Growing up in southern Louisiana, Sam Houston State University professor of communication studies Terry Thibodeaux spent each Fat Tuesday like many other Cajuns, amidst a tireless gathering of costumed neighbors, dancing, feasting and “chasing chickens” until the stroke of midnight.
Though it may sound bizarre to some, Cajun Mardi Gras is a celebration that brings together diverse groups of people to celebrate a “common love for music, dance, food and life in general,” according to Thibodeaux.
SHSU will be bursting with this Cajun Country energy on Feb. 16, celebrating Fat Tuesday a week early during the 10th annual Cajun Mardi Gras Festival.
This Louisiana tradition will liven the campus with the help of a few “famous Cajuns.”
Packed with authentic music and a symposium on Cajun music and heritage, the festival features “something for everyone,” according to Thibodeaux, who serves as the event’s coordinator.
The festival will bring a few special guests to SHSU, straight from the bayous of Louisiana.
The evening’s concert will feature Cajun music’s own “living legend,” Dion Lee “D.L.” Menard. Referred to as the “Cajun Hank Williams,” Menard is known worldwide for his innovative mix of traditional Cajun and Country Western music.
The recipient of numerous music awards, Menard has also been nominated for several Grammy Awards and is also an inductee into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
At the age of 79, D.L. is now retired from the performing arts profession and only plays on rare occasion with the Jambalaya Cajun Band, one of the best-known Cajun bands in history, who will be joining him at the festival.
The band’s members, Terry Huval and Reggie Matte, will not only liven up the SHSU campus with the culture’s “infectious beats,” they will also speak to Bearkats about Cajun music and the tradition of Mardi Gras during a symposium before the concert.
According to Thibodeaux, Huval and Matte will answer questions often asked about the culture and give the audience insight into the deep roots of “Cajun Country.”
Sam Houston State University is the trio’s only stop outside of Louisiana. According to the band members, being able to speak to the students beforehand is what makes the experience so rewarding and keeps them coming back each year.
The lecture also ties into the course, Texas Crossroads, taught by Eugene Young, professor of English.
In 2002, both professors began the Mardi Gras Festival and the class in conjunction with one another, after months of planning. Thibodeaux thought the course, which explores cultural influences that affected Huntsville and its surrounding areas, would be a perfect opportunity to showcase the strong Cajun influence in southeast Texas.
As a self-professed Cajun enthusiast, beginning the Cajun Mardi Gras festival at Sam Houston State University marked the accomplishment of a long-time dream for Thibodeaux.
“Ever since I came to SHSU, I wanted to find a way to share my knowledge and appreciation of the Cajun culture with the students,” Thibodeaux. “With the help of Dr. Young, I could finally do that.”
Born near Crowley, La., Thibodeaux was raised in “Cajun country” where a typical upbringing included the traditional foods, music and folklore stemmed from the residents’ French ancestry.
According to Thibodeaux, his passion for the Cajun culture began after a graduate school project required him to research his own heritage.
More than 20 years later, the research continues. Thibodeaux’s studies into the Cajun culture include over 220 taped interviews and a historical fiction novel, Catherine’s Cadeau.
Even after his move to Texas, Thibodeaux is still an avid researcher of the Cajun culture. His various studies keep him in close ties with fellow Cajuns and his own “down-home roots.”
“There’s no doubt that Cajuns know how to have fun, but most people don’t realize the meanings, values and deep Southern heritage behind Cajun roots,” said Thibodeaux. “That’s where the Cajun Mardi Gras Festival comes in.”
The 2012 Cajun Mardi Gras Festival will be held at 8 p.m. in the Estill Building Atrium. Admission is free for SHSU students, faculty and staff members with a Bearkat OneCard and $10 for the general public.
The “Symposium on Cajun Music and Mardi Gras” will be held earlier that day at 6 p.m. in Evans Building Room 105 with no admission fee.
For more information, contact Thibodeaux at 936.294.1356.