Cajun, swamp pop, bluegrass and gospel musicians from throughout Southwest Louisiana gather at Ray Marcantel’s barbershop on Nemento Street twice a month to sing, play music, tell jokes, drink coffee and spend time with friends. (Doris Maricle / American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, September 07, 2013 5:22 PM
LAKE ARTHUR — Cajun, swamp pop, bluegrass and gospel musicians from throughout Southwest Louisiana gather at Ray Marcantel’s barbershop on Nemento Street twice a month to sing, play music, tell jokes, drink coffee and spend time with friends.
Marcantel, who has been a barber since 1962, doesn’t play an instrument but enjoys seeing his musician friends and those who come to hear them play.
“It’s just great seeing these guys get together and have such a good time playing music,” Marcantel said. “Hopefully it’s also helping keep traditional Cajun music alive.”
Every other Saturday half a dozen musicians pack into the tiny barbershop where a handwritten sign on the wall welcomes customers and offers “a cup of coffee and a donut while you wait.”
“It’s grown so big, sometimes we don’t have room for the customers,” retired postmaster Leroy Lapoint said, pointing to the standing-room-only crowd.
Lapoint, who has played the electric bass since 1984, has played with several area bands but enjoys the Saturday jam sessions the most.
“We get to play French music, a bit of country, old-time rock ’n’ roll ... but my favorite is the country and old-time rock ’n’ roll,” he said.
The people come for the coffee, doughnuts and haircuts, but mostly for the music and fun, Marcantel said.
“A lot of customers stand in line waiting on Saturday mornings,” he said. “They come from all over Jennings, Lake Charles, Westlake, Sulphur ... just to listen to some good music and get a haircut. We never turn anyone away.”
One musician recently visited from Florida and wants to come back to play, he said.
Many visitors stay in town afterward to shop or eat at one of the local restaurants, he said.
The barbershop gives the musicians an outlet for their music and the youth a place to practice with some of the best musicians around, Marcantel’s wife, Lou, said.
“It started with just two guys playing some music. Now they come from all over to play with them because there is no place open to do jam sessions like this,” she said.
Perhaps the best known among the musicians is August Broussard, who has been inducted into the Cajun French Music Association’s Hall of Fame and the Acadian Museum’s Order of Living Legends. Broussard, 67, has devoted his life to promoting, teaching and writing Cajun music.
“This is just about getting together with friends and having a good time playing music,” Broussard said.
Broussard has been playing the accordion since he was 20 and teaches accordion lessons to area youth. He also plays the guitar, fiddle, steel guitar and harmonica and sings, mostly in French.
Darrien Constantine, 17, of Jennings, is one of Broussard’s students. He said he enjoys playing with the musicians, whose backgrounds are as varied as the tunes they play.
“I like it because it’s fun and we crack jokes while playing music and having a good time,” Constantine said.
He said playing with the professionals is helping him learn to play better. He’s also learning more songs, many written before he was born or ever picked up an accordion.
Another jam session regular is Lake Arthur resident Terry Bussy, who sings and plays the guitar.
“I just enjoy playing music of any kind and have been playing for some time, but this is a whole different atmosphere than I am accustomed to,” Bussy said. “It’s a close group, so you can see the expression on everyone’s face.”
The sessions are “very relaxed and informal,” unlike most events he plays.
“Someone may start off playing some French music, then I’ll play some rock ’n’ roll and someone else will do some country and somebody else will sing,” Bussy said. “We just play and everyone follows, even if we don’t know the song. But most songs we play everybody knows.”
“It’s a thrill coming here to see friends and play music,” drummer Glen LeBlanc of Lake Arthur said.
His father, Shorty LeBlanc, was the accordionist on “Sugar Bees,” the first Cajun record to break into Billboard’s Top 100 in 1961. “He taught me to play the drums because I couldn’t learn the accordion,” LeBlanc said.
His father died in 1965 at the age of 43. “So now I’m carrying on his tradition,” he said.
Customer John Neal of Lake Arthur said the barber chair is the best seat in the house.
“I love it,” Neal said as he sat in the barber chair getting a haircut and watching the musicians play. “This is the only place you can get a haircut and enjoy some good music.”
Customer Aubrey Wade, a native of Mississippi, said he loves listening to the music even though he doesn’t always understand what the musicians singing.
“To me this is what it (Cajun heritage) is all about,” Wade said. “People ought to get together more often to have fun. People don’t have enough fun anymore because we are all too busy.”
Wade said he attends the jam sessions every chance he gets.
Justin Trahan, who lives across the street, said the music coming from the tiny brick building gives him “goosebumps.”
“It’s just a feeling you can’t describe,” Trahan said. “I wish I could play an instrument or learn to dance. The music makes you want to shake a leg.”
The group plays 9-11 a.m. every other Saturday at Ray’s Barbershop, 335 Nemento St. Admission is free, as are the coffee and doughnuts. The next jam session will be Sept. 14.
For more information, call Marcantel at 337-224-1371.