420 6th St.
By Matt Norris
Every parking spot is full.
The dull thump of music reverberates down 6th St.—the main drag in this no-stoplight town in the heart of Louisiana’s “Big Mamou”.
I reach for the battered door to the windowless Fred’s Lounge, hand shaking a bit as I wonder what I’ll encounter once I step inside.
First sound. Then smell.
The dull thump amplifies into a roar as soon I swing open the door. A cloud of cigarette smoke hits my nostrils and bellows past me.
I step inside, it’s dark, and I literally stumble into a crowd of people packed into every corner of this small building.
As my eyes adjust, I see all 100 or so people are staring at me. At least the music doesn’t come to a screeching stop. I’m glad I’m not wearing a suit, I think to myself.
Fun-loving couples are two-stepping and dancing to the Cajun beat pumping out of a four-piece band crudely set up in the middle of the room.
Those who aren’t dancing are drinking. Mostly mini 8oz cans of Coors Light.
Desiring to blend in, I immediately elbow my way to the bar and order a 12oz can of Schlitz for $2.50.
Did I mention it is 9:30?
Did I mention it is 9:30…?
… IN THE MORNING?!?!
Welcome to Cajun Country.
Not some Disney version of Cajun Country.
Oh, no. It doesn’t get any more real than Saturday morning over at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana—a town famous in Cajun lore and song, including one by Hank Williams, Jr.
And here I am. Soaking it all in. The beer, the smoke, the music, the people. On a bright Saturday morning.
Except for a few bikers who clearly knew where to find a good time, I’m the only tourist in the place.
While Cajun music has been performed across the prairies and bayous of Southwest Louisiana ever since the French were forced out of their northern homeland of Acadia in the 1700s by those darn English, Fred’s claims to be the birthplace of the renaissance of Cajun culture.
Right here in this old, dirty, smoky room.
Fred’s first opened in 1948. And from the looks of the place, not much has changed. Except maybe the beer prices.
Fred himself is long gone, but the tradition he started lives on thanks to his widow, Miss Sue.
Fred’s is only open six hours a week. And that’s on Saturday morning. They open at 7AM!
And get this – the entire thing is broadcast live across the Cajun prairies (or “The Big Mamou”) on a local AM radio station.
Forget the opera or the ballet.
My fellow proud travelers, THIS is culture.
Cajun music is always sung in French and performed with guitars, accordions, fiddles and Cajun triangles. It’s fun, upbeat, and everybody enjoys their beer and dances.
Trust me, you’ll never hear this stuff at your local Karaoke bar.
You’ve got to come to Mamou. On a Saturday morning.
Everybody knows everybody. (Except me, of course.) The band plays non-stop, except occasionally alternating musicians from the dancers in the crowd – kind of like a hockey line change.
I eventually make my way to a weathered post I can lean against not far from the makeshift dance floor (the 12-square-feet in front of the band).
In the morning!!!
I’m on Schlitz number three now and feeling a little more at ease. The locals have stopped staring.
Just then, Miss Sue comes wading through the crowd with a cardboard box of freshly steamed boudin she’s handing out to everyone – free of charge.
There’s no better way to line your stomach for a morning of beer than a few spicy links of boudin – the Cajuns’ snack food of choice.
What is boudin you ask?
It is Cajun sausage made up of ground pig parts, rice, and as much or as little spice as the boudin maker desires, all stuffed into a natural pig intestine casing.
Boudin can be breakfast, lunch, or a midnight snack.
At Fred’s, it’s Miss Sue’s token of hospitality for a fun-filled, tradition-packed Saturday morning. And it’s the perfect antidote to whatever the heck I’m feeling after downing three Schlitz on an empty stomach.
It’s now 11:00.
I wander back outside into the blinding sunshine, reeking of smoke and feeling a bit dizzy from my 36 oz. breakfast.
But I can’t help but think how lucky I am. I just had one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences at a one-of-a-kind landmark, deep in the heart of what I like to call “Real America”.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!