Bayou n' Boogie Festival
May 26, 2012
Ruben Moreno is barely 22. After listening to him sing the last four songs of his set, I predict the kid has a promising future. Born in Houston, he's got Creole, Spanish, and Italian blood coursing through his veins. The live music he heard growing up in his grandmother's house got his motor running. He first hit the stage as a ten year old playing washboard for Leroy Thomas when he played a gig in Houston.
Ruben sings in the zydeco tradition but there's something about his sound that sets him apart from his peers, even his elders. He listens to rock. swing, ska, and country and and you get whiffs of those styles in his music. In the last few years, he's been learning accordion, which he played today. He's a work in progress, no matter which way he goes, he's likely to be good at it.
The kid has aspirations to expand the boundaries of zydeco music. He grasps that zydeco is not bound in tradition. He recalls that Clifton Chenier put the zydeco world on its ear, and probably on the map, with his bluesy versions of both traditional and pop songs. Ruben Moreno has the lineage and the drive to succeed.
An Australian who plays a fierce mouth harp and a digeridoo…whaaat? The promoters took a chance on Harper and MidWest Kind. Dancers didn't know what to make of him. Only the most inventive danced to his songs but his music was fun to listen to. So was trying to decode his thick Australian accent. I guarantee this. No other cajun zydeco festival has featured a digerigoo player.
Listening to Harper get into a blistering harmonica number and following it with a hauntingly bluesy song on a digeridoo was mind bending. I, for one, had never seen a digeridoo, couldn't have picked one out of a lineup of music instruments if my life depended on it. He probably won't become a regular on the zydeco circuit but Harper and his band from Michigan (don't ask) were certainly a bold addition to the day's music. If world music has a blues/rock/funk category, Harper would fit quite nicely in it.
Leroy Thomas and The Zydeco Roadrunners - Old Faithful of the zydeco scene. OK, scratch the "old" part and replace it with 'reliable'. Leroy and his Zydeco Roadrunners have cooked up a good foot stomping show with enough waltzes and slow drags ever since the first time I heard him play in 2009. The man knows that there is more than one speed to play zydeco and we dancers love him for that. The dance floor filled up right to the edges the minute Leroy began his set.
"I've been playing for twenty five years," he told me after the show. He was referring to the fact that this is the first year he and his band haven't caravaned from Louisiana to their gigs east of the Mississippi. "I explained to the bookers that I just can't do that kind of driving any more and if they want me, they need to pay airfare for us to come up."
He said he swallowed hard before asking because he wasn't sure how it would go over. None of the bookers balked. They know the man and his band deliver the goods. If they have to add a few bucks to the ticket cost, so be it. Leroy's fans know they'll get a damn good show and leave happy.
Members of The Revelers and Brain Cloud jam at the end of their sets
The Revelers and Brain Cloud are two works in progress but don't let that fool you. The Revelers formed about a year ago and Brain Cloud less than a year before that. The Revelers are from the Lafayette, Louisiana area, one of the biggest gumbo music pots in America, if not the known universe. Made up of members of the Red Stick Ramblers and The Pine Leaf Boys they've known each other for years.
As bass player Eric Frey says in the promotional video he created, "Glen Fields (drums) and I have this magical thing going on, we've been playing together for going on ten years and when you play with someone for that long you get really tight." Those two plus Chas Justus (guitar), Daniel Coolik (fiddle), Blake Miller (accordion) play a wild rumpus of Swamp-pop, Cajun, Country, Blues and Zydeco.
Brain Cloud hails from the other side of the Mississippi, the New York City to be precise. Dennis Lichtman, musician, arranger, sideman, and talented mandolin, clarinet and fiddle player has played in jazz, bluegrass and Brazilian music festivals. In 2010, Lichtman convinced songstress Tamar Korn, fellow member of the Cangelosi Cards, to join him in a group that would make a potent musical mash of country jazzy bluegrass western swing. By the time they added Skip Krevens (guitar and vocals), Raphael McGregor (steel guitar), Kevin Dorn (snare drum), and Andrew Hall (bass) they were up to about 100 proof.
Jeffery Broussard is old school zydeco, a lot more of Clifton Chenier in his style than younger singers like Andre Thierry or Cory Ledet. Like so many of his peers, he comes to zydeco by birth - his dad was highly regarded Delton Broussard so he heard all kinds of zydeco from the time he was rocked in his cradle, probably to the beat of music going on in the parlor. He understands that all zydeco "doesn't have to be played at 1000 miles an hour," as KRVS Louisiana radio host Herman Fuselier would say on his weekly show The Zydeco Stomp. The tempos vary, enough bluesy slow drags to keep dancers a chance to do "a little belly rubbin'," to quote Herman Fuselier again.
Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s
Mitch Woods has one foot in Chicago and one in New Orleans. As he said onstage, "I'm the boogie part of this Bayou n Boogie weekend," and he was all of that. The guy is a throwback to earlier times. He learned from masters like Archie Shepp, made a name for himself as a man who could hold his own with musicians like The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Neville Brothers, and James Brown. From 1988 onward, Woods has produced CDs that got lots of airplay. He began band leading and discovered he could sing over his piano - things got more interesting when he discovered he was pretty good at adding the 'patter' with his singing.
In the 1990s, he discovered New Orleans. "New Orleans reveres piano players, if you're good, you get in," he said. Woods got in with his style of boogie boogie and blues. He's most proud of "Keeper of the Flame," a record he made with surviving kings of blues James Cotton, Johnnie Johnson, James Lee Hooker, Earl King, and Lee Allen who all sang classic tunes with him. Swing dancers love his style and were in force on the dance floor. With Sax player Amadee Castenell and a crack band, Woods fit right in with his blend of New Orleans, jump blues, and bluesy boogie.
Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic
Lots of dancers love him. Maybe I was tired but Andre Thierry was a disappointment to me. One of the main sins is when a band gets on a roll and one song sounds pretty much like the other in rhythm and tone. In the six songs i stayed for, there wasn't one that jumped out and called me to the dance floor or sounded different from the others. I didn't feel that Andre engaged with the audience but in honesty they were out there in force dancing away and many crowded the front of the stage to listen. I'm sure I'll hear him again soon. Let's see what happens.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.