A Delicious Celebration of Cajun and Deep South Traditions
The music booms through the speakers – fiddles squeal, an accordion whines, and guitars throb out a lively Cajun beat that has young and old, black and white, couples and singles twirling, stomping, clapping, and laughing. We’re at the annual, four-day Mudbug Madness Festival held every Memorial Day weekend in Shreveport, Louisiana. It’s a celebration of the crawfish or “mudbug” and of the Cajun food and music that define this Deep Southern state.
Each year, thousands from Louisiana and all over the south come to this small city along the Red River to eat spicy boiled crawfish, jambalaya, crawfish étoufee, dirty rice, and other dishes unique to the region.
This spring evening, hundreds of people stand at long tables with Styrofoam boxes brimming with boiled crawfish, red potatoes, and corn on the cob. The crawfish, which are cooked with a spicy crawfish boil and liberally sprinkled with more of the zesty seasoning after cooking, are both sweet and hot enough to make your lips throb. And the little critters are addictive. I grasp a crawfish mid-body and twist, easily separating the small tail from the head and body. I quickly suck on the body, deeply inhaling the spicy juice, then pull the tiny bit of sweet meat from the tail, and pop it into my mouth. While it seems like a lot of work for little return, the exquisite sweet heat makes it worth it. When the hot gets to be too much, the boiled potato and corn cool my mouth.
Once we’ve demolished our pile of crawfish, we head for Lila Davis’ booth. We have it on insider authority that Lila, a local caterer in Shreveport, makes the best étoufee, jambalaya, and dirty rice around. The long line of locals tells us our information is good. When it’s finally our turn, I order a steaming bowl of Lila’s étoufee. For the uninitiated, this dish is a flavorful roux filled, in this case, with bits of crawfish served over steamed white rice. The first bite is redolent with a deep, rich, lip-smacking flavor and chewy sweet pieces of crawfish.
As the étoufee hits the back of my throat, the burn starts, gentle at first, then smokin’ hot. Yet I find myself taking a third and fourth bite, wanting more of the deliciously spicy dish. Halfway through my étoufee, I surrender and head for the drink booth for a bottle of ice water. A friend from the South laughs as I guzzle the water. “In Louisiana ,” she says, helping herself to a big bite from my dish, “if it’s not hot it’s just not right.”
With our bellies full, we stroll the midway, taking in the souvenir Mudbug Madness T-shirts, the carnival games, and admiring the outlandish crawfish hats of several festival goers. As the humid air cools off with the welcome evening breeze, the music on the main stage heats up and pulls us in.
The band, consisting of a couple of fiddle players, two guitarists, a drummer, an accordion player, and a male and female singer, pounds out a foot-stompin’ Cajun tune. We stand near the stage where the music is nearly earsplitting – and deliciously infectious. Before we know it, we’ve joined the crowd dancing, stomping, and clapping. On my left, a grandmother with silvery hair dances with a young man in baggy shorts and a baseball cap. On my right, a woman in a tight-fitting sequined dress trots a fast two-step with a man in a sleeveless T-shirt and cowboy hat.
At one point, a tiny kinky-haired girl, not more than three years old, twirls in a polkadot dress, and a group of adults, both black and white, strangers and relatives, gather round to clap encouragement and catch her when she gets too dizzy. I dance with myself, with my girlfriends, with a black man in a denim biker jacket, with white tattooed guy who looks like he came straight out of the bijou, with no one in particular, and with everyone at the same time. It’s a sweaty, stomping, clapping, joyous madness that leaves me drenched — and deliriously happy that I came to Shreveport ’s Mudbug Festival.
Mudbug Madness Festival
401 Edwards Street
Shreveport, LA 71101-3289
Memorial Day Weekend, 4 days