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Sounds Like . . . Cajun Country

We'd made a reservation, but no one was around, no note pointed us to a room. But the door was open, so we went in. The interior was more of the same, a glorious clutter of faded elegance, comfortable and clean. A life-size statue of an elderly waiter loomed over the living room, and the warren of bedrooms was heavy on Mardi Gras colors and harlequin patterns.

We called Seale on his cell phone. He answered with a good-time ruckus in the background. He was on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. "Y'all just pick whatever room you want," he said. "With kids, you might like the Peach Suite." We did, but the bed wasn't made, so we found clean sheets, got some fresh towels and settled in to our delightful Cajun base. Seale told us where to leave the cash when we left two days later. "You don't need to lock it."


DJ and KBON founder Paul Marx fills the airwaves with the sounds and news of Cajun Country in south- central Louisiana. (Ann Hendrix-jenkins)

Later that night, steered by KBON, we drove out to D.I.'s Restaurant. D.I.'s rose like an oasis on the Acadian Serengeti, pickup trucks surrounding it like wildebeests at a watering hole. Inside, a band of five gray-headed musicians sawed away on the old songs while a dozen dancers two-stepped around the dining room. I watched a father in a New Orleans Saints T-shirt dancing instructively with his teenage son. It was a lovely floor show as we manhandled a huge platter of scarlet crawfish from D.I.'s own crawfish ponds.

The next day, as soon as we got off the air with Marx, Bertrand handed us a note. A listener from Ville Platte had called to invite us to a Cajun heritage festival the following morning. Winky Aucoin (pronounced Aw-KWAN) and his wife, Margaret (but everyone calls her Chicken), arranged to meet us Saturday morning at Savoy Music just outside of Eunice, the site of a popular weekly Cajun jam session. And so we were adopted by Winky and Chicken.

Being kidnapped by locals has happened before, too. Peta Waddington, a music-loving graphic designer from Winchester, England, showed up unannounced at KBON one day last fall, seeking an inside look at small-town radio. Marx and Bertrand put her on the air and, before the first commercial break, she was fielding invitations to étouffée contests, concerts and fais-do-do dances. She ended up staying a month.

"I was always absolutely booked up," Waddington said by phone from the U.K. "People would ring up and Paul would say, 'No, sorry, she's busy then. Can you do Wednesday?' The whole Cajun experience really captured my heart. They are just gorgeous people."

Waddington went through a Cajun indoctrination. "Lynn would ask me on the air, 'Peta, have you tried gumbo yet, or cornbread or boudin [pronounced boo-DAN, a spicy pork sausage]?' And if I said no, soon there would be a ring at the doorbell and somebody would drop off some gumbo or cornbread or boudin," she said. "I've traveled over much of the world, and I genuinely feel this is the most foreign place I've ever been, even though they speak English and it's in America."

It's easy to find Savoy Music on a Saturday morning, everyone tells you, just look for all the cars parked along the highway. Marc Savoy (pronounced Sav-WAH) -- a grandmaster accordion player and maker -- opens his modest workshop each weekend for a come-one, come-all acoustic jam session. When we arrive early, there are already half a dozen musicians of various ages, playing in the gloom of a power outage -- two fiddles, a guitar, an old cowboy on the spoons. More people mill around the coffee pot and the platters of boudin. " 'At boy's from Iota, a real good git-tar player," an elderly fellow whispers as a high-school boy in a baseball cap comes in. "So's his daddy."

Savoy himself, a big black-haired man with a mustache, pumps away on the accordion, nodding to newcomers. He's known locally as a lion of Cajun culture, long unforgiving of those who ignore or besmirch the heritage.

"He was Cajun before Cajun was cool," says Winky after we pull away. Chicken is driving. We're heading toward Lake Fausse Point State Park in bayou country. Winky -- trim and middle-aged in shorts and a T-shirt -- is also a champion of the "Acadian people," as he calls them. That's why he wants us to see the climax of the Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week, one of a series of Cajun boot camps where folks come to learn Acadian music, cooking and crafts.


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