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Tour Log 10/20-11/3

The Suwannee River

What I’ve been up to for the past two weeks:

Just some quick highlights of my last two weeks of travels through the South. The trip started at my friend Emily’s family’s camp on the Suwannee River with a great dinner party. I couldn’t believe amazing setting and generosity of putting on the whole thing, but it was just the first of an almost countless number of amazing gatherings that were all thanks to exceedingly generous hosts. It’s a humbling feeling to have parties being thrown everywhere you travel.

After that, Wednesday night through Sunday were spent camping at MagnoliaFest just around 30 miles north of the Montgomery camp on the Suwannee. I got to see a lot of old friends and spend some time with my dad. Our camping neighbors from New Port Richey took really great care of us cooking tons of food and a lending a bunch of other amenities. The weather for the festival was awesome and there were some great bands. The highlight by far was Keller and the Keels – who mostly combined 90’s alternative rock covers with blazing fast flat picking bluegrass. I got to play with my good friends Mike & Ruthy(!) who totally rocked all weekend as well. At one point I actually sat in with two different bands at the same time slot, which involved playing with one, jumping on my dad’s bike, racing across the festival, and jumping in mid-song with the other band! The festival was kind of bittersweet as well though, with its future in serious question. I’ve been coming to the festival for 9 years and I’ve taken it for granted that it would always be a huge part of my life.

Next I spent a couple days laying low in my hometown of Ft. Myers where I got to catch up with some more old friends and family.

On Wednesday I boarded an early morning flight to Atlanta, then on to New Orleans, where I had just enough time to walk to Café Du Monde for some coffee and Beignets, then hike to the Greyhound station on the other side of downtown and take a bus to Lafayette. The weather was pretty bad in New Orleans, with near 100% humidity, temperatures in the 80’s and an eminent thunderstorm that never came. Combine that with a pretty serious head cold and hauling two instruments, a backpack, and a suitcase down cobblestone streets in dress shoes that were two sizes two big (long story) and you get a 15 hour travel day just about killed me. But I made it to Lafayette and then caught a ride to Eunice where I would stay for the night and the rest of the week was smooth sailing.

I can’t possibly describe what it was like to be immersed in Cajun culture for a week, but I think it was best summed up by what took place on my last day in town: Bars and nightlife in Acadiana are a community project, everyone feels personally invested in their gathering places. Being that there was some kind of party every single night of my week-long stay, I got to visit a few of these. Several parties took place at people’s houses, but others were hosted at venues that are part of what makes this culture truly unique. The Blue Moon Saloon in downtown Lafayette is a great open air bar and dance hall with a guest house attached with rooms for rent. The Lakeview Park and Beach in Eunice is a historic dance hall (and RV resort) from the 1950’s that has recently been restored after being closed for nearly 30 years. Food, music, and dancing are integral here, and if any one of the three is missing from a gathering, it seems to materialize spontaneously.

But of all the great places I got to see, The Whirlybird in Opelousas is probably the best example of all of the materialization of modern Cajun culture.

Opened in 2005, the building was an old railroad maintenance station that Jim Phillips purchased for around $1,000 and paid about $10,000 to move it to his property in rural Opelousas. The building then served as a sort of community gathering place with a stage, bar, and dance floor. It was run like a bar, but alcohol was given away instead of sold. After spending a week in Acadiana, it’s clear that a place like the Whirlybird was the natural product of the people who built it and their thriving culture. Hosting live bands most weekends it became a legendary hangout for the people I was surrounded with.

The property was eventually sold and while I was in town, Jim, who was now a renting tenant, was ordered by his new landlord that he had two days to vacate the premises before the building was to be moved again. Of course, the community came together and over 30 people gathered to help clear everything out of the ‘club’ and move it to a new future location of ‘the Whirlybird 2’. I was lucky to get to take part in the excavation and ‘migration party’. Packing the place into boxes was like walking through a living history museum. Over the years, the walls had been filled floor to ceiling with relics, straddling the line between junk and folk art. Everything had a story, from the ‘Acadiana Lumber’ patch that came from a rotting hat found on the property when Jim first purchased it, to the hotel key for ‘Room #4’ hanging on the wall. What seemed like an insurmountable amount of random stuff was packed and moved in a single day!

Below is the Red Stick Ramblers’ Music Video which was shot at the Whirlybird. Jim plays the part of the bootlegger.

Anyway, the Blackpot Festival was awesome. Ate tons of amazing Cajun food, danced a lot, had a great set with Andrew and Noah, and got to sit in for most of Jay Unger and Molly Mason’s set! Another highlight was getting to sit in with the great cajun band Racines at the post-Blackpot Party at the Lakeview. The Red Stick Ramblers sounded amazing at the festival, and I made tons of new friends from around the country. After eight weeks on the road, I’m really excited to be spending the next two weeks in New York in my own bed!

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