Mardi Gras in Cajun Country
in Cajun Country
Trip Report by Marv Watson
....Mardi Gras!!! Man oh man! Do those Cajuns know how to do Mardis Gras. Mary and I arrived in the area on Friday the 12th, stayed at Chicot State Park two nights before moving into Lakeview RV park near Eunice and hooking up with the Birneys (Dave, Dianne and daughter Alice). We drove through a snow storm going through Baton Rouge to get here.
We had to be here for the Saturday festivities (according to Dave). So, Saturday morning, early, we left Chicot SP and drove into Eunice, Louisiana for the Saturday morning jam session at the Savoy Music Center. Nine o'clock and the place was packed. The jam every Saturday, but the Saturday before Mardis Gras is the big one.
Mary, Dave and I got out our instruments and sat in for about 45 minutes. All Cajun music, all the time.
I plinked around the few chords I know and Dave played a lot of G, C & D. Mary tried to figure out
some melodies. Lots of good musicians, including an 11 year old blind boy piano player. An old timer
who's been coming for years and years told Dave he'd never seen so many people in the place (not a
very big place). When we left, people were still coming in. Cars were parked for a 1/4 mile or more in both directions, both sides of the road.
We then drove into downtown Mamou for the Saturday morning dance at Fred's Lounge. Every Saturday from 9 to noon they have live Cajun music, except the Saturday before Mardis Gras the music goes until 2 PM. That place was packed, needed a shoehorn to get on the dance floor, and had to fight your way to the bar to get a beer. Mary and I had a Schlitz! I got pictures of the scene in there. Really, you have to be here to believe it!
Well, this schedule continues on right through Mardis Gras, late into the evening each night. Both Eunice and Mamou had outside band stages (2 in Eunice) and bands playing every day starting at 10 AM and going until 10 PM. Also, a couple bars had live music inside too, sometimes with a cover charge, depending on the band. On Sunday, Eunice had a kid's run. Children dress up in the local version of Mardis Gras costume and walk and ride wagon “floats” all through the countryside all day long, begging and trying to collect chickens for the gumbo they eat at the end of the run. We were in Eunice mid afternoon to see the procession of floats parade though town and the end of the run. Lots of colorful bead necklaces thrown to the crowd.
Whenever you get hungry, you just pick out a street vendor and get some local fare: gumbo, a-2-fay
(shrimp or crawfish), burgers, bar-b-que, etc. And beer everywhere – cans only, glass prohibited in the streets. We were able to park close enough to the action to make repeat trips back to the car for cask conditioned homebrew pale ale or porter. Back in camp at Lakeview RV, the park hosted barn dances Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights with some very good Cajun bands. We went Sunday night and Monday night. The RV park also had their own run leaving from the campground on Sunday, the same day we moved in. Volunteers were busy all day making a huge vat of gumbo and loads of boudin (sausage – say “boo dan”) for the runners when they returned. There was plenty of leftovers, so campers got in on the feast too. Mary and I each had a link of boudin and a bowl of gumbo.
Eunice has a National Park Acadian Cultural Center and on Monday they hosted a lecture about the Mardis Gras traditions in Cajun country, presented by a professor from LSU, who had been studying Mardis Gras all over for 30 years. Very interesting talk that helped us better understand the run to take place on Mardis Gras that Dave and Alice planned to partake in. On Mardis Gras we drove back into Mamou before noon just to see the town again. Not much was going on, except at Fred's. The joint was jumpin', as usual. Crowded dance floor, jammin' Cajun band, Bud Light everywhere. We took one stroll through the place and out.
Only 10 AM, and we weren't quite ready for a light beer. Leaving Mamou, I decided to take a back
route that would get us to Eunice. Along the way we came upon a man harvesting crawfish in a small
flat-bottomed boat, propelled by a paddlewheel at the back. The region is famous for crawfish. They
trap them in flooded fields that are use for growing rice in the warmer weather. When it gets hot the
crawfish burrow in deeper, thus ending the season. I managed to get some video of the boat in action.
After that we came upon the Eustice Mardis Gras run while it was still out in the country. It truly is a
sight to see. The procession was led by the Captain – on horseback – and for the next 10 or 15 minutes
all that passed by us was riders – in constume – on horseback. This was followed by a 2 to 3 mile long
procession of wagons, each decorated for Mardis Gras and filled with costumed “runners”. Dave and
Alice were on the first float and I managed to get pictures of Dave, but about got run over by a horse
doing so. About in the middle was the beer wagon, and as luck would have it, the Miller Lite beer truck
was at the same intersection we were and the beer wagon stopped there to refill. The run started about 9 AM and didn't get to Eunice until close to 3:30 PM. By then the streets were jam packed with onlookers. The procession through town most resembled what we ordinarily think of for a Mardis Gras parade. The crowd gets worked up into a frenzy, all of us begging each wagon (float) to throw us beads and other goodies. While the parade was going through town, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys were tuning up at the main stage. They performed for about 1 ½ hours. After that dance/concert Mardis Gras was about over. One more band was playing at a bar with a cover charge until 9 or 10 PM. We couldn't last that long and headed back to camp. We had a nightcap with Dave and drifted off to sleep with Cajun music playing in our heads.
Dave, Dianne, Alice
Savoy Music Center Jam
Making Boudin, step 1
Making boudin, step 77
Alice and Dave?
Parade through the country
Dave on float
Sissy, Toby and Alice
Mardi Gras Car