Cajun music taps into heartbeat of community

Jun 17, 2019

Northrop's Music on the Plaza 2019 concert series started this month and is featured as one of the University of Minnesota’s new #GopherSummer roundup of campus events. The New Riverside Ramblers will take the stage on Wed, Jun 19. We asked Karl Smelker, bassist for the band, to explain the band’s inspiration. Here’s his reply:

The New Riverside Ramblers play Cajun music. Why would a bunch of Yankees from the wrong end of the river decide to do such a thing?

You could ask each of the six members of the band and come up with nine different reasons: “I love the beautiful melodies. I fell asleep as a child to my father's chamber groups. Cajun music sets those melodies to a rockin' backbeat.”

Eric and AJ would tell you about great fiddlers. John might tell you about spending time in Louisiana playing the music since the late 1960s. At the heart though are music and community.

In 1755, the English expelled the French Acadians from Canada in the Great Expulsion.  Looking for a home, the Acadians settled in the backwater swamps of Louisiana. Cajun music is an amalgam of every immigrant passing through the area for the next 260 years.

At the time they were playing dance music with fiddle, guitar and triangle. German immigrants arrived and the Cajuns adopted the accordion. Western Swing bands passed through and the Cajuns appropriated the pedal steel guitar. The Cajuns were inclusive by adding new instruments and musical ideas to their music.

The Cajuns worked hard to scrape together a living from rural Louisiana. But they also played hard. Extended families and friends got together to "pass a good time" at a "fais do do. "Dancing, eating, and playing music were a release from the tough times the rest of the week.

Playing Cajun music lets listeners tap into the heartbeat of the music. It connects everyone to that hard working, joy-filled community. Working together, the band can change a frozen Minnesota Quonset hut into a sultry bar in Scott, Louisiana. Or even Northrop Plaza into a pole barn on King's Ranch in Carencro. Come on down and laissez les bon temps rouler.


Videos and Photos from The New Riverside Ramblers on stage Wed, Jun 19

View New Riverside Ramblers Jun 19 performance on Facebook Live
View the performance on Facebook Live

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