SHREVEPORT-A CITY WITH A NOBLE SOUL
By Doc Lawrence

You can make a solid case that Rock and Roll’s roots were sprouted here. Built on the banks of the mighty Red River, Shreveport is now an emerging arts Mecca, a city loaded with historic shrines and modern Casinos. It’s culture is solid southern with a taste of nearby Texas and the place has charm galore, highlighted by community-based preservation efforts and genuine grass-roots friendliness.

A few years ago, the late
Nauman Scott, New Orleans lawyer and co-founder of Blacktop Records, gave me Horace Logan’s fabulous book, “Louisiana Hayride Years,” which ranks as one of the finest chronicles of country and rockabilly music I’ve ever read. Also, it is loaded with lore about Shreveport. As Nashville is recognized throughout the world for the Grand Ole Opry, Shreveport enjoys fame for the Louisiana Hayride. The old building that housed the Hayride, the largest remaining all-brick art deco structure on earth, gave popular culture the likes of Hank Williams, Gene Autry, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Kitty Wells, George Jones, Lefty Frizell, Ralph Stanley and a truck driving kid from Memphis, Elvis Presley. And, a few hundred more.

Next to the Big Easy, Shreveport is Louisiana’s most visited city. Naturally, humankind’s love of gambling has much to do with weekend tourism and Shreveport can accommodate this never-ending itch to get rich. The entertainment provided by the Casino’s is top notch and Vegas quality. Atlanta’s Jeff Foxworthy performed there and had me laughing at my own culture and our unique way of seeing and describing every day things.

Louisiana cuisine is distinctive and varies according to geography. While New Orleans is gumbo and oyster country, Shreveport is the unofficial headquarters of the state’s catfish, hushpuppies and barbeque culture. Trust me: everyplace I visited for my three squares took local food to an art form. Also, Shreveport is a grits city. You can find grits anywhere anytime and it is served as soon as a local picks up on your lovely Southern accent. Pete Harris Café, the oldest running restaurant in Shreveport, has the best fried catfish I’ve tasted in years and serves a house specialty, stuffed shrimp, which has garnered praise from global visitors.

Art is everywhere. Deplaning in Shreveport’s comfortable, convenient airport, the first thing I noticed was that the corridor walls had been transformed by some good souls into an art gallery. Landscapes, egrets, playing children, cowherds, and whimsical images are everywhere and serve to make a trip to the baggage claim a genuine cultural awakening. I asked myself later why all airports don’t do something similar. These are without exception all local artists and their works are admirable and valuable.

The accessible Norton Art Gallery has ongoing and eclectic feature exhibitions with a remarkable commitment to diversity. A comfortable distance away is the Southern University Museum of African American Art, a facility where I could spend days just beholding the statues, masks, paintings and carvings which connect the American South with the African continent. Collectively, these stunning creations constitute a visual statement about the critical importance of African American culture to America’s artistic development.

The majestic Louisiana State Exhibit Museum was built by WPA artisans during the Great Depression and has outdoor murals on the front that remain perpetual memorials honoring the talent and artistic commitment of these great artists. Inside, the Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson Memorabilia exhibition continues as part of the bi-centennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase.

Gourmet dining and exceptional live theater are available and demonstrate that old and new may be juxtaposed but still accommodate the community’s interests and offer visitors an elevated lifestyle. The Pioneer Casino has higher end restaurants and the downtown theater features the best from Broadway and beyond. Shreveport made an admirable official decision to preserve and protect its unique heritage that includes architectural wonders that will now be enjoyed by future generations.

The Red River seems to define Shreveport and it remains the city’s natural connection with so many aspects of history, travel and wildlife. A trip down the river is easy to arrange with tour operators and the journey is a glimpse at some amazing bridges that have turrets allowing them to separate by rotating while remaining level for river traffic. This is a dramatic contrast to the familiar drawbridge. Wildlife, particularly exotic birds, are seen everywhere along the banks of the Red, and the fishing according to my guide, is first rate year round.

Because it is navigable, the Red River was an important supply route for the Confederacy during the Civil War, allowing the merchandise and materials brought through the Union blockade into Texas to be delivered to armies in far away places through the Red River route. Also, the ruins of an ironclad shipbuilding factory used by the South’s navy can be seen on the riverbanks just outside the city limits.
The greatness of a city is found in its soul, which is comprised of the arts, architectural preservation, cultural diversity, spirited community inclusiveness and popular food. Shreveport is a magnificent city with an abundance of so many great and worthy things. I look forward to many return visits because I know I only scratched the surface.

 

 


 

 

 


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