The Zydeco Extravaganza is an annual celebration of a Louisiana cultural phenomenon. The music of the Creole culture, Zydeco, is an upbeat and fast-paced ride that never fails to entertain. Kreol provides a review of the 2015 Zydeco Extravaganza.
There are few musical art forms that represent a defined cultural group in the same way that zydeco defines Louisiana’s Creole people. Walk down the streets of Manhattan in New York City or through Los Angeles, and you’ll hear pop, R&B, and even country music blaring from corner shops and car windows. What you won’t hear in these areas is a zydeco’s boisterous and speedy tunes. So where will you hear zydeco?
Zydeco and Southern Louisiana
The only place to hear traditional zydeco is in Southern Louisiana, where Creole people and native cultures have combined for centuries to create a brilliant musical art form. Every Memorial Day weekend, St. Landry Parish in Louisiana celebrates this cultural music with the annual Zydeco Extravaganza. The 2015 Zydeco Extravaganza was the 29th annual occurrence of the event, and it was nothing less than spectacular.
About the 29th Annual Zydeco Extravaganza
The Zydeco Extravaganza is the world’s largest one-day zydeco celebration, drawing visitors from across the US and around the globe to Lafayette, Louisiana in hopes of hearing some of the genres greatest performers. The 2015 lineup included some big names, such as Geno Delafose, Buckwheat Zydeco, Leon Chavis, and Chris Ardoin. There was even an Amateur Accordion Contest early in the day, highlighting the popularity of the art form even among younger generations of Creoles.
Doors to the 2015 Zydeco Extravaganza opened at noon, and early visitors were entertained by Eunice, Louisiana native, Geno Delafose. A talented accordionist and singer, Delafose’s music is considered nouveau zydeco, with sounds deeply rooted in traditional Creole music. He is also influenced by his native Cajun music and even modern country and western ballads. Delafose comes from a family of gifted musicians, as his father was the famous zydeco accordion player John Delafose.
Born and raised in Lafayette, home of the Zydeco Extravaganza, Stanley Dural Jr. is the name of legendary zydeco performer, Buckwheat Zydeco. He is, without a doubt, the most accomplished zydeco musician in the United States. A brilliant accordionist, he has broken out of the Creole culture of Louisiana to grab the attention of music lovers across the country in mainstream society. He has performed with the likes of Eric Clapton, U2, and the Boston Pops, and even at both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations in the 1990s. The New York Times once described his music as “a down-home and high-powered celebration, meaty and muscular with a fine-tuned sense of dynamics.”
If you haven’t heard the name Leon Chavis yet, odds are you will hear his name in the very near future. He is a graduate of the world-famous Southern University Jaguar Marching Band in Louisiana. While attending the historically black college in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chavis was a masterful trumpet player in a band that earned the nickname the “Human Jukebox”. In just three short years in the world of zydeco, he’s released three different CDs and grown a fan base that stretches from Evangeline Parish to the shores of Europe.
Another modern-day legend in zydeco music, Chris Ardoin is a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and has been playing the accordion and singing in zydeco groups since he was just two years old. If anyone can be called a zydeco child prodigy, Ardoin is it. His father was Lawrence Ardoin, his grandfather was Bois Sec Ardoin, and his older brother is the famous Gospel zydeco performer Sean Ardoin. Chris was part of his first formal band by the age of 10.
Keith Frank is another native of Southern Louisiana, and is a graduate of McNeese State University in Lake Charles. He has been performing in zydeco groups since 1990, having formed the group Soileau Zydeco Band. Frank closed out the evening at the Zydeco Extravaganza in 2015, sending a boisterous crowd home happy after yet another successful celebration of Louisiana culture and Creole music.
Amateur Accordion Contest
After two opening acts, the afternoon kicked off in style with the next generation of zydeco greats taking the stage in the Amateur Accordion Contest. There are a lot of instruments that contribute to the beauty and rhythm of zydeco, but ask anyone to define the sound of zydeco, and you’re likely to hear the following definition:
“It’s usually a fast tempo dominated by the button or piano accordion, and a form of washboard. It was originally created for house dances that saw families and friends gather to socialize”.
Today’s zydeco hasn’t strayed from its roots, and younger generations in Southern Louisiana aren’t afraid to pick up the accordion and learn how to play one of the most vital instruments to the genre. After a number of contestants showed off their musical chops, a young man by the name of TJ came out on top as the winner.
The Annual Zydeco Extravaganza isn’t just a chance to celebrate this beloved musical art form, but it’s also a chance for Creole people to come together in the original spirit of the music. As is clear, Zydeco formed as a way for people to gather together, socialize, and have a good time. That soul and spirit lived on in the 29th Annual Zydeco Extravaganza’s success.