Heart of Louisiana: Thibodaux Cajun Jam

Thibodaux celebrates its Cajun heritage and music in jam sessions, and this month, the music and dancing took on the look of Mardi Gras.
Published: Jan. 29, 2023 at 6:37 PM CST

THIBODAUX, La. (WAFB) - The city of Thibodaux celebrates its Cajun heritage and music in twice-a-month jam sessions, and this month, the music and dancing took on the look of Mardi Gras.

There’s a lot going on around this circle of musicians. A few play professionally. Some are trying to learn new Cajun songs and others just want to be part of the fun at this twice-a-month Cajun jam session in Thibodaux. It’s what the organizers call an open jam.

“And we see people will sit in for the first time,” said Gary Lafleur with the Cajun Music Preservation Society. “They don’t play real loud, but they’re watching and they’re playing. It’s a great place to learn. And then the next time they’re a little louder, and the next time they’re even louder. Everyone is welcome.”

Organizers Gary Lafleur and Quenton Fontenot have family roots in Cajun towns like Eunice and Ville Platte. Both are science professors at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. They grew up listening to Cajun music.

“Maybe Thibodaux is a little too close to New Orleans and, and the rest of America. So, you know, uh, Cajun music, it, it waned a little bit, but the roots were still there,” explained Lafleur.

They co-founded the Cajun Music Preservation Society, which helps connect Cajun musicians with families and organizations that want to hire Cajun bands.

“And so the way it works is if we’re gonna charge $450 for the band for a trio, let’s say we get $450, and then we give each band member 125,” said Quenton Fontenot. “So we don’t keep anything, as a, a society and we’ve given out well over $70,000 to musicians, local Cajun musicians.”

But this is about much more than finding jobs for musicians. The live music, the dancing and family fun and the children are part of an effort to save the culture of this region. As a biology professor, you have a really high interest in trying to save the coast, but you think there is a direct connection between what you’re doing here as well?

“Oh yeah. If you look at what Cajun culture is, especially down here in the bayou, is what we do. We are so tied to our coast. We need our red fish, we need our crabs, we need our shrimp, we need our oysters. And if we don’t have a good physical structure on the coast, we’re gonna lose a lot of that. And if we lose that, we’re gonna lose, lose who we are as cajuns,” added Fontenot.

These jam sessions and family gatherings are held the first and third Wednesday of each month at Gina’s at the Legion, a restaurant and events hall in downtown Thibodaux.

“Some of it’s camaraderie, some of it is we’re helping the economy of Thibodaux, but, uh, one of the things we’re doing, we’re trying to do the most is plant the seed of Cajun music in the heart of the next generation,” said Lafleur.

So what’s easier to save coastal Louisiana or Cajun music?

“It’s a lot more fun to save Cajun music, <laugh>,” replied Fontenot.

And you can see the joy in the faces of the musicians, the couples on the dance floor, and the children who may also learn to love the music and keep it alive for the future.

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