Northern Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance explores the influence of Creole and Cajun cultures on the songs and the seafood coming out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Louisiana’s state capital Baton Rouge is one of the most eclectic cities on the Mississippi, thanks in part to its unique Creole and Cajun cultures.
Singer-songwriter Foy Vance is on a journey around the US to experience the best music, food and culture on offer. During his visit to Baton Rouge, he wanted to understand more about the city's distinct identity and how these cultures have endured in the modern age, particularly in the music.
To get properly introduced to the city, he first grabbed a bite to eat with local music legend Sean Ardoin.
"So in Louisiana, you have a Creole and Cajun population. Originally and authentically, the definition of Creole is born outside of the country of origin. So the music it's a mix of accordion music, you know, with everything that we've been exposed to. And then I took it a step further," Sean told Notes from the USA.
"So I created a genre called Creole Rock and Soul. It's a whole new genre. And as soon as I changed to Creole Rock and Soul, I got two Grammy nominations for my 2018 CD. And I've gotten two Grammy nominations since then. So I think I'm on the right path."
Although Baton Rouge is the state's capital city, it might not be the first place that springs to mind when thinking about Louisiana. The city of New Orleans - just a 45-minute drive away - is also famed for its rich musical heritage and finger-licking food.
But Sean insists that "everything west of New Orleans is just as important."
"You can experience everything. The capital city has a little bit of a taste of the whole state. You know, in Baton Rouge, you can see live music pretty much from Wednesday to Sunday. On the Live at Five or the Downtown Live."
"The Zydeco culture, the Creole culture, the Cajun culture in Louisiana - it influences everything we do in advertising. You'll see like the gators and the crawfish with an accordion. Or the gator and crawfish with a scrub board because we've got the music, we've got the language, we've got the culture, we've got the dance, we've got the swag."
'In Louisiana, we fry everything': Exploring Creole and Cajun cuisine
When arriving somewhere new, there’s nothing like playing along with local musicians to really help you dive into a place. But Creole and Cajun culture isn’t just about the music, it's a cuisine as well.
Dishes from both cultures dominate menus across the city. Every different plate seems to tell its own story,so Foy asked food blogger Jordan Basham for some local insight.
"I run a food blog here in Baton Rouge. It's called Wheretogeaux225," Jordan explained.
"We have fried crawfish shells, we have boudin balls, and then, of course, fried pickles. Anywhere you go in the south, there's gonna be fried pickles. You're in Louisiana, we fry everything."
"It's a big culture pot here. So everywhere you go, there's all different cultures and everybody puts their own twist to things.
Jordan tells Foy that in Baton Rouge, food and music go hand in hand.
"If you’re in the backyard grilling some burgers or having crawfish there's always gonna be music playing. If you're out in the restaurants, having a beer, music playing, you have to have music playing here."
After some delicious lunch, there is nowhere better to take in the sights of Baton Rouge than at the top of the Louisiana State Capitol building, the tallest Capitol building in the country.
After a quick history lesson inside the Capitol Park Museum, it was time to explore some Cajun history myself.
Baton Rouge's freshwater crawfish
Back in the 18th century, crawfish were eaten mostly out of necessity. But after centuries of perfecting, crawfish have now become a staple of Baton Rouge cuisine found all over the city.
French Cajun musician, Jesse Brown invited Foy to his house for a backyard boil.
"If you're in the city of Baton Rouge, you can find crawfish that were caught, that day, That's common. And you can get your crawfish fresh," said Jesse.
"It really is a Louisiana thing, it's very, very unique. This is the only freshwater crawfish like this in the world. If you have a hundred different people boiling crawfish, there are 100 different ways so everybody's got their little special things that they do and they all do it to try to make theirs a little bit more special than everybody else.
"People describe Baton Rouge as the sister city for New Orleans so from a size standpoint. Really, both cities are about the same. Baton Rouge has a very different flavour. It's common afterwards for people to pull out a guitar, accordion, a fiddle, dance a little bit, play some music and just generally pass a good time."
It’s great to be able to tie together the sounds and flavours of Creole and Cajun culture. But you don't need a private invite to experience music like this as local bands like Jessie's play all over town.
Modern city life is surrounded by conservation areas and parks. The world-famous Mississippi River runs alongside the tallest Capitol building in the country.
Baton Rouge is a multi-ethnic historical mish-mash of cultures from around the world. And yet everything seems to co-exist here so beautifully. Great music, great food and great conversation. As they say here, Baton Rouge knows how to pass a good time.