Festival New Orleans cooks up merry music


"Laissez les bons temps rouler." For those unfamiliar with the Cajun spin on the French language, that translates as "Let the good times roll," and rolling good times is something New Orleans folk know inside and out.

New Orleans, Louisiana, Cajun Country, home of the Mardi Gras, a celebration of food and music that everyone should experience at least once.

Well, now's your chance, and one only has to travel as far as Columbia to encounter the abundance of this rich regional culture.

When Festival New Orleans two-steps into Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, music won't be the only thing in its party bag. In addition to standout Louisiana music groups -- such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys, and C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band -- famous New Orleans chefs will bring their unique specialties -- such as gator tails over rice, red beans, barbecued alligator and gumbo.

As much as the ethnic elements that make up the region (African, French, Latin and Caribbean) influence the sights and tastes, it has twice the effect on the music that's born from the same land. Whether it's tastes or sounds, both sensory factors will have you sweating Tabasco sauce.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is among the best at presenting a spicy musical jambalaya.

"Since we've always played such a wide variety of music," says Dirty Dozen Brass Band leader Gregory Davis, "we never thought that combining different sounds was out of the ordinary."

To the contrary, the band is anything but ordinary, blending elements of jazz, funk, R&B; and Cajun rhythms. Since its inception in 1977, this home-grown New Orleans ensemble has built a career on traditional brass-band music, a skill honed on the streets of the Crescent City playing funerals and street parades.

"When we first started," Mr. Davis recalls, "there were only a couple of bands in the city with steady work. And most of the musicians were older players who had seen their last days walking and playing a five-mile parade route."

One of those older musicians was Clifton Chenier, the pioneering New Orleans accordion player who is often credited with founding another indigenous Louisiana musical style: zydeco.

"Zydeco is the ultimate party music," explains C. J. Chenier, son of the famous New Orleans trendsetter. And he would know. Mr. Chenier joined his dad's band as a sax player (picking up the accordion in 1985) just prior to his 21st birthday.

"Variety is the key," Mr. Chenier continues. "Zydeco music transcends all cultures -- regional, national, international. As soon as people hear that shuffle, they can't help but to start to dancing."

If dancing and diversity are the keys to the success of Festival New Orleans, then Terrance Simien should blow the roof off the pavilion.

Growing up in the small town of Mallet, La., Mr. Simien picked up the accordion and the rub-board (which resembles the washboard your great-grandmother used to do her laundry on) when he was a teen-ager. Now an experienced 28-year-old, Mr. Simien has earned his reputation as one of the music world's most gifted live performers.

"It's all about energy," Mr. Simien states. "It's kinda hard to stand still while listening to tail-shaking party music."

While the artists themselves naturally put the emphasis on the music and its feet-moving capacity, Festival New Orleans is much more. It's a celebration of a shared heritage to which those outside of the region are not fortunate enough to have easy access. That is, until Saturday night in Columbia. And you might want to bring your dancing shoes.

Festival New Orleans

Who: Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Marva Wright and the BMWs, Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys, Charmaine Neville with Amasa Miller and Reggie Houston, C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Cost: $20; children free with an adult

Call: (410) 730-2424 for information; (410) 481-SEAT for tickets

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