Looking for a hot time over the Labor Day weekend? With South Louisiana’s sultry summer weather and a zydeco festival, you’ve got it! The seventh annual Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival takes place Saturday, September 2 at the Southern Development Farm in the rural community of Plaisance, between Opelousas and Ville Platte. If you’re a lover of zydeco music or just want an intensive initiation to the music, this is the zydeco festival to attend. It is one of the most popular festivals in the state.
For those not fully familiar with Southern Louisiana music, the word zydeco is a corruption of the French “haricots,” or snap beans. The musical form is another version of Cajun music, but with a rhythm derived from the black Creoles of rural southwest Louisiana.
But zydeco is more than just south Louisiana black man’s music. It’s his sustenance. Consumed by Creoles like red beans and rice and cherished like religion, zydeco is a mesh of cultures and musical patterns creating one highly rhythmic sound. The rest of the world is discovering zydeco music, especially in the wake of Paul Simon’s mega-platinum album, Graceland, released in 1986, which featured zydeco performed by one of zydeco’s foremost performers, Rockin’ Dopsie (that’s pronounced Doopsie) and the Cajun Twisters.
Consequently, it’s becoming harder and harder to see many of the best zydeco bands back home, as they take their infectious rhythms elsewhere in the country. But the Zydeco Fest has become famous for annually bringing together the biggest line-up anywhere of top zydeco performers.
While zydeco bands that will be playing at this year’s festival vary greatly in style—from the traditional style of John Delafose to the driving, high-energy style of Terrance Simien—there’s always that certain zydeco beat. The main ingredients of the zydeco sound are a “frottoir,” or washboard, and an accordion. But more importantly, to have a true zydeco rhythm, the beat has got to be off, just a bit. What sets zydeco music apart from Cajun music (or any other music, for that matter) is its infectious, syncopated rhythm that drives you to dance as soon as the first beat starts.
Traditionally, the Zydeco Festival hasn’t published the performance schedules. That’s so you won’t show up to hear a favorite band and then leave. But band schedules are subject to change anyway, and besides that, who wants to go to just hear one or two bands? You’ll want to stay all day for 13 hours of continuous zydeco music, from 11 a.m. to midnight.
This year’s festival is a spectacular line-up of most of the biggest names in zydeco as well as quite a few new bands. The bill includes: Boozoo Chavis & the Magic Sounds, John Delafose & the Eunice Playboys, “T” Black & the Zydeco Machine Band, Major Handy & the Wolf Couchon Band, Terrance Simien & the Mallet Playboys, Rockin’ Dopsie & the Cajun Twisters, Little Willie Davis & the Zydeco Hitchhikers, Zydeco Force, The Ardoin Brothers, and Morris Francis & the Zydeco Highsteppers.
Despite last year’s stormy weather, festival attendance was about 4,000. But when the weather is hot and sultry—the very best way to hear steamy music—you can expect up to 10,000 festival-goers to attend, from California to South Carolina to Carencro, Louisiana. The festival is held in a huge field, and while there are a few trees, you won’t find any around the festival’s single 40-ft. stage. So it’s a great idea to bring along an umbrella to ward off the sun’s heat or a possible afternoon shower. Tarps and tents are also welcome.
Bands will play for about an hour each, with approximately a 10-minute interval between each performance. There’s only one stage, but it’s big and high, so no matter where you’re dancing (and you will dance!) you can probably see the performers. A particularly nice aspect of a one-day festival in a field is that you’re assured of a cushioned grass seat.
The Zydeco Fest is a family affair, good time stuff, where all you need worry about is not wearing yourself out before all the good music stops. The exceptional food available includes everything Cajun, Creole and then some. Menu toppers are jambalaya, red beans and rice, barbecue, boudin, cracklin’, fried pig tails and fried fish. Beer and soft drinks will be available, of course, as well as booths selling candy, pies and other assorted south Louisiana delicacies. There’s also an official Zydeco Festival t-shirt and albums by many of the performing artists will be on sale. Ice chests are welcome. Glass containers are not.
Now that Interstate-49 has been extended, getting to the Zydeco Festival from New Orleans, Baton Rouge or Lafayette is a breeze. From Baton Rouge, take I-10 west to Lafayette. Once in Lafayette, take I-49 northbound. You’ll exit at Ville Platte (Exit 23), and turn left to Highway 167 North (the Ville Platte Highway). The festival is located in Plaisance at the Southern Development Farm on Parish Rd. 5-75-3, off Hwy. 167 North, about 1 1/2 miles from Plaisance School.
Admission is $7 for adults and $1 for children under 12. For more information, call Wilbert Guillory, festival director at (318) 942-2392 (festival office) or (318) 826-3431/826-5209 (festival site).
To whet your zydeco appetite on the drive over to the festival, tune into KRVS Public Radio Station’s (88.7 FM) Saturday morning zydeco show, from 8 a.m. to noon. “Et toi! Les haricots sont pas sale!”