Burton Grindstaff might have been a fair enough newsman in his day in Opelousas. But come October, when temperatures plunge into the 80s and regional musicians trek toward Lafayette’s Girard Park, the former writer and editor is remembered for a lone, unforgiven act committed 54 years ago. He mocked Cajun music. In print.
His commentary, “They call that music?,” published in The Daily World in October 1965, lauded Cajun people and culture sans the strains of anything that involved fiddle, accordion and triangle. That piece gets dusted off annually to no shortage of indignation across Acadiana.
From downtown parks and stages to the Acadiana Center for the Arts, to Girard Park and even the Horse Farm, there was a time when the Latin Mu…
“Cajuns brought some mighty fine things down from Nova Scotia with them, including their jolly selves, but their so-called music is one thing I wish they hadn’t,” he wrote. Then he explained himself oh-too-fully.
Well, Grindstaff is decades gone, but Cajun and Creole music, enduring and ever authentic, roll along to the delight of their passionate artists and fans. If there was revenge to be had, the Cajuns and Creoles earned it. Theirs are joyful noises born on our soil that rise only toward the heavens.
Those joyful noises will return this week to Girard Park, Friday through Sunday, where for four decades they have found expression in Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. Festival roots rest in longstanding ancient songs but also in efforts in the 1960s and 1970s to revive and embrace Louisiana’s indigenous French culture.
Will McGrew has seen the economic power of a heritage language in places like the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick.
Watershed events in those initiatives included this festival and its forerunners, two concerts that paid tribute to Cajun music in Blackham Coliseum in 1974 and 1975. Luminaries like Jimmy C. Newman and Dennis McGee, the Balfa Brothers and Clifton Chenier played then, and it took the police to keep people from dancing. Since then, the festival has played twin missions of cultural celebration and education, rich reminders that we hold something special in Louisiana’s southern reaches. And even the authorities couldn’t stop the two-step.
This year, Cajun and Creole music enthusiasts will press into the park where revered roles of women, traditional and contemporary, in Cajun and Creole music will be advanced by festival artists such as Bonsoir, Catin; the Magnolia Sisters; T’Monde; Yvette Landry and the Jukes and more. The full festival schedule can be found at www.festivalsacadiens.com.
Acadian tradition and music continue to unfold from the park’s stages and on its dusty dance floors, gifts from a festival that’s still free and always priceless.