Saturday, June 12, 2010
When I went down around noon, there was someone hawking $20 parking on Elysian Fields Avenue. Fortunately, there was parking in the nearby neighborhood. Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble started the day on the Elysian Fields Stage, mercifully in the shade, with a competent set. They don’t play New Orleans much, so it was fun to see them. There’s a whole zydeco world that doesn’t get here, except for festivals. During the set, a group of semi-naked bicyclists rounded the corner. They’re an annual ride in New Orleans and other cities and had a police escort. Nobody was fully naked, but it was lots of fun spotting who was and who wasn’t.
A rare treat was the performance by Goldman Thibodeaux, a septuagenarian accordionist. Thibodeaux reminded us that “This is la la, not zydeco.” In most of southwest Louisiana, a Creole is someone of all or partial African ancestry. (This can be a touchy subject, because Creole also means someone born in the New World of European ancestry. That’s generally how it’s used in New Orleans and invariably generates some heated phone calls when it comes up at WWOZ-FM.) Creoles and Cajuns developed parallel, but unique, styles of music. They did share the accordion and fiddle and the French language. You can hear it in the recordings of Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis and a few others, created a new style based on Creole music, called zydeco. It blended Creole music with blues and rhythm and blues. Very, very few today play Creole music. Thibodeaux is a survivor from that era. Creole music was also called “la la” or “pic nic” by its community.
The set was marred only by the lack of shade and the blistering heat. Thibodeaux was backed up by rubboard, fiddle, guitar, bass and drums. The drummer did most of the singing. Thibodeaux’s voice is gravely, fitting an older man, and a little off key. He did some great songs, several by Boozoo, including “Lula Lula [Don’t You Go To Bingo],” my second favorite title in all of Cajun, Creole and zydeco music. Others: “Lucille,” “Fais Pas Ça [Don’t Do That],” “Bosco Stomp,” “Ain’t Comin’ Back No More,” “Bonsoir, Moreau,” “See my little woman,” “Allons danser,” and “Chere ici, chere la bas.”Some sage advice on animals was given during “That Dog Will Bite” “his tail hangin’ low’ as signal for imminent biting. Zydeco Joe played rubboard. Not sure what this comment from the stage meant: “I saw some dancin’, but they was all chicken neckin’.”
Lil’ Nathan & the Zydeco Big Timers was back at the Esplanade Street Stage. He’s the son of Nahan Williams, of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. It’s not a traditional style, but not rap either—more like adult R&B. Among many others, he played Little Bob’s “I Got Loaded,” a favorite swamp pop tune. His last CD, The Autonomous, was quite a mix of styles, sounding like a bit of every influence he’s heard.
Although Barry reassured me that it wasn’t their first year, the Louisiana Music Factory had a CD sales tent at the festival, near the Barracks Street Stage. They did a good business, and had to send someone back on bicycle for more copies of popular titles.
Les Freres Michot (the Michot Brothers) plays very traditional Cajun music, all in French, and on the slow side. Two of the five brothers played, one on violin, the other on accordion. One son, Louis (of the Lost Bayou Ramblers) joined them on acoustic upright bass. Some of the songs they played: “J’Ai Ete Au Bal,” “Acadian Two Step” (also known as the “Sound Check Two Step” from its popularity in that role, according to the queen of Cajun radio, Kateri Yager Laborde), “Valse de Kaplan,” the Alex Broussard song about the wealth of the region, “Sud de la Louisianne,” and “La Caroline” (Is this a schottish? That’s a rarely heard style today.) The crowd also cheered for “La Valse de la Famille,” “Les Blues de Port Arthur,” “Une Livre de Tabac,” and the out-of-season “Chanson de Mardi Gras.” The two brothers sang in two-part harmony. Compare this to the harmony heard in the recordings of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. The rain began for the first time; the band stopped the set. After it ceased, they played again. The rain came back at least three more times during the afternoon. It cooled the air off and lots more people came out from under the trees. The brothers greeted Uncle Somebody, who waved back from the second-story balcony of the building across the street. Damn good seat!
Lost Bayou Ramblers were up next at the same stage, with second-generation Louis on violin. They are an energetic roots music band, sounding almost rockabilly at times. The accordion player switched to lap steel for a few numbers. The most interesting song was Nathan Abshire’s “Le temps après finir,” a cheery-sounding number about the End of Times. Abshire’s motto was “The good times are killing me,” and this is from a Christian perspective, about the end of the world. Another great number was Marc Savoy’s “Sam’s Big Rooster,” the song he wrote but never sings live. His wife, Ann, sings it, giving it an odd cast, since it’s about an overly-proud rooster, bagging about his red comb and other barnyard attributes.
In the audience there were numerous musicians, such as Lance Caruso, of ‘Tit Canaille.
Buckwheat Zydeco brought the Esplanade Street Stage to a close. He played piano-key accordion and Hammond B3 organ, with “Mardi Gras song” and lots of other up tempo songs. “Walkin’ to New Orleans” was prefaced with a tribute to the great Fats Domino. Buckwheat, or Stanley Dural, started as Clifton Chenier’s organist, and the band included two other Chenier alumni: Paul “Lil’ Buck” Senegal on guitar and Lee Allen Zeno on bass. The band also included a trumpet, bass, drums, rubboard. “Hot Tamale Baby” was a special crowd pleaser. Late in the set, he called a young woman from the front row of the crowd to the stage. He introduced her as Cheri, Paul Senegal’s granddaughter and asked her to help. First, Buckwheat asked her to keep her finger on one accordion key, as he burned up the rest of the keyboard. Then she switched to a very competent rubboard. There were then two rubboard players on stage, an unusual occurrence; was one lead and the other rhythm? A very visibly worn Buckwheat had the accordion taken from him by the young trumpeter (who had a spiffy-looking blue trumpet). He sat, head down, and was given a bottle of water. After a brief rest, Buckwheat switched to organ for one song. I didn’t think he had it in him for more accordion, but was I wrong! As Buckwheat said, “We’re going to take it down to the bayou!” And then he proceeded to tear through “Take off your shoes.”
Zeno referred to them onstage as the Ils Sont Parti Band, which is their old name and doesn’t appear on any recent CDs. The name means “They’re off,” which tied in with a race track, Evangeline Downs, near Lafayette. One of Clifton’s stage shouts, “Eh toi” was mixed in by Buckwheat, giving the set a nostalgic flavor. There was a guest musician on harmonica for one late number, but I missed his name. And at end of set, Buckwheat again had accordion taken from him. The life of a full-time musician isn’t an easy one. Some of us were reminiscing about long-gone musicians: Clifton Chenier, John Delafose, Rockin’ Dopsie (the father, not the son), Boozoo Chavis and more. None of them lived to ripe old ages; early to mid-seventy-something is about as old as they got.