The small southwestern Louisiana town of Gueydan is celebrating its Cajun music roots with a monthly jam session in its local museum. Area residents, who have a connection to the music and their community’s deep Cajun heritage, play traditional french songs on the accordion, fiddle and guitar.
The music is irresistible for anyone comfortable on a dance floor. And while the musicians work through a list of familiar tunes sung in French, couples two-step and waltz across the Gueydan Museum’s carpeted floor. Neelis “Pio” Saltzman strums his guitar and leads the makeshift Cajun music group. His strong voice cuts through the harmonies of the accordion, guitars and fiddle as he sings in French. “If you understand the Cajun French language,” Saltzman explains, “all of this music tells a story, and it’s usually heartache. But they would sing about it and make it better.”
passing cajun music to the next generation
Saltzman sits next to his son, Adam Saltzman, who plays the accordion. And as they play, more young musicians arrive and join the jam session. 19-year-old Lukas Meaux takes the lead on a song, playing his accordion and singing in French. He explains later that he does not speak the Cajun language, but says he asks his grandmother if he is pronouncing the words correctly and what they mean. “I don’t want to go play a dance, and some old people come up and start fussing at me, Hey you’re saying that wrong,” Meaux says.
roots of cajun music in gueydan
During the Summer of 2021, the Gueydan Museum put together an exhibit of its musical history and some of the early Cajun music pioneers who lived here. You can see photographs with information on some of those musical legends. One display case contains three accordions that date from the mid-to-late 1800’s. Instruments like these were played at family gatherings and house dances.
Museum shows family history and town’s personality
I always enjoy visiting small town museums. There is a very genuine feel to the items on display, from old cookware to family photos and tools. Cathy Hair is a volunteer at the Gueydan Museum who curates the rotating exhibitions. “I like hearing about history,” says Hair. “It’s not the item, it’s the story behind it. That’s what’s always interesting.” To prove that point, Hair points to a pair of men’s white dress pants in a display case. The pants belonged to one of the first Acadian expatriates who was born in France. Charles Hebert first wore the pants for his wedding in 1802. Hair told me, “They’re over 200 years old, and every male member in the family that’s gotten married has worn the pair of pants”. That tradition continued for six generations.
Historic but endangered museum building
The Gueyan Museum occupies the 1902 Gueydan Bank Building located at the corner of Main and Third Streets. The ornate building has a recessed Romanesque arched entry. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. But a new designation casts some doubt about its future. In 2021, the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation listed the Gueydan Museum building as one of the most endangered places in the state. Recent heavy storms and two hurricane in 2020 blew out many of the building’s second floor windows. The building also needs a new roof. The community museum is trying to raise funds to repair the damage.
gueydan museum & cajun music featured on tv
The Gueydan Museum is located at 212 Main Street, Gueydan, Louisiana at the corner of Main and Third Streets. The Cajun music jam sessions are held on the third Saturday of each month. The Museum is open Wed-Sat from 10am-5pm. Phone: 337-536-0443