Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette: Now That’s Some Zydeco

Gerard Delafose and the Zydeco Gators at the Blue Moon Saloon, Lafayette, LA.

Gerard Delafose and the Zydeco Gators at the Blue Moon Saloon, Lafayette, LA.

It was a late night, we’d been on the road since 7:30, and dinner didn’t end til 9:30. So when we were taken by our Lafayette Louisiana hosts to a local nightclub, I wasn’t sure if I’d pass, or just watch a song or two and go back to the hotel.

But when I walked up to the Blue Moon Saloon, on a sidestreet in Lafayette, and heard Gerard Delafose and the Zydeco Gators belting out a tune, I knew it was the real deal, and I had to stay for more.   What a powerful combination–the requisite squeezebox, played by the frontman Gerard, the washboard played by a tall gent in a porkpie hat, and the rest of the battery cranking out a solid, steady beat, I was hooked.

The Zydeco tunes kept on pumping out, tremendous infectious music that you could not sit still for.  The place is a classic–out back, an open air area next to the bar with a raised
bench so you can see the band, and in the other part of the house, a funky youth hostel with 20-somethings milling about. It all felt so real, so absolutely Zydeco, and here we were in Southwest Louisiana where of course the Zydeco is real, and so are the players.

It was a great night of music, hands down the best Zydeco I’ve ever heard, and a great reason to stay out late in the town that’s been called “The Happiest in America.” Maybe that’s because they went to the Blue Moon Saloon for a beer and some rockin’ music!

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Northwest Louisiana’s Highlights on a Glorious Spring Day

We set out from Shreveport early this morning on a tour across Northern Louisiana, beginning on an interstate but quickly getting off on the smaller blue highways lined with pine trees, some clear cut, and some showing the replanted trees for a future harvest.  Our bus trip took us for several hours, to the towns of West Monroe, Monroe, and Natchitoches.  Here are some of the interesting things we saw today in this rural part of the state.

Cruising down the river in Natchitoches.

A great day for a leisurely cruised down the river in Nathitoches.

Re-enactors Tommy Adkins and Jeremy McCormic have both been with Fort St Jean Baptiste for many years, practicing skills like making rope from plants and showing visitors what life was like here in the early 1700s.

Re-enactors Tommy Adkins and Jeremy McCormic have both been with Fort St Jean Baptiste for many years, practicing skills like making rope from plants and showing visitors what life was like here in the early 1700s.

A shy 2 year old at the Warehouse 1 restaurant along the river in West Monroe.

A shy 2 year old at the Warehouse 1 restaurant along the river in West Monroe.

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Commander HQ in West Monroe, LA. in an office used while taping the TV show, Duck Dynasty.

Dan Chason, head of security at Duck Commander HQ in West Monroe, LA. in an office used while taping the TV show, Duck Dynasty. In the office are parts for duck calls that are assembled there.

Art expert Thomas N. Whitehead in front of a new exhibition of murals painted by 101 year old Clementine Hunter, depicting the lives of her people on the Melrose Plantation at the Lousiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum, completed in 2013 in Natchitoches.

Art expert Thomas N. Whitehead in front of a new exhibition of murals painted by 101 year old Clementine Hunter, depicting the lives of her people on the Melrose Plantation at the Lousiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum, completed in 2013 in Natchitoches.

Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and NW Louisiana History museum.

The impressive design of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum, completed in 2013 in Natchitoches is striking.

Downtown Natchitoches.

Natchitoches is the oldest town in Louisiana and among the most pretty, with flowers everywhere and an accessible water front with shops, wrought iron railings and 35 B&Bs right downtown.

 

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The Building that Elvis Has Left in Shreveport

The Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport is famous because it’s where America’s favorite singer, Elvis Presley, got his big start.  We toured this beautiful edifice built in 1929 today and got a chance to go backstage and see the dressing rooms and even listen to a few tunes sung by an Elvis look-a-like.

Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium's ancient lighting board.

Ancient electric lighting controls backstage at the Muni.

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The building was famous before the King set foot there in 1954, because it was the home of the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show there that featured stars like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr, Kitty Wells and George Jones. The show as considered a crucial stepping stone to the venerable Grand Ole Opry–if you could get a big audience applause here, you’d come back for an encore and really earn that $18 that they paid singers back then.

The Muni as its  known, seats around 3200 in a circular arrangement, with removable seating down front, and today it hosts popular music acts as well as Rotary Club Meetings and functions. People love to stand in the doorway on stage right where so many stars families used to watch the performers. The acoustics are first rate–in fact Eric Clapton composed on of his biggest hits just sitting by himself on this very stage.

It was built without air conditioning, which down here in Louisiana is quite a challenge.  It wasn’t until 1956 that the main part of the arena was cooled down. The tour included a chance to sing in a group up on stage, and see the many different parts of the big arena including the dressing rooms, backstage where there are still the primitive levers controlling the lights, and a wall with famous signatures like Jerry Seinfeld’s scrawled on it.

But there was once top secret work that went on here: “The filter ladies” were locked down in the basement during WWII and charged with drawing the maps that were used in the Normandy invasion!

With its decorative panels up on the ceiling that resemble wagon wheels and the ornate front inscribed with word memorializing WWI’s fallen soldiers, it’s a beloved building that Elvis had a contract to play every Saturday night for 18 months, until the Colonel bought out his contract and he went on to stardom.

Groups are welcome to contact Teresa Micheels at 318-518-5027 to set up historic or even ghost tours of this fabulous shrine to music. Oh yes, doors open at random and they say that seat number 37 is haunted.

 

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Fertitta’s Deli Is the Only Place Around to Buy a Muffy

Fertitta's is the only building still standing in their neighborhood.

Fertitta’s Deli is the only building still standing in their neighborhood.

The only place to find the Muffy is at Fertitta's Deli in Shreveport.

The only place to find the Muffy is at Fertitta’s Deli in Shreveport.

Retro charm with wood floors and old fashioned friendliness.

Fertitti’s has retro charm with wood floors and old fashioned friendliness.

What’s a Muffy?  You can find out at Fertitta’s Deli in Shreveport, Louisiana. It’s the only building left standing for blocks around.  Once there were 31 other small simple houses, but they’re all gone. Inside this wood-framed building is a local institution, so beloved that a street was named after one of the founders of this iconic sandwich joint.  Why Muffy?

For the answer I turned to Agatha Fertitta McCall, who shared her little sandwiches and her fascinating life story with us during our food tour of Shreveport this week.  She explained that her grandfather opened the store as an Italian grocery store back in 1927.  As Agatha and husband Bob do today, the proprietors lived above the store and when her dad went to New Orleans and got Muffaletta bread, he thought locals might want to buy some to take home.

Then they made a sandwich with chopped vegetables and olives, slathered on some yellow mustard, and added salami, ham and cheese.  It was a Shreveport Muffaletta, just like you find all over New Orleans. But when they called  a sign maker to emblazen the side of the deli with that long name, they found it was cheaper just to shorten it to Muffy. And a tradition was born.  Agatha didn’t realize she’d become the store’s proprietor until she heard about her father’s retirement, and she returned to the city from New England to take over. Thirty-five years and two grown children later, she’s still making Muffy’s.

With a wooden floor, checked tablecloths and the old rotary phone still ringing in to-go orders, Fertitti’s has become a beloved Shreveport institution. Today’s Muffy comes in two sizes–the ‘feeds four’ dinner plate version at $16, or the smaller $5.50 version.  Simple and delicious, Muffy’s are almost as much fun to eat as the story behind them.

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A Glimpse of Baton Rouge and LaPlace Louisiana

We started the day in a swamp, and moved on to view a museum of rural life, the biggest Antebellum plantation, and the Lousiana state museum in and around Baton Rouge today. A group of 27 writers, we enjoyed getting to know each-other with little time to dawdle.

Mississippi riverfront in Baton Rouge, LA.

Mississippi riverfront in Baton Rouge, LA.

Gators' age is determined by how long they are, 3' equals three years.

Gators’ age is determined by how long they are, 3′ equals three years.

An anahinga dries its wings in the Manshack Swamp.

An anahinga dries its wings in the Manshack Swamp.

The White ballroom, painted this color so as not to distract from the colorful women's dresses at Nottoway Plantation.

The White ballroom, painted this color so as not to distract from the colorful women’s dresses at Nottoway Plantation.

Lousiana State Museum:It cost just $15 million but Jefferson's deal with Napoleon came out to be about 4 cents an acre!

It cost just $15 million but Jefferson’s deal with Napoleon came out to be about 4 cents an acre!

A raccoon along the riverbank in the swamp.

A raccoon along the riverbank in the swamp.

Capt Tom Billiot shows off one of the local critters in Manshack Swamp. LaPlace LA

Capt Tom Billiot shows off one of the local critters in Manshack Swamp. LaPlace LA

Old State House in Baton Rouge.

Old State House in Baton Rouge.

Nottoway Plantation in White Castle LA

Nottoway Plantation in White Castle LA

Rural Life Museum at LSU, Baton Rouge.

Rural Life Museum at LSU, Baton Rouge.

Egret in the Manshack swamp.

An egret in the swamp.

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Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans Louisiana Await

Paul Gustings manning the Empire bar at Broussards, one of New Orleans literary inspired eateries. Christopher Ludgate photos. Read more at http://www.gonomad.com/5899

Paul Gustings manning the Empire bar at Broussards, one of New Orleans literary inspired eateries. Christopher Ludgate photos. Read more at http://www.gonomad.com/5899

I’m packing for a trip that starts tomorrow with a flight to New Orleans. I’m joining a group of journalists on a road trip through the great state of Louisiana, and on Saturday morning I’ll take a swamp tour in New Orleans Plantation country.  Then we’ll visit the city of Baton Rouge with a look at the capital and a food tour.

The next day we head to Opelousas, then on to Shreveport for a two-day conference with all of the tourism boards from the southern states in the US.  It’s a chance to have short meetings with dozens of tourism people who give travel writers a quick run-down on what’s new and what’s worth writing about in their states or cities. Then we work out trips and the coverage begins.

Our journey picks up again a few days later and we will head for the famous, well TV famous, Duck Commander Warehouse. Maybe we’ll even see a few members of the famous bearded Richardson family. Then it’s on to Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Lousiana Purchase territory, and to Fort St Jean Baptiste, another early back country settlement.

Then it’s Lake Charles in southwestern Louisiana, completing the arc around the state. We’ll tour the highlights and then see Lafayette and have dinner in a Cajun dancehall there.

We cap off our busy week in New Orleans and have lunch at Antoines, which is now 175 years old. Our final night we’ll dine in another very famous New Orleans restaurant, Broussards, and stroll around the French Quarter. Paul, the ‘tender in the Empire Bar there, is pictured above.

I am already stuffed!

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