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SHREVE -- Once upon a time, a bunch of local musicians sat around at a jam session, talking music and bands and things they'd like to try.
The subject of Cajun music came up in the conversation and suddenly, said Cid Cayhoe, there was common ground. "None of us played it," she said, "but we really liked it."
That was 2006 and out of that conversation came the beginning of Bayou Rhythms, a six-person band that brought together a classical violinist, an Irish band accordion player and a would-be percussionist who discovered a washboard is more than something to hang on the wall in an antiques store.
There's plenty to love about Cajun music, which traces its roots to both the Cajuns of late-18th-century Louisiana and to the French-speaking Acadians of Canada. "It's got an infectious beat," said Cayhoe. "It's dance music."
And the band is going to share both the music and the dance -- with a Mardi Gras theme -- Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Valley College Grange Hall, 2411 Shreve Road (state Route 226). For a suggested donation of $6 (or $5 for students or $20 per family), the band will offer a Cajun dance workshop from 3 until 3:45 p.m., followed by a dance from 3:45 until 5 p.m. The wearing of Mardi Gras beads, masks and hats is optional.
"The very oldest Cajun music was fiddle and triangle," said fiddle player Mike Deyo, a Cleveland-area native who also is part of the string quartet Jubilate. The first accordions to make it to Louisiana were too heavy and clunky. But when the smaller button-box style arrived, it made its way right to center stage.
In fact, said Cayhoe, who keeps three button boxes on hand -- all in different keys -- the instrument is more closely aligned with a harmonica than with the traditional accordion found in a polka band. A button box, which has no keyboard, makes one sound as the bellows are pushed in, she said, and another as they are pulled back out.
And a Cajun accordion is diatonic, so one instrument can play music in only a few keys.
Thus, Cayhoe's collection -- different instruments for different songs in different keys. "When you're a musician," she said, "you kind of end up collecting different instruments and you start playing around on all of them."
Percussionist Anne Brush started with a washboard and has turned it into an entire percussion section, complete with a bell, horn and several other pieces-parts that she discovered along the way. It's a bit of a change from playing a bodhran, the traditional Irish frame drum she plays in other bands. When she decided to take up the washboard, Brush said, she went right to the source -- the annual Washboard Music Festival in Logan -- to help her get a feel for it. "There's no standard set-up for the washboard," she said. "Everybody plays their own way."
For her part, Brush plays while wearing a pair of vintage gloves, a thimble sewn onto each tip.
Band members also have found inspiration attending Cajun music week at Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia. "The instructors are top-notch in whatever genre you pick," said Cayhoe, offering both lessons and concerts, as well as complementary classes like Cajun cooking, Cajun French and accordion repair.
It was in West Virginia that Cayhoe got a chance to work with the four-time Grammy-nominated Pine Leaf Boys, a south Louisiana quintet that has helped breathe new life into the genre. For further inspiration, Deyo cites the Balfa Brothers, "really the first group to spur the revival of Cajun music in the '70s and '80s."
Like the music, Cajun dance varies from place to place and band to band. Cayhoe said she plans to teach the traditional Cajun two-step, as well as freestyle two-step "or you can get out there and just do your own creative movement." Typically, there will be people dancing inside a circle created by two-steppers. And, Deyo said, unlike English country music, "Cajun dance isn't about the figures so much as stepping to the rhythm."
The band -- which is rounded out by bassist and vocalist Dave Hider, guitarist and vocalist Barb Withee and fiddle player/ vocalist Jean Linton -- tried a Cajun dance a few years ago. While it attracted about 80 people, Cayhoe said, subsequent attempts weren't as successful. But recently, she said, "let's try another workshop and we'll see,"
What has turned into a lot of fun for the musicians should also turn into a musical celebration for the audience, said Cayhoe, who said Cajun dance is not particularly difficult to learn. "I'm going to break it all down for you," she said. "I'll have you dancing like a Cajun dancing machine."
Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.