Longtime Lagniappe club dulcimer member, Joe Besse, is our “Cajun Dulcimer Ambassador.” He lives in Scott, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country of southwest Louisiana and grew up listening to Cajun music. If fact as a child he lived down the street from a corner bar, the OST Club. He heard Happy Fats play guitar and upright bass and listened to the strains of Cajun fiddlers and musicians play long into the night.Here is Joe with his dulcimer sitting on a sculpture of a Cajun triangle, a musical instrument often used in Cajun music for rhythm, at the Lafayette Visitors Center on Evangeline Thruway in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Joe speaks Cajun French very well–his late wife, Lorena, spoke French–and we love to play Cajun songs and ballads with Joe singing the lyrics in French. “La Porte D’en Arriere” or “The Back Door” by Cajun musician D.L. Menard is an example. One afternoon Joe and I sat down and looked through several volumes of Cajun lore, music and songs. Joe is a walking encyclopedia and knew many of the Cajun artists, such as Dewey Balfa, and their songs. Joe’s favorite song is “The Cajun Waltz.”
Joe leads Cajun dulcimer jams on the second Saturday of each month at the Acadian Cultural Center (501 Fisher Road, Lafayette, Louisiana) which is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. After jamming, the group often crosses the street to tour the historic Vermilionville Heritage & Folklife Park on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion. Vermilionville is a restored village of Cajun homes and cultural activities.
Joe has started several Cajun dulcimer clubs and these jams are part of his Cajun Dulcimer Society. The next jam is scheduled for Saturday, January 9, 2016, at 10:00 am at the Acadian Cultural Center of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. He invites you to come play with him.
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Louisiana
This national historical park, run by the National Park Service, operates at a number of locations throughout southern Louisiana to tell the story of the French Arcadian settlers. One of these locations is in Eunice, Louisiana, at the “Prairie Acadian Cultural Center.” This is in the heart of Cajun country and in 1997 the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum was founded there.On Saturday nights at the Liberty Theatre, the City of Eunice and the National Park Service sponsor a live Cajun music show. On Thursday – Saturday the park service shows a video of Cajun music and gives tours of the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Liberty Theatre, an old restored movie theater. For several months last year, Joe held a position as park ranger and gave the tours.
Cajun Dulcimer Player
I asked Joe how he learned about the dulcimer and the Lagniappe Dulcimer Society because I didn’t know of any other dulcimer players in the Lafayette area. Joe says he first read about the club in an newspaper article in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate around 2001. He took one of my LSU Union Leisure classes in learning to play the dulcimer, came to some of the Lagniappe fetes and joined our club. He’s been playing since then. Here he is jamming with club members at our fete in 2013.
It’s about a 90 minute drive from Scott, Louisiana, to Baton Rouge. Joe encouraged the club to start a day-time jamming group. So Joe and I began the “Red Stick Strummers” which met on Thursday afternoons an a community center in a local mall. That location closed, our club moved and Joe had to temporarily stop coming.
We now meet at the Greenwell Springs Library and adopted a second performance attire and name, “Dulcimer Ladies and Guys.” Joe took the changed in stride and meets regularity with us again.
Joe wishes some more gentlemen would join our Thursday group and that we’d resume our name as “Red Stick Strummers.” I don’t blame him!
Retired Photographer and Dulcimer Collector
Joe has had several occupations over the years, including serving the the US armed forces. He retired as a well-known photographer in the Lafayette area photographing many weddings and other events. Joe has done photography work for several dulcimer players which is used on their WEB sites and in their books.
In his retirement Joe likes to travel. He’s attended several dulcimer week-long workshops through Elderhostel programs. Here he’s with a group who is travelling by train from New Orleans to Greenwood, Mississippi, with the Trails and Rails program..This is the Amtrak train, the City of New Orleans, which travels daily from New Orleans to Chicago.
Joe is a pro at finding good bargains for dulcimers on Ebay and other internet sites and regularity purchases and trades them. Need a dulcimer? Ask Joe.
Joe thoroughly embraces the mountain dulcimer and its music. With a unique twist–Cajun music–Joe is an asset to our club. He always enhances our performances with his beautiful voice, dulcimer and harmonica playing. Come support Joe and his Lafayette jamming group!