Louisiana bayou meets Annapolis at Gumbo Jam Festival: Cajun and zydeco music combined for the Annapolis area's first New Orleans-style festival, and fans rated it a huge success.

July 23, 1998|By Nathan Humphrey | Nathan Humphrey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

You could feast on alligator sausage on a stick while enjoying the best Cajun and zydeco music north of the Louisiana bayou last weekend at the county fairgrounds.

Inspired by the Rhythm and Roots Festival held every Labor Day weekend in Escoheag, R.I., Gumbo Jam was the Annapolis area's first taste of a genuine New Orleans-style music and dance festival.

The centerpiece of the festival was an enormous stage in front of which lounged festivalgoers on blankets and in lawn chairs. There, I was educated on the difference between Cajun and zydeco music.

Simply put, Cajun music developed from Louisiana's white French settlers, while zydeco arose from the bayou's black African Creoles. Over the centuries, these two styles have influenced each other, as well as been influenced by Louisiana's rich blend of French, Spanish, African, English and Native American musical traditions.

Old favorites

The resulting diversity of styles and rhythms were evident in the mix of performers at Gumbo Jam. Some old favorites were there, including Buckwheat Zydeco (the guy who opened and closed President Clinton's second inaugural ball) and Chesapeake, which blended bluegrass and traditional country stylings with surprising ease.

Chesapeake's Mike Auldrige, formerly of Seldom Scene, performed a blazing rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" on the resophonic guitar. The band also wowed the crowd with "My Window Faces the South."

Between performances by the festival's 18 bands -- ranging from Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas to Grammy-winning Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet -- festivalgoers sampled the many items on display -- from beignets (something of a Cajun doughnut) to tie-dyed sarongs.

There even was a booth advertising the "Zydeclothes Collection," and another giving Cajun and Creole cooking demonstrations.

Dancing aplenty

On Friday and Saturday, Gumbo Jammers danced the night away at the festival's Fais Do-Dos (meaning "put the kids to sleep").

But during the day, there were plenty of activities were offered to keep the kids awake, including their own dance lessons, Mardi Gras mask and necklace making and an evening Mardi Gras parade, all provided by Zany Brainy.

The Gumbo Jam was jam-packed with fun for the whole family. But if you missed this powerhouse lineup of Cajun, zydeco, blues and bluegrass, don't worry; this year's Gumbo Jam surely won't be the last.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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