Heart of Louisiana: Bluegrass jam session

The town of Madisonville is known for celebrating its past, from a popular wooden boat festival on the Tchefuncte River to its historic buildings and cottages. And you can also hear the sounds of the past every Thursday night at Orlando's Restaurant.

It's a little bit of old-time country, mixed in with a dash of gospel and a taste of the blues, and a big helping of bluegrass, that's served up by two dozen musicians who show up each week to jam.

These Thursday night jam sessions started as an experiment. The musicians were looking for a new place to play, and the restaurant owners agreed to move a few table out of the way to see how this all fit in with the dinner crowd.

Owner Larry Orlando discovered that the live music is a perfect side dish for his seafood and steak dinners.

"Well they said they have 12 to 24, and the next time they came, they came with, like, 26 of them," recalls Orlando. "It's like, whoa, where are we going to put all these people? So we took all the tables out and all that and then they started coming with more and more and they just come in and go and it's a jam session, that's what it is."

While diners are picking their way through a platter of boiled shrimp, the string band picks its way through old-time favorites. The all-acoustic music does not get in the way of a family conversation. It just creates an atmosphere that feels like home.

"You go over to grandma's on Sunday, this is what you used to hear," says musician Eddie Arnold. "If we heard somebody in the neighborhood had a guitar, we were there just to listen to them, and that's the kind of music this is here. And it's very encouraging when the kids get involved and get interested in it."

There are many lifetimes of musical experiences sitting in this circle, trading licks on the fiddle, the mandolin, the guitar and banjo. And most exciting for the old timers is the continuing interest from children who still want to learn how it's done.

"The young ones come up and play all the time," says musician Kent Brinkle, "and usually it's the children and the grandchildren of the people that play. They bring them on in and they learn from the best…. A lot of old timers play it, and they play the music that's been played for decades. So you get to hear the music that's as old as the hills."

Adolphus Warren plays bluegrass professionally with the Driskill Mountain Boys. He's also one of the regulars at this jam session.

"It's just good clean music and decent people to be around," Warren says. "I love to do it for the young folks to learn it and follow in our tracks, that'd be great."

The music puts a smile on the face of even the youngest of customers.

"It speaks to the spirit in people," Arnold says. "It really does, it makes 'em feel good. They enjoy it. They can relax and enjoy."

The music doesn't force itself on you, but rather gently pulls you in. It's been doing that for generations -- putting smiles on the faces of those who play, sing and listen.

You can catch the bluegrass jam session on Thursday nights at Orlando's Seafood Restaurant in Madisonville. You can stop by and eat dinner and listen, or bring an instrument to play or sing-a-long.