The French Quarter Festival is a huge, free music festival held in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  There is no admission fee, and music is played from twenty or more stages.  There is one Cajun and zydeco stage.  This year’s lineup of Cajun and zydeco artists is:

Thursday, April 7:  Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band, the Doghill Stompers, T’Canaille

Friday, April 8:  Babineaux Sisters Band, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the Waylon Thibodeaux Band

Saturday, April 9:  Amy Nicole and Zydeco Soul, Donna Angelle and the Zydeco Posse, Feufollet, Jo-el Sonnier, Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots

Sunday, April 10:  Amanda Shaw (playing less Cajun these days), Buckwheat Zydeco, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, Rockin’ Dopsie [Jr] and the Zydeco Twisters, Roddie Romero and the Hub-City Allstars, Sweet Cecilia (not traditional Cajun)

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Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes is a New Orleans-based accordion player and singer.  He’s also been involved in the revival of the bone men, an African-American Mardi Gras tradition.  Sunpie doesn’t play traditional zydeco, but adds other Caribbean influences.  Here is is playing Ti Na Na (I’m in love with a married woman)

Mardi Gras celebrations are held in many parts of south Louisiana, but the largest is in New Orleans.  There’s Cajun Mardi Gras, but we’ll talk about that in a later post.  What I know best is New Orleans Mardi Gras, after more than 35 years of living here.  Mardi Gras is always a Tuesday; that’s what ‘Mardi’ means in French.  This year it’s very late, March 8, 2011.  There are daytime and nighttime parades for about two and a half weeks in advance.

But I’m writing to give you some information on where to hear Cajun, Louisiana Creole and zydeco music while you’re here.  Here are some ideas:

  • Tipitina’s Uptown, 501 Napoleon Ave.  (Corner Tchoupitoulas),  New Orleans, 504- 897-3943,  Sundays from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm.     Bruce Daigrepont plays most Sundays.  Primarily Cajun with some zydeco.  One of the best.
  • Mid City Lanes Rock ‘N’ Bowl©, 3000 S. Carrollton Ave. (Near corner of S. Carrollton and Earhart Ave.), New Orleans, 504-861-1700 ,    Thursday, 9:30 pm until they stop.     A multi-lane bowling alley. Thursday is zydeco night.
  • Cajun Cabin, 501 Bourbon St., New Orleans, 504-529-4256, Wednesday through Saturday.     In the French Quarter. A restaurant with music.
  • Mulate’s Restaurant, 201 Julia St. (Corner Convention Center Blvd., across from Morial Convention Center), New Orleans, 504-522-1492,    Daily.     This is a restaurant with music. Go to eat or sit at the bar. Also locations in Baton Rouge and Breaux Bridge.
  • Maple Leaf Club, 8316 Oak St., New Orleans, 504-866-9359.     Occasional Cajun and zydeco.  Call.     Small but important club.  This is where Cajun music started in New Orleans.  Beautiful pressed tin ceiling.
  • Margaritaville Cafe, 1104 Decatur St., New Orleans, 504-592-2565     Occasional zydeco. Call.     French Quarter near the French Market.  Owned by Jimmy Buffet.

A blog posting from the Orleans Hotel Las Vegas has this text:  “New Orleans may just be one of the most fascinating, unique cities in the United States. Here, you’ll find a rich blend of French Spanish, and southern black cultures. This diverse city is also the birthplace of Jazz, the blues, and zydeco music, making it the center of music culture.”  Now I’m sure the Orleans Hotel Las Vegas is a delightful place, and I agree that New Orleans is fascinating and unique; I’ve lived here over 35 years and that’s been my experience.  And jazz music was certainly born here, though it was also nurtured in Chicago, New York and Kansas City.  However, neither the blues nor zydeco was born here.  I’ll leave the blues to other writers; but I am qualified to comment on zydeco.

Zydeco is a musical style that came out of ‘la la’ or ‘pic-nic’ music, played by Louisiana Creoles of color in southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas.  It was their adaptation of Cajun music, sung in French, played on the accordion and fiddle, and full of feeling.  Listen to Amédé Ardoin, the greatest Creole musician, on his “I’m Never Comin’ Back”  for a sterling example of Creole music.  Also seek out recordings by Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin and Canray Fontenot for more.

Zydeco arose in the late 1940s.  Pete Bergeron has called it Cajun plus rhythm and blues, which is not a bad description, though it’s an oversimplification.  Clifton Chenier is usually credited as zydeco’s creator and initial genius, but Boozoo Chavis and others deserve some credit, too.  Read Michal Tisserand’s The Kingdom of Zydeco for details.  New Orleans has a fair amount of zydeco and Cajun music, like Bruce Daigrepont’s Sunday evening gig at Tipitina’s and John Blanchard’s Rock ‘n’ Bowl on Thursday evenings, but they came here after they were born.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival does a great deal to spread its wealth around the New Orleans area in the other 50 weeks of the year.  One fine event is their Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, held in the New Orleans French Quarter.  This year’s festival has been set for June 11-13, 2010.  It’s held on the grounds of the Old U.S. Mint, part of the Louisiana State Museum network.  Here’s the partial lineup:

Friday:  Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots, and Bruce Daigrepont

Saturday:  Buckwheat Zydeco, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Les Freres Michot, Li’l Nathan and the Zydeco Big Tymers, Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers, Curley Taylor, Goldman Thibodeaux & the Lawtell Playboys

Sunday:   Terrance Simien & Zydeco Experience, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Cedric Watson et Bijou Creole, Feaufollet, Dikki Du,
Li’l Malcolm & the House Rockers, Corey Ledet

So there will be two Grammy winners and several nominees.  And, yes, it will be hot, so bring your hat, bandana and sunscreen!

This event is now one of the top Cajun, Louisiana Creole and zydeco music festivals.  It’s held in the French Quarter of New Orleans, with relatively uncrowded stages and plenty of room to dance.  However, ça fait chaud, cher! (It’s gonna be hot!)  Dates, performers and times were published yesterday.  The listings are a bit confusing.  There are two stages and two sets of performers with times, but nothing to indicate which stage hosts which performers.   You can hear big-time established artists like Grammy-winning BeauSoleil and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys.   On the Creole side, there’s Goldman Thibodeaux, and zydeco artists Creole Zydeco Farmers (one of my favorite old school bands) and Lil’ Nathan and Lil’ Malcom.   Most unusual are the two zydeco women artists (yes, that’s about all there are!):  Rosie Ledet and Donna Angelle, whose career is on the upswing.  And the fabulous young Cajun roots bands Pine Leaf Boys and Lost Bayou Ramblers will be there.  Honestly, you won’t see a lineup this good until Festivals Acadienne in Lafayette in October!