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Now on with the FRED Society Story
Lounging Around in Mamou
Mamou, Louisiana, located about 200 miles west of New Orleans, was once part of a vast grassland called "Mammoth Prairie." Frenchmen called it "Mamou." But no one would care if it weren't for Fred's Lounge - an establishment mentioned in a 1990 National Geographic article. Peter Jennings, Charles Kuralt and all three major television networks have visited and done stories about Fred's. Fred's Lounge is even listed as an "American must see" in a French tourist brochure. Like Buzz Fontenot, a Mamou resident, asked us, "If it wasn't for Fred's, where would Mamou be?" That's a question we don't have to answer. We just tell it like it is.
The story began when Alphan Tate and Dudley Rozas purchased Allen Guilfory's small Mamou saloon at the end of World War II. Shortly thereafter, Alphan's twin brother Fred bought out the partners and changed the name to "Fred's Lounge."
In 1948, Fred met and married Sue Vasseur. They turned Fred's into Mamou's hot spot. "Friday afternoons were best," Miss Sue recalls. "Business boomed. All the local working people would come by. We were open," she adds, "from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., six days a week. There were long hours of hard work, but it was lots of fun!"
In 1950, the eldest Tate brother, Paul, moved his law practice across the street from Fred's Lounge. Fred's became a meeting place for Paul and his friends. They discussed, among other things, the decline of Cajun culture and its music. The Mardi Gras Association of Mamou, headquartered at Fred's Lounge, grew from these meetings. The association is credited with bringing to Mamou the Courir de Mardi Gras, the rural country version of the Mardi Gras celebration. Local revelers wear costumes, handmade masks and capuchons (hats), and travel from farm to farm coaxing from the farmers ingredients for the big gumbo feast held in town at the end of the day. The Mardi Gras Association was also instrumental in the Louisiana State Legislature's enactment of C.O.C.O.F.I.L. (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) which has benefited the state culturally and economically while keeping the Cajun culture and its great music alive.
"To a great extent," says Pascal Fuselier, Fred's patron and member of the Mamou Mardi Gras Association, "the French Renaissance after World War II originated at Fred's Lounge. Many of the pioneers of the Cajun culture revival were not strangers to the confines of the walls of Fred's Lounge."
One of Fred's friends hosted a 30-minute Cajun music radio program, broadcast from his home. In 1967, in an effort to attract prospective advertisers to the show, he asked if he could spin records and broadcast from Fred's Lounge. It worked! By popular demand, the show was soon stretched into an hour program. Local musicians began to drop by to jam along with the records. It didn't take long before platters were replaced with live Cajun music.
Though the radio show's the same, the hours have changed. Today, Fred's Lounge is only opened on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. The radio broadcast and the live Cajun band starts at 9:00 a.m. By the time the band starts up, the place is usually packed with 150 - 200 music lovers from all parts of the globe, dancing and having a good time. If you're lucky, Miss Sue will sing three or four songs with the band, but then it's back behind the bar to greet the customers and make sure her two daughters and two granddaughters who come in to help out are keeping the mugs full of suds, and smiles on all the faces.
Fred's Lounge just celebrated it's 50th anniversary. Governor of Louisiana, Mike Foster attended and posed for pictures on a giant saddle-clad wooden crawfish outside Fred's Lounge. The only thing missing was the tavern's namesake, Fred Tate. He passed away in 1992 but Fred's spirit was present throughout the festivities.
So if your are traveling to Louisiana and you would like to experience the true Acadian people, don't miss Fred's Lounge. It's the best Saturday morning you can spend in the Old South. As the locals say, "Laisse les bons temps rouler." (Let the good times roll!)