Tuesday, December 19, 2006

FEMA Got No Zydeco: Day Four

On Sunday afternoon I decide to head over to the Fais Do-Do, a kind of Cajun hoedown, at Tipitina’s, the legendary New Orleans music club that you might remember from “The Big Easy.” This weekly event would not be everyone’s idea of a good time.

First, there’s Tipitina’s itself. The barn-like structure, with its corrugated tin walls and its haphazardly arranged folding chairs, looks like about the right setting for a tobacco auction. Then there’s the Cajun dance music. You have to like accordions. (If you do, you might want to make your own Fais Do-Do playlist and send it in.)

I recall from previous visits that the Fais Do-Do attracts a mature crowd, and one that isn’t going gently. Today’s prize for flamboyance belongs to a woman with twinkling red lights on her shoes and a pink ostrich feather in her hair. She’s dressed in a white ruffled tunic bearing the legend “FEMA Got No Zydeco.” Once the music starts up – after the World’s Longest Sound Check – couples take to the dance floor. I feel content to watch the graceful waltzing and two-stepping—though I do consider the possibility of engaging a Fais Do-Do gigolo next time. I’m ridiculously pleased when, after a while, someone asks me to dance. I do my best, and because my partner is a strong leader as well as a kind man, I don’t disgrace us. Still, I’m a charity case when it comes to Cajun dancing. My family is spending Christmas in New Orleans, and I know I’ll want to hit the Fais Do-Do again. So I make myself a promise: before I come back I will take at least one lesson in Cajun dancing.

There are lots of reasons to love Tipitina’s, despite its unprepossessing physical plant. One is that the club has taken the lead in rebuilding New Orleans’ musical culture. After Katrina, the Tipitina’s Foundation started the “Instruments A Comin” program, which has given away $500,000 worth of replacement instruments to local schools and musicians. It also has opened an office that helps musicians affected by the hurricane manage their business dealings.

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