Philadelphia, a city known for ’70s soul and other classic sounds, is now welcoming a groove from where crawfish got soul—zydeco.
In June, Philadelphia public-radio station WXPN announced “Zydeco Crossroads”—a 15-month project presenting south Louisiana’s accordion dance music through a series of concerts, educational events and a new documentary film by producer Robert Mugge, whose works include the post-Katrina film New Orleans Music in Exile.
A $360,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage will fund the project.
“Zydeco Crossroads” is a multimedia project that includes a website with field recordings, music streams, performance footage and original contributions from New Orleans-based scholars Nick Spitzer and Ben Sandmel and other authors. OffBeat contributing writer Herman Fuselier will also compose for the website and produce a series of 13 one-hour radio shows with the help of KRVS 88.7 FM, Lafayette’s public-radio station that’s located on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.
David Dye, host of NPR’s popular “World Café” show, will narrate a series of zydeco vignettes. Live events kick off this October and conclude in October 2015 with Zydeco Crossroads Weekend, a mini-zydeco festival in Philadelphia.
Bruce Warren, WXPN’s program director, said Zydeco Crossroads involves lots of work in Lafayette and surrounding area, the cradle of zydeco music.
“We’re going to be in Lafayette doing field work,” Warren says. “We’re actually engaging with the local community, like KRVS; it’s incredible for public media to be working together on a project like this. There’ll be more events over the course of the year. We’re trying to have many contributors be based out of that region.
“We have a ton of amazing bands booked—Creole United, Curley Taylor, Koray Broussard, J. Paul, Rosie Ledet, Rueben Moreno are all on the lineup to do event for us,” adds Warren. “We’re really excited about all those.”
“Zydeco Crossroads” grew out of the “Mississippi Blues Project,” a concert series and online interactive initiative that WXPN produced in 2012 and 2013. The project brought a handful of Mississippi blues artists, such as Cedric Burnside and Big George Brock, to Philadelphia for live events. A website, with audio, video and other essays, remains online.
“When the project was over, the Pew Foundation said, ‘What do you have next?’” Warren recalls. “We brainstormed a bunch of ideas and zydeco was one we felt like we could sustain and make even bigger.”
WXPN has the power to do that and more. The station produces “World Café” and the Peabody Award-winning “Kids’ Corner.”
The station streams online at XPN.org.