a major goal of the project.
“There are so many more people who would like to come here if they knew about it,” he said.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said locals have long known how special the local culture is, and he recalled being asked often by leaders in other cities how they could plant the seeds for a vibrant food and music scene like Lafayette’s.
“I always feel sorry for them, because I know they can’t. You can’t create culture artificially,” he said.
The launch tour for the Americana Music Triangle began Monday in Franklin, Tennessee, a music-rich community south of Nashville, and continued Tuesday morning in Florence, Alabama, an area known for two famous studios credited with the “Muscle Shoals sound” associated with a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s, including soul standards by Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. On Tuesday afternoon, the tour stopped at the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi.
The launch tour is scheduled to stop Thursday in Helena, Arkansas, and end Friday in Clarksdale, Mississippi, two areas with deep blues roots.
Indeed, a famous blues song, “Crossroads,” included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ’n’ roll, is a reference to a crossroads in Clarksdale. It’s the place where mythology has it that blues great Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talents.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who attended Wednesday’s event, said the significant presence of Louisiana attractions on the Americana Music Triangle’s itineraries seems only natural, given that the state’s musicians have excelled in so many styles of American music — jazz, blues, gospel, rock ’n’ roll, Cajun, zydeco, rhythm and blues, country and bluegrass.
“We are truly the heartbeat of music, and it’s one of our passions, and we want to celebrate it,” Dardenne said.