In summer months, Argo Park does an adequate job standing in for Louisiana bayou country.
by John Heider
From the September, 2018 issue
It's not just the willows lining the shore, dipping their leaves into Argo Pond's murky, algae-covered liquid, or the warm-water species in the pond--including crayfish and catfish that might bring to mind the coastal climes of the South. It's the distinct sounds of Cajun music that come from the park's shelter every Monday night.
The Ann Arbor Cajun Jam Group (not all members agree on its exact title) meets every week at the Argo Canoe Livery. The guitarists, fiddlers, and accordion players gather in the park's shelter, sitting on its picnic tables or standing as they play.
The musicians, usually less than a dozen, hang out for about two hours beginning at 6 p.m., rain or shine. The requirements aren't a deep knowledge of musical chord structure or fine abilities but rather a friendly manner and love of Cajun music.
At a jam last fall, regular Terri Watkins was sporting an "allons danser" ("let's dance!") T-shirt from a Cajun music camp in Mamou, LA, and alternately playing fiddle and keeping a percussion effort going on a triangle.
"There are several Cajun music camps that a lot of us have gone to, either in Louisiana or West Virginia," she explained. "That's where a lot of us got our love for the music and learned how to play it.
"In Louisiana they have jams all the time--it's a social event down there. They have a few beers, and it's a free music--the chord structures are simple, and it encourages you to improvise." And she appreciates the friendly nature of the other players: "It's a very welcoming and lively group," she said.
Playing outside means that the group attracts many curious visitors. "People walk by, stop and listen and sometimes dance, ask what language you're singing in, and kids will stare at your instruments," said Watkins. Anyone who plays is invited to sit in.
Another regular, George Lavoie, played fiddle in a checked short-sleeve shirt, glasses, and Birkenstock sandals. He also enjoys all random
encounters, like "when a three-year-old starts to dance, dogs stop by, and we've even had the odd chicken" wandering over from the nearby Society of Les Voyageurs adventure co-op.
By 6:30 p.m. there were two guitars, three fiddles, and two accordions jamming. John Reiser, alternating between guitar and accordion, called out chord progressions above the sound of the lilting Cajun tunes: "F," and then, shifting up the scale, "C."
During a quick break, Lavoie added: "A lot of people will come and play once or twice and then leave. But I'm hooked. The music is so intense. and just to sit and play it and be so close to it is great."
Melanie Fuscaldo, relaxing in a lawn chair nearby, agreed. "I love it!" she exclaimed during a break: "I think it's fun music that everybody can come hear, and they're very welcoming to any musicians. They're really sweet.
"And the location?" she asked rhetorically, sweeping her hand to point out the lovely view looking west across Argo Pond to the setting sun. "It doesn't get better than this."
[Originally published in September, 2018.]
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