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New Deal Gets a Taste of Louisiana

The Cajun Music Jam welcomes musicians, singers and dancers to join in a circle of spontaneous entertainment.

A new song is about to begin.

“What chord are we playing in?” is heard within the circle of 11 musicians at the jam session in the Wednesday.

“G!” Guitarist Sheridan Swope says.

“D?” Accordion player Don Henninger asks in response.

“No, G! The gods' chord!” Swope shouts with laughter, above the concord of instruments, while signaling the letter using her hands.

This was common conversation among the musicians at the Cajun Music Jam at the New Deal Café, besides, “What song are we playing?”

“It’s very spontaneous,” Swope, the coordinator, said.

According to Anne McCabe, a 12-year musician who played the guitar and performed vocals, Cajun music derives from what was formerly Acadia. Most songs are sung in French, as some of the first European settlers sailed from France during the 17th century.

Many of their songs reflect on themes people can relate to — heartbreak, love and home.

Anywhere from five to 20 people come out to the café monthly, on fourth Wednesdays, to share their love for the sounds of Louisiana. A song is called out and the musicians join in once they get a feel of the rhythm. An e-mail is sent out to a list-serv before every session. Some people come every month while others sporadically step in and out, according to Swope.

Yesterday night was Suzanne Murray and Rebecca Lemus’ first time playing with the group. With their fiddle and clarinet, respectively, the pair joined in with the assortment of accordions, guitars, a bass, a harmonica, and a triangle.

“It was a lot of fun,” Murray, who recently moved from San Antonio, Texas, said at the end of the night. “I’ve lived all across the country, and I’ve never come across anything like this. It’s a very unique place.”

Lemus agreed. The 29-year-old had stopped by the café for dinner with her mother but stepped into the circle after witnessing its welcoming atmosphere.

“I came and saw people jamming, and I was like, ‘I need to get my instrument!’” Lemus said. “It was great. I didn’t know how hardcore this jam session was…Here I was, fudging the melody, but it was okay!”

For two hours, the group tirelessly beat out song after song, entertaining both the community sitting in their seats and the couple spinning on the dance floor.  

“Fiddles!” Swope shouts. Murray and fellow fiddler, Jim Schmidt, perk up and perform their solo as the night ends.

“It's just a joy that we do this. It’s a community – we love it,” McCabe said.

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