Clifton Chenier brought Antone’s to life on July 15, 1975. While it might be considered a bit ironic that this patriarch of Louisiana Zydeco opened a venue designated as “Austin’s Home of the Blues”, it was definitely no accident. Clifford Antone, growing up in the gritty oil port of Port Arthur on the sunset side of the Sabine River, was raised on the cultural ambrosia that emanated from the bayous and tidelands of Louisiana to the east. This Cajun music was a very eclectic but also very powerful pathway to the Blues. Held in its thrall, the teenage Texas boy of Lebanese stock followed the sound across the river to the Big Oak and beyond to the source of it all.
The lush forest and tidal lands that stretched from the Sabine eastward to the Mississippi and north to the pine forests and plains of central Louisiana had cradled a torqued treasure of unique and vital cultural forces since the 18th century. At that time many of the Acadians from the lands along the waters of the St. Lawrence in southern Canada had been forcibly removed and settled around the French colonial capital of New Orleans by the British following their victory over the French after many years of warfare there. As is usual in such events, their desirable land in the north of the continent was made vacant and seized while the former inhabitants were forced into the malarial swamps and the thick forests of oak, cypress and pecan of the Mississippi delta and the hinterlands that stretched along the Louisiana coast from Texas to Mississippi. Here a metamorphosis took place and the Acadians of Quebec became the Cajuns of southern Louisiana.
Outcasts, they easily made common cause with the other unfortunates already there -- the blacks that were either tethered to or fugitive from the bottomland cotton and sugar plantations and the Native Americans whose very being were these waters and woods. The three groups amalgamated over time into the Cajun and Creole peoples. And their culture, expressed through the siren sound of violin and accordion, brought forth a musical spirit that informed the whole region. So genuine was its heart and deep its roots that it remained beyond the reach of the Anglos that tried to conform it to an American pattern. That culture, nurtured along the back roads and waterways of this forgotten corner, would also form a unique language and cuisine. But in no form was it more elegantly or completely expressed than through of its Zydeco music. And Clifton Chenier was its king. It was royalty that Clifford Antone brought to Sixth Street that hot night on the Ides of July.