It’s impossible to talk about Evangeline Parish without mentioning the music. The Parish is home to the world’s famous Fred’s Lounge, where Cajun and Zydeco performers come from all over to showcase their talents on Saturday mornings. There’s Floyd’s Record Shop and Flat Town Music offices, where many Swamp Pop, Zydeco, and Cajun performers made a name for themselves. There’s the Swamp Pop museum, filled with stage costumes and memorabilia. During my trip I got visit each of these locations – as well as get a preview into how Evangeline Parish is working to blend the old with the new.
Fred’s Lounge, Mamou LA
Any tour of Evangeline Parish should begin with a visit to the world’s famous Fred’s Lounge. The title isn’t an exaggeration – people really do come from all over the world to visit this unique bar.
There is no place on earth quite like Fred’s. How often do you find a charming dive that only opens on Saturday mornings and features some of the best live Cajun music acts from across the country? The bloody Mary mix is spicy with just enough of a kick to get you moving to the music, and the bottled beer will cool you down if you get too hot.
There’s a lot of history inside Fred’s. The bar was originally opened as Tate’s Bar in 1946, later becoming Fred’s Lounge. It was home to the revival of Courir de Mardi Gras in 1950 and it remains the most popular spot for Cajun Mardi Gras today. The bar is also home to a live weekly radio show on KVPI (AM 1050). This is where Cajun French culture in Acadiana was, in a way, reborn after WWII, and the venue remains committed to that goal. Both the music and the live radio show being broadcast from Fred’s on Saturdays are in French – but don’t let that stop you if you don’t speak the language. After all, music is universal and can be enjoyed by everyone.
Fred’s opens at 7:30 AM, and you’ll want to get there early, especially if you’re hoping to grab one of the bar’s few seats. By 9:00 AM, the place is packed, and once the band of the day starts going, every free space is filled with couples doing the Cajun two-step. Keep an eye out for the guestbook that’s being passed around – they hand out a prize for the person or group that has traveled the furthest.
Floyd’s Record Shop
The next stop on my musical tour of Evangeline Parish was Floyd’s Record Shop. The shop’s original location opened in 1956 where it thrived for decades with Floyd Soileau at the helm. That location closed in 2012, but the new Floyd’s opened in October of 2017. Located just off Highway 29, the shop now shares space with the offices of Flat Town Music.
In this boutique shop you can buy Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop music from both Flat Town Music and other independent labels alongside Fats Domino, Little Richard, and CDs from local artists. You can also find a selection of vinyl records, including a few rare treasures.
But the real treasure at Floyd’s is Floyd Soileau himself. He was kind enough to show me around the Flat Town Music offices, telling stories of the artists he signed and the records the company pressed. The offices are a museum of sorts, with photos and memorabilia filling the space.
In addition to Flat Town Music Company, Floyd produced records for a number of labels – including his own Maison de Soul, which featured artists such as Clifton Chenier, Keith Frank, Chris Ardoin, Zydeco Force, and Jeffery Brousard. Perhaps the most famous song from the label was Rockin’ Sidney’s My Toot Toot (also known as “Don’t Mess With My Toot Toot). Floyd himself was inducted into the Acadian Museum in Louisiana in 2002.
A trip to Floyd’s is well worth the drive, if you’re in the area.
Louisiana Swamp Pop Museum
After visiting Floyd’s, the Louisiana Swamp Pop Museum was a natural next stop on my musical tour of Evangeline Parish. The museum is filled with stage costumes, props, and other memorabilia worn and used by Swamp Pop performers from around the world.
As with many genres of music, Swamp Pop began in nightclubs and other venues across Acadiana as a mix of Cajun music with more modern styles. Rather than choosing to record in New Orleans, many Swamp Pop performers instead chose to record their music in local south Louisiana studios.
As musicians often do, most Swamp Pop artists chose to change their names in order to make it easier sell more records. Unfortunately, many of the performers were made to feel inferior for and ashamed of their rural French heritage. Others changed their names to more “Americanized” versions in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. Artists like Johnnie Allan (John Allen Guillot), Bobby Charles (Robert Charles Guidry), Gene Terry (Terry Gene DeRouen), Skip Stewart (Maurice Guillory) and more all got their start in Acadiana.
Old Meets New – Today’s Evangeline
Lakeview Park & Beach
After this thorough exploration of Evangeline Parish’s music history, it was time to enjoy a bit of the new. For this, I headed over to Lakeview Park and Beach in Eunice – the same place where Anthony Bourdain once participated in a barn dance and partook in a Boucherie.
During my visit, the barn was once again alive with music and packed with visitors dancing and having a good time. Lakeview is a great place for music, regularly featuring a mix of live Country, Classic Rock, Zydeco, and Cajun music performers. If you’re making the trip, pull up in your RV and make yourself at home for a day or two. Or, rent out one of their fabulous lakeside cabins. Either way, don’t forget to hit the beach.
Having come full circle back to the Hotel Cazan, the hotel’s owner had one last surprise for me when it came to music in Evangeline Parish. She announced that her hotel, as well as Judy’s Nightcap, were going to host the first ever Louisiana Hip Hop Competition in partnership with the Next 2 Rise Tour (Cradle Records/Sony Music Group). Not only is Evangeline Parish proud of her musical heritage – the area is putting in the work to stay relevant in modern times. You can read more about this event and the performers here.