Gumbo Jam whets musical appetites with a Cajun feast of bayou sounds

July 16, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

In Cajun and zydeco music the lyrics are simple, the beat is thumping and the accordion is the hottest instrument in the band.

This weekend, the Gumbo Jam -- a Cajun, zydeco, bluegrass and blues festival debuting in Crownsville -- is serving up plenty of the music born on the banks of the bayou and now enormously popular in the Baltimore-Washington area.

"It's a rocking blues music," said Bill Pagac, a dance instructor at Bethesda's Twist and Shout nightclub who also will teach Cajun and zydeco dance workshops at the weekend festival.

"It gets them really rocking really fast," he said. "You can dance all night."

In Baltimore, clubs like Harry's, Cat's Eye Pub and Roots Cafe have drawn big crowds when they played host to the Southern music bands. In the Washington area, bands at Twist and Shout and the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo National Park have drawn as many as 500 people, Pagac said.

Michael Tisseron, author of "The Zydeco Kingdom," said of the Baltimore-Washington corridor: "It's a huge dance scene. The floor is as moving as anything I've seen in Louisiana. I've gone up there a few times and I always come back with a new dance move."

Cajun music is a folk style influenced by modern country music, and zydeco is a peppery Creole music that draws on roots in blues and reggae.

Lyrics in both styles are simple and repetitious, but Cajun music is distinguished by a combination of fiddle and accordion and often a waltz syncopation. Zydeco has a driving blues beat, punctuated by the accordion and the rub board.

At the Gumbo Jam this weekend, visitors can hear top artists such as Buckwheat Zydeco, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, and Beausoleil Avec Michael Doucet along with local bands like Squeeze Bayou and Zydeco Crayz.

Pagac and his partner, Debbie Shaw, and Ellen Wicker and her partners, Terry Dave and Roland Lewis, will offer free dance lessons all three days, teaching waltzes, the Cajun two-step and zydeco dances. Lessons even are held for the kids.

Other activities for children from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. include arts and crafts by Zany Brainy, music lessons on the rub board, face painting and Tales from the Bayou storytelling.

New Orleans-style foods and traditional Cajun and Creole cuisine will be available.

The Gumbo Jam is at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds on Generals Highway and runs from 10 a.m. to midnight tomorrow and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. One-day and three-day passes can be purchased through TicketMaster.

One-day passes are $25 at the gate for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for children ages 7 to 12. Three-day passes are $50 for adults, $35 for seniors and $20 for children. Children 6 and younger are free.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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