Some 58 kids, from age 8 to 14, dragged wooden chairs into a circle Wednesday at the Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park and performed for Grammy-winner Jo-El Sonnier and Roddie Romero, two prominent Cajun musicians who helped the budding musicians.
The kids played “La porte d’en arrière” on their guitars, fiddles and accordions for the adult professionals.
The youngsters are part of the weeklong Cajun & Creole Summer Camp for Kids. They sang, danced and learned about many things Cajun and Creole, including cuisine. The music classes were taught by a number of Cajun musical legends, including Brazos Huval, a Grammy winner; Dave Trainer; Corey “Lil’ Pop” Ledet; and Jonno Frishberg.
“As I got into music, I started playing not just for my mama but for my culture and for the world and the people around me,” Sonnier told the campers.
Guitars and fiddles were apparently the favorite instruments, with only three or four campers attending the camp for accordion. All were divided into groups to practice playing as bands.
One fiddler, Paige LeBlanc, 12, began her musical adventure seven years ago so she could be closer to her brother.
“My brother didn’t have anything to do, so he started playing guitar. So me and my sister wanted to join him, so we started playing fiddle,” Paige said.
Julian Gaudet, an 11-year-old guitar player from Austin, Texas, said she’s having fun “because not only do we play music a lot but we also do arts and crafts and learn about Louisiana, music traditions and other things like that.”
The idea for the camp came nine years ago from Henry Hample, an educator and Cajun musician, said Todd Mouton, executive director for Louisiana Folk Roots, which put on the camp. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts helped start it.
“The idea was just to bring young people together to have fun and to celebrate the culture. And over the course of doing it, it’s kind of become a musician’s camp,” Mouton said.
“Not only do young people learn so fast, but when they’re around other people, it’s like they’re swimming in a school of fish: You’re faster, you’re quicker, it’s kind of subconscious,” he said.
In 2006, the camp’s first year, 18 kids attended the first camp week and 13 kids attended the second week. This year, 58 young musicians showed up for the camp, which concludes Thursday with a camper-parent dance and a band showcase.
“The kids have gotten really good,” Mouton said. “The only requirement was that you had to have an instrument and we’d help show you how to play it. And if you already know how to play, we’d help show you how to play better.”