Enjoy dinner and a free concert of music by the Prairie Bayou Cajun Band at the French House. 6pm, $11 / $9 (students).

We’re in the Mardi Gras spirit and happy to welcome back the Prairie Bayou Cajun Band. Their music and our Shrimp Créole will transport you to Cajun country. Dancing is not required, but hard to resist.

All of our dinners include a vegetarian option and come with salad, dessert and coffee or tea. $11.00 / $9.00 students (full time college or k12 student). Reservations are greatly appreciated. Please click here to reserve.

Prairie Bayou Cajun Band

Prairie Bayou Cajun Band

The four women members of the Prairie Bayou Cajun Band  play and sing the dance music of the French-speaking culture of Southwest Louisiana. On fiddle is Katie Ping, on the button accordion is Carol Armstrong, while Karen Holden on guitar and bass and Kathy Helm on percussion (t-fer, washboard,  drum kit) hold them to a steady rhythm.  The Cajuns were expelled from Acadia, Canada in the mid-1800s, settling along the Bayous of Louisiana where they maintained their language, in part through the music played at house dances, even when Louisiana outlawed the speaking of French.  Influenced by other immigrant groups, its music and instrumentation evolved but maintained its fundamental characteristics–Cajun French songs based on fiddle music.   This band plays Cajun waltzes and 2 steps with an occasional blues number.  It is dance music–there will be a dance demonstration with whom diners will be encouraged to join between bites.

Karen Holden discusses briefly the roots of Cajun music: “When the Acadians (later known as the “Cajuns”) came to Louisiana, driven out by the British from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1764, they carried with them the instruments, language, and tunes which would help preserve the culture of the land they had been forced to leave behind.  They settled along the bayous west of the Atchafalaya basin (where the Mississippi tries to go but for the levies), where for many family French continued as their first language.  The fiddle and guitar were the primary instruments in the traditional ballads and songs of the migrants.  In the late 19th century the button accordion was introduced and picked up quickly by dance hall bands, the accordion being able to be heard to the very back of the dance hall.  Unknown to most Americans is that a native French speaking population has resided and thrived in the U.S. for now over 200 years, maintaining its language through music and dance, even when the Louisiana constitution outlawed the teaching of French and Cajun kids were punished in school for speaking their first language to each other.  The band hopes to expand appreciation for Cajun music and the importance of music to preservation of native language and culture.”

A bit more about the band: “We all came to Cajun music through different paths.”

Karen Holden came to Cajun music through dance.  She started playing Cajun music when in about 2001 she paused during a dance and listened to the music being played by the Louisiana musicians at the annual Cajun/Zydeco Weekend held at Folklore Village, in Dodgeville (this year April 22-24).  First starting on the accordion, she took up the guitar when she realized guitars, but not accordions, could play all through a jam no matter how many fellow instrumentalists were playing.  She also teaches Cajun dance–now offering one in January-February through the UW union–and leads the monthly Madison Cajun jam.

Katie Ping has played violin since the age of five, learning by ear through the Suzuki method, and for 10 years played with the Madison Youth Symphony Orchestra.  She subsequently played first violin for five years with the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra.  Bitten by the Cajun bug, she switched her primary interest from classical violin to Cajun fiddle and joined the Prairie Bayou Cajun band in 2012.  She has studied with and played with some of the most renowned Cajun fiddlers, including David Greeley at the annually held Balfa camp and Joel Savoy at a Madison house concert.

Carol Armstrong started playing piano accordion at the age of seven. But music wasn’t flowing in her veins (and fingers) until she saw a Cajun band performing in New Orleans in 2005 and was intrigued by the woman rubboard (Frottoir) player. She was hooked, ordering a rubboard (an instrument created specifically for Zydeco music and now played as well in Cajun bands) almost immediately on her return home. She picked up the accordion in 2006, teaching herself with the help of instructional videos and attending Cajun weekend at Folklore Village.  In 2009 she started playing guitar, and now alternates in our band between accordion (with Karen on guitar) and guitar (with Karen on bass). When not playing Cajun music, Carol may be seen in her other persona, biker grandma, tooling on her (motor) bike along country roads.

Kathy had been suppressing her desire to bang on things ever since middle school when she was told that “girls don’t play drums”. About 10 years ago she started taking African drumming lessons, then a few years later took up the bodhran so she could play with the local jam band – Moldy Jam.  In 2009 she joined the Prairie Bayou Cajun band. Once she started playing that Cajun rhythm she couldn’t stop. She retired from the Madison Public Schools in 2008 and now is volunteering and playing music.

The French House is happy to see the return of the Prarie Bayou Cajun Band for our Wednesday — pre-Mardi Gras — dinner, February 3rd.  To reserve your spot, please click here.

A few photos from last year’s event: