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Pumping Up Cajun Against Zydeco Tide


Remember the sultry intro to Ike and Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary," where Tina snarls: "We never, ever do nothin' nice and easy."?

The Southern California Cajun & Zydeco Festival turns 10 this weekend in Long Beach, and its founder and still-head-cheerleader, Franklin Zawacki, just may be the Tina Turner of concert promoters.

Noticing that audiences around the country are getting more and more enthusiastic about the pumped-up rhythms of zydeco, what did Zawacki do for this year's fest?

He pumped up the Cajun half of the equation, with Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band and Sheryl Cormier & Cajun Sounds.

Riley and his Playboys probably are the most highly regarded band of young Cajun musicians in the country right now. Savoy-Doucet is Michael Doucet--Beausoleil's leader, songwriter, singer and fiddler--and the husband-wife team of Marc and Ann Savoy. He is an accordionist par excellence, accordion builder and staunch defender of Cajun tradition; she is a guitarist, singer and tireless historian of Cajun culture.

"The authenticity and depth that Marc and Ann and Michael bring to this festival," Zawacki notes, "are phenomenal."

Not that zydeco has gone wanting. Zawacki has brought back C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band and Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie. Both bandleaders took over for their fathers--zydeco king Clifton Chenier, who died in 1987, and singer-songwriter-accordionist John Delafose, who died in 1994.

Still, "definitely this year, we wanted to put together as authentic and strong a Cajun lineup as we could, because unfortunately zydeco is stealing the show," Zawacki said by phone from his headquarters in San Francisco.

Unfortunately? Where 99% of promoters simply would take what works and run with it, Zawacki wants those who attend his festivals (he runs several around the country) to not just buy tickets, but also to learn about and love the music as he does. That's one reason his fests include free lessons in Cajun and zydeco two-steps and waltzes and workshops with the musicians on various aspects of the music, people and culture of southwestern Louisiana.

"When people ask me, 'Why do you care for this obscure corner of the world?,' I tell them it's because I love the cultural values," Zawacki says. "And I admire the Cajuns' family values, the combining of food, music and dance.

"I'm a teacher at heart, and I like to encourage an audience to hear other music. Zydeco has begin to eclipse [Cajun music] a bit--Cajun being the older style, zydeco being newer and more hip. So we've actually brought in a little more Cajun hoping we can help Cajun."

* What: The 10th Annual Southern California Cajun & Zydeco Festival.

* When: Saturday and Sunday, noon-7 p.m. See box for performance schedule.

* Where: Rainbow Lagoon, Long Beach.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the Long Beach (710) Freeway and head west. Exit at Shoreline Drive, head east. Rainbow Lagoon is at Linden Avenue, adjacent to the Convention Center.

* Wherewithal: $5-$20 per day, children under 10 get in free.

* Where to call: (310) 427-3713.




* Noon: Benny & the Swamp Gators

* 1:15: Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie

* 2:30: The Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band

* 3:45: Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys

* 5: C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band

* 9-midnight (in the Junior Ballroom at the adjacent Long Beach Convention Center): Sheryl Cormier & Cajun Sounds play music for dancing ($12 separate admission).


* Noon: JT and the Zydeco Zippers

* 1:15: Sheryl Cormier & Cajun Sounds

* 2:30: Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie

* 3:45: The Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band

* 5: C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band

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