Once a year, musicians of all ages face off in a Cajun fiddle contest to crown the best players in southwestern Louisiana. The annual fiddling showdown is called the “Battle of the Bows”.
The music starts early on a Saturday morning at the Strand Theatre, an old movie house turned community theater on Main Street in Jennings, Louisiana. The Strand opened in 1939. The City of Jennings owns the restored building.
The Strand is on the National Register of Historic Places.
cajun fiddle contest
The Southwest Louisiana Acoustic Cajun Music Association sponsors the annual competition for its seventh year. Association host Ken Lyon tells the audience, “All the contestants are required to play one Cajun waltz and one Cajun two step of their choice”. The players range in age from 12 and under, all the way up to seniors, including fiddler Ron Yule, who’s in his eighties. Yule plays Cajun and Bluegrass and has written several books on fiddling.
Yule describes his home state’s fiddlers are being very talented. “I find most people think Cajun fiddlers would play Cajun, bluegrass fiddlers would play bluegrass, and country fiddlers would play country solely,” Yule explains. “But they don’t. They just play all styles of music,” Yule says.
battle of the bows featured on tv
every player is a winner
This year’s competition was short on players, but the audience was still treated to a musical showcase of Cajun waltz’s and two-steps. “The biggest reason why we had the event is to promote our culture and our musical heritage” Lyon says. He believes that the Cajun French language came within one generation of dying out in South Louisiana. “It’s been revived,” Lyon says, “and we are using the music as a vehicle to make sure that it lives on.”
judging the contest
Fiddlers are introduced by number, not name, as they take the stage. The judges listen from backstage and grade the live performances. Judge Chad Huval, a Cajun musician and instructor at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, says, “I want to recognize the tune. He adds, “For the fiddle, intonation is a big one. You know how close that note is to being perfect.” And he listens for tempo, “You don’t want to be going too fast or too slow. You want to have a nice tempo.”
crossing generations on the cajun fiddle
There is something very pure about this music from the solo fiddle to the twin performances where two players take the stage together. “When you see a true master with their instrument, unadorned and uncomplicated with drums and other instruments just by themselves,” Huval says, “it’s a wonderful thing.”
The live show was a treat for the audience, as spectators could see for themselves that Cajun fiddling has both a legacy and a future. The Southwest Louisiana Acoustic Cajun Music Association also hosts bi-monthly jam sessions at the Gator Chateau in Jennings, a tourist information center along Interstate 10. Click here for more information on the free jam sessions.