Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler!
This Saturday morning celebration of Cajun music and culture may just be the most fun you’ll ever have before noon.
Any other day of the week you’d drive by this nondescript red brick building without a second glance. But on Saturday mornings, Fred’s Lounge in tiny Mamou, Louisiana holds a powerful attraction that goes well beyond this humble bar’s modest appearance.
That’s partly because this is widely acknowledged as the place where Cajun music, language, and culture were reborn more than a half-century ago. But I can tell you from personal experience that this is about as far as you can get from a dusty historical landmark.
On the contrary, you’ll find the Saturday morning scene at Fred’s so full of the irrepressible joie de vivre that is at the heart of this culture that the place is practically bursting at the seams. And we’re talking literally here, as hundreds of Cajun music lovers from around the world show up to party with a live band and the grandmotherly hostess everyone simply calls Tante Sue.
If you’ve never heard these infectious rhythms before, you’ll find that this is music that simply makes it hard to stand still. Combine that with a friendly atmosphere where nobody is a stranger and, like me, you’re liable to be pulled out onto the dance floor no matter how loudly you protest that you “don’t dance.”
Eventually someone in the crowd coaxes silver-haired Sue out from behind the bar to take up the microphone. As she welcomes everyone to her Saturday morning soiree, she raises the pint bottle of Hot Damn! cinnamon schnapps she keeps in her well-worn belt holster in a toast, takes a healthy swig, and launches into a plaintive song whose Cajun French lyrics you just know must be about the pain of unrequited love, the heartbreak of betrayal, or maybe both.
All around you the décor is pure “dive bar” in the best sense of the phrase, highlighted by signs in the dearly-departed Fred’s child-like scrawl beseeching patrons “Please do not stand on the tables, chairs, cigarette machine, booths, or jukebox.” One hand-lettered sign in particular gives an indication of just how enthusiastic this crowd can get when it warns “This is not a dance hall. If you get hurt dancing, we are not responsible.”
For my money, it takes a Saturday morning at Fred’s Lounge to truly understand the meaning of the Cajun phrase “Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler!”— Let the Good Times Roll. One visit and I’m sure you’ll wholeheartedly agree.
Mamou is known as the “Cajun Music Capital of the World” and is home to a number of nationally-known Cajun bands including Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys.
Mamou’s traditional “Courir de Mardi Gras” celebration—an all-day event where masked horseback riders roam through the surrounding countryside gathering live chickens and other contributions to the community gumbo pot—was revived at Fred’s Lounge in 1950.
Name: Fred’s Lounge
Location: 420 Sixth Street, Mamou, LA; about 90 miles west of Baton Rouge.
- Fred’s is open only on Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The music and the radio broadcast start about 9 a.m. The band finishes by about 1:30 in the afternoon.
- Folks down here know how to pass a good time, which means that you can expect to see people downing beers first thing in the morning. No one says you have to join in, but if such behavior offends you, well, maybe you’d be better off staying home.
- On a related note, be sure to bring a designated driver if you plan on tossing back a few cold ones.
- To get a preview of the action at Fred’s on your way into town, tune your radio to 1050 on the AM dial to hear the live broadcast on KVPI in Ville Platte.