In this episode of American Anthology, Mike takes us on a romp through the cities, swamps and bayous of South Louisiana. First up, hear the story of the Rougarou, the legendary man-wolf that preys on Cajun children out past their curfew. Then comes the story of the German Coast Slave Revolt of 1811, the largest slave revolt in U.S. History. Next you’ll hear about the day the Civil War was put on hold so a Union officer could get a proper burial in a Southern cemetery, with officers from both sides in attendance. Then comes the fascinating story of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, the first of its kind during the Civil Rights Movement. Lastly comes the story of Fats Domino, a Creole kid from New Orleans who brought Rock and Roll to the world. Music for this episode comes from Teddy Johnson, owner of the legendary Teddy’s Juke Joint in Zachary, Louisiana
Viewing entries in
Out on the prairie in the heart of Acadiana sits the tiny old railroad town of Rayne, Louisiana. Originally called Pouppeville, the citizens decided to rename their town Rayne in honor of the engineer who laid the tracks. In the early 1900’s, three brothers started a frog leg business, shipping frog legs all over the country, and Rayne got a reputation as the Frog Capital of the World. They truly have run with their nickname and frogs are everywhere you look in this quiet little town. They even host a Frog Festival every May! I loved walking the streets and taking these photos, and this post is just a sampling of all the frogs to be found in Rayne. They made me smile and reminded me that life is too short to take too seriously. How can you take things too seriously when you are constantly surrounded by frogs? Kudos to the citizens of Rayne for keeping their sense of humor and bringing a lot of joy to their town streets. Your town made me want to jump for joy!
St. Francisville, Louisiana may be small, but it sure packs a big punch. This beautiful Southern town got its start way back in 1809. It was built on a hill overlooking the older French settlement of Bayou Sara, which was at one time the largest port on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Memphis. For 74 days back in 1810, St. Francisville served as the capital city of the independent Republic of West Florida when it ousted its Spanish occupants before being annexed by the United States. In the years leading up to the Civil War, St. Francisville was the supply center and main town for surrounding plantations, perfectly situated for trade on a bluff high above the river. Today it contains a fascinating collection of antebellum, creole and Victorian homes, and some beautiful churches and businesses as well. I spent a lovely afternoon there, wandering the quiet streets and taking these photos. The few people I met on my stroll were remarkably pleasant and kept pointing me towards even more beautiful parts of town for me to shoot. The river has been high this year, and you’ll see a few photos at the end of the flooding in the area. St. Francisville is a wonderful escape from the big cities and offers a magical combination of small-town charm, fascinating history and delightful people. You should definitely put it on your list!
Just off of the infamous Highway 61 near Zachary, Louisiana, you turn off on a dirt road and find yourself standing outside of Teddy’s Juke Joint. It’s hard to imagine you’re only 15 minutes from downtown Baton Rouge, because it feels a world apart. As you approach the front door, you may wonder if it’s open, but I promise you it is - every night of the week. As soon as you open that door, though, be prepared to be transported to a different time and a different world. Much like stepping into a music lover’s version of Narnia, Teddy’s is a whirlwind of colorful lights and amazing sounds. It’s what I would imagine it would be like inside of a kaleidoscope. As wonderful as this place appears at first glance, the real magic has yet to happen. Teddy and his wife Nancy have been running this joint for over 40 years, and they are some of the most hospitable and wonderful people you’re likely to meet - just good people all around. Pull up a seat at the bar and order a drink and you’ll soon find your feet tapping along with the beat and your face smiling from ear to ear. Teddy spins the records and Nancy pours the drinks, and together they manage to keep the place spotless and running smoothly, with a little help from their friends on the weekend. Speaking of the weekend, that’s an ideal time to come to Teddy’s as there are frequently live bands and jam sessions, but any night of the week your ears will be treated to great blues, soul, and an occasional slip into rock and roll. If you’re hungry, they’ll whip you up a pork chop sandwich or some red beans and rice with their own secret blend of seasoning. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting all of the remaining true Southern juke joints over the last decade, and Teddy’s is definitely my favorite. It’s the southernmost juke joint on Highway 61, and the only one that’s open 7 days a week. Whenever I’m anywhere near Baton Rouge, I find my steering wheel pulling me towards Teddy’s, even if it’s just to stop in and say hi. I know I’ll find some good conversation, a hot meal, a cold beer and great music. Yep, Teddy’s is a lot like coming home…
Coming into Alexandria, Louisiana up Route 1 from the south was a difficult ride. Buildings were crumbling, houses were obviously lived in but shouldn’t have been and the road itself was terrible. And then, before I knew it, I was in the heart of downtown, and at first glance it was more of the same. Broken glass, graffiti and boarded up old buildings seemed to be everywhere. I seriously considered turning around and heading right back out of town. But I knew Alexandria had been around for over 200 years and sat right on the banks of the Red River; there must be beauty there to capture somewhere. So I parked and started walking and slowly, very slowly, the beauty of Alexandria started to emerge from the cracks. I started wiping away the years with my mind and my lens and found some extraordinary buildings and scenes to photograph. And then, as happens, I started talking to the people who live there and every one of them from the businessmen to the homeless people were unbelievably friendly. While I found all of these wonderful scenes as I wandered the city, I would still say Alexandria’s real beauty is in its people. The more I lingered and the more people I talked to, the more it grew on me. I went to see a play at the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center, took a stroll along the levy and stopped in for a beer or two at Finnegan’s Wake. By the time I was pulling out of town, I had an entirely different opinion of Alexandria. This was definitely a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”, stick around a while and you might just like what you find there.
This week has been a good one and a busy one and my last one in Louisiana. I traveled a bit across the North Shore area, north of Lake Ponchartrain and then ducked back to Baton Rouge for the wonderful 3rd Street Songwriters Festival. After a great weekend of music and new friends, I headed back to my former home city of New Orleans to get some work done and prepare to move on to Alabama, which I plan to do the minute this post is published. It’s been a great two months here in The Pelican State, but it’s long past time for me to be moving on, and I’m looking forward to it.
After I finished writing last week, I did indeed go for a couple of beers at the Abita Brewpub in Abita Springs. I had forgotten how cute a town Abita Springs is, and I enjoyed a little walk around before ducking into the brewpub. The bartender was Rita. Rita at Abita! She was very friendly and I enjoyed talking with her as I tried some of the Abita beers I haven’t had the chance to taste yet. When I was done there, I headed down the road and stopped by Ruby’s Roadhouse for a nightcap. This is a great old dive bar and music venue in Mandeville, and if only they’d make people go outside to smoke it would be even better. It’s a cool place though, and I’ll have to get back some day when they have live music on.
I woke up Thursday to torrential downpours and thunder so I made the command decision to stay in bed a little longer. I made a cup of coffee and watched some TV from the cozy confines of the back of my van. It wasn’t what I had planned, but that kind of weather isn’t great for taking photos or really much of anything, so I took advantage of it in the best way I could think of. I may have to do that more often…
This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending and volunteering at the Third Street Songwriter’s Festival in Downtown Baton Rouge. This annual event brings together the best songwriters from around the state and region for a weekend of performances and workshops in the state’s capital city. This year’s festival brought out well over a hundred songwriters from 13 different states, including some big names like Jim McCormick, C.J. Solar and Jeffrey Steele. It was wonderful to meet and watch so many amazing songwriters in one place and it made for a magical weekend in Baton Rouge. While most of the performances took place in the bars along Third Street, the two main performances took place in some pretty fantastic venues as well. Friday night we went to the incredible Red Dragon Listening Room on Florida Street to hear two great rounds headlined by Jim McCormick. Saturday night, we filled the small and intimate Manship Theater to hear the wizardry of Jeffrey Steele. For me, the best part of the weekend was a late night song swap on a dark corner downtown, where we talked and jammed until almost 3 a.m. On Sunday evening, during the final round of the festival, one of the songwriters on stage sang a Hurricane Katrina song. As he hit his last note, thunder clapped behind him right on key, and the skies opened up in true Louisiana fashion, leaving the last two songs of the weekend unplayed. I guess I’ll just have to wait for next year to hear them. All told, it was an amazing weekend in Baton Rouge of networking, storytelling, songwriting and music. I wouldn’t have missed it. I hope you enjoy these photos from my weekend in Baton Rouge.
Hello everyone, and thank you for stopping by. The flowers are coming in nicely here in East Louisana, but the weather has cooled off significantly as well. I’ve been enjoying the little cold snap though, and sleeping really well cozy-ed up in the back of my van. I had an interesting stop in Alexandria this week, a town which has definitely seen better days, but which isn’t dead yet. From there I headed back into Cajun Country for the weekend, enjoying great food, drink, music and company. I stopped off in Lafayette to get some work done and have cruised across the north of the eastern panhandle to the North Shore where I am writing to you from today. It’s been a fun week as I start to make my preparations for my departure from Louisiana. It’s always sad to go, but it’s almost time I moved on. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along as I go.
When I left you last week, I made my way south along the Mississippi River levee, and found the river is really high. It was definitely higher than the road in a lot of places, and while the levee was doing what it was built to do, it’s still a little bit nerve racking to be driving below the water line. I stopped in a few places to just look out at the river as it flowed past. I made the turn northwest when I hit Louisiana Route 1 and headed on to Mansura for a stop at Juneau’s Cajun Meat Market. This is a spot recommended by a friend as having the best boudin (Cajun pork and rice sausage) in Louisiana, so I had to stop in and give it a go. This was a real butcher shop with all kinds of beautiful fresh meat on display - if I had a proper refrigerator I would have probably spent a fortune there. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I settled for some boudin, a fried boudin ball, and a boudin and pepperjack cheese wrap. All three were amazing and while they didn’t help my cholesterol, they were well worth the stop.
Fred’s Lounge in downtown Mamou, Louisiana isn’t a big place. In fact, depending on which way you’re driving, you could drive past it and never know you missed it. It’s not fancy and if you weren’t aiming for it, it probably wouldn’t entice you to stop by its appearance. Fred’s is only open for about six hours a week, from about 8 a.m. to about 2 p.m. every Saturday morning, so if you came through Mamou at any other time it would be closed anyway. But during those six hours, it is a magical place to be.
For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I have a very special place in my heart for the Mississippi Delta and for the Delta Blues in particular. If you visit Clarksdale these days, in the very heart of the Delta, you can find live blues seven days a week, although it’s taken a concerted effort over many years to make that happen. It’s amazing, but it exists in a museum state. By that I mean that while you can see it in a great juke joint like Red’s, you will watch it sitting down on what was once the dance floor…
The Wild Azalea Trail runs for 31 miles through Kisatchie National Forest near Alexandria, Louisiana. It is accessible from several different trailheads in the area, and I hiked about a 3 mile section of it leaving from the Twin Bridges Trailhead on Route 488. It was a pleasant walk through the woods with some up and down to make it interesting, but not enough to make it difficult. The trail was quiet when I was there, but well marked and obviously well traveled. While the wildflowers were only just starting to bloom when I visited, they were still putting on quite a show. I really enjoyed this hike and only wish I had budgeted more time to have been able to do more of it. Either way it was a wonderful couple of hours in the woods and I would definitely recommend this trail if you are ever in the area. I hope you enjoy some of these photos from the Wild Azalea Trail in Central Louisiana.
Eunice, Louisiana. The day was cold and grey which wasn’t great weather for a festival, but turned out to be perfect etouffee weather. For those who have never had it (or heard of it), etouffee is a type of stew or maybe a serious gravy served over rice in Louisiana. It is one of those dishes which can vary greatly from one pot to the next, depending on the whims and style of the cook. It was great to be able to try so many different varieties of etouffee at the cook-off. Over 40 teams competed in this year’s world championship, coming from near and far to test their recipe against the very best. In addition to etouffee, there were, of course, boiled crawfish, and a variety of delicious sweets to choose from too. Live Cajun music came from the stage and people danced and drank and ate their fill. The locals from Eunice were all very welcoming to those of us from out of town which added to the community feel of the event. In my opinion, it was the local fire brigade which served up the best bowl of etouffee, but to be fair I could only eat about six different samples before throwing in the towel. Although it was a chilly, windy day in Cajun Country, I left feeling warm and satisfied - both in my belly and in my soul. I hope you enjoy these photos from the World Championship Crawfish Etouffee Cook-Off in Eunice, Louisiana.
I had no expectations when I pulled into downtown Monroe, Louisiana last week. I had really never heard anything about it, good or bad. It was the biggest town in northeast Louisiana, but that was about the extent of my knowledge as I headed into town. Sometimes it is great when you go into a place blind, because you can see it completely unhindered by preconceived notions of what it should look like. I was impressed the moment I hit downtown by the beautiful classically industrial architecture and the lovely riverfront park and bridge. It helped that it was a gorgeous evening, but my camera and I were kept busy for hours as I wandered the streets, with amazing shots around every corner. I really had a great time taking these photos, even though it was really quiet as I wandered the streets. At one point, I was taking a photo on a street corner and a police car was stopped at the light. The officer rolled down his window and said something along the lines of “just taking photos of beautiful downtown Monroe?”. I replied “yes, I am” to which he just laughed and laughed. The light turned green, and I could still hear him laughing as he drove off into the evening. I wish I had called after him and given him my card so he could see these photos. Maybe it takes an outsider to see the real beauty in a place, and maybe that’s what makes me the right person to shoot these kinds of photos. I know he found it hilarious, but I loved my short stay in Monroe. It is truly a diamond in the rough of northeastern Louisiana.