(WVUE) - If you drive through the South Louisiana town of Opelousas, you quickly see that music is a big part of its culture – from the designer violin artwork along downtown sidewalks to the mural on the outside of city hall. And it's on display at the Opelousas museum. Cajun music is big, but zydeco is king. From pioneering artists like Clifton Chenier to younger musicians like Chris Ardoin, who descends from zydeco royalty.
"We are actually the first family of the Creole music," Ardoin said. "A great cousin of mine, Amede Ardoin was the first one that recorded back in the 1920s. It's been in the family for over a century."
Ardoin started playing on this dance hall stage when he was four. Now, at age 35, he leads his own band and packs the house on a Friday night. The dancehall opened in 1947. It used to be called Richard's, but now, with new ownership, it's Miller's Zydeco Hall of Fame.
Zydeco takes Creole French music a step beyond traditional Cajun.
"It's a mixture of blues and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and jazz and rock 'n roll, and just whatever you can mix, in one pot, is what zydeco is," Ardoin said.
"The music is just, it's a feel-good music," said Lloyd Mitchell. "If you are having a bad day, find you a zydeco to go to, you know, it will make you all right."
Mitchell, who plays washboard in zydeco bands, now manages Miller's, located near Opelousas in the town of Lawtell.
"It's like I'm really doing what I've always said I wanted to do, is keep zydeco alive," he said.
Once Ardoin starts playing, his band rolls through song after song, with four hours of hard-driving rhythms that force couples to the dance floor.
"You can't really stop because there is no downtime with people coming in," Ardoin said. "So what you start, it's just a trickle and a trickle in - the next thing you know you have a house packed."
Although Ardoin's roots in zydeco go back several generations, his sound is different from his great ancestors'.
"You come from the Ardoin family and you're not really playing traditional music? And I tell them, I say, 'well it has to evolve to stay alive.' But in evolution, you have to know where it evolved from," Ardoin said.
And that musical evolution has lots of fans for the irresistible rhythms and high-energy sound of zydeco music.