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Cajun Culture Adds Spice to Music Festival

Fund-raiser: Thousands are expected to sample the food and Zydeco music at two-day Simi Valley event sponsored by Rotary Club to benefit charities.


SIMI VALLEY — Desiree Bigger watched her mom tear the head off a blistery red boiled crawfish, rip open the hard-shelled body and pop the tender pink meat into her mouth. "Ick," she said, with all the disgust a 7-year-old can muster.

Mom Sheri Bigger simply smiled. She knew better.

"Mmmmm," the elder Bigger said. "Cajun food. It's wonderful."

Mom and daughter were among the thousands of people in Simi Valley sampling a little Cajun culture at the 11th annual Cajun Creole Music Festival, a fund-raiser hosted by the city's Rotary Club that began Saturday and continues today.

More than 15,000 people were expected to flock to the festival, where many were anxious to don Mardi Gras beads and tap their feet to Zydeco music.

But it was clear why most were there.

"The food," said Jason Manns, 33, of Simi Valley. "I'm here for the food."

All the Cajun classics were there: shrimp etoufee, red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, po' boys. And, of course, boiled crawfish--though plenty of folks had more than a little trouble figuring out how to eat it. John Bodsadecki twisted and turned the tiny red sea creature while deciding on his best plan of attack. He twisted off the head, pinched off the tail, then painstakingly peeled off the hard-shelled body. Finally, left with a tender piece of pink meat, he popped it into his mouth.

"This is a little difficult," Bodsadicki said. "I'm not so sure I'm getting enough out of all this."

Vendor Steve Stieffel, who dished out heaping bowls of red beans and rice, smiled at the novices. After all, he is a Louisiana native who grew up on this kind of cooking.

"With an accent like this, I'm sure not from New York City," he said in a perfect southern drawl straight off the bayou.

Stieffel, owner of La Louisianne Express, assured his customers they were eating authentic Louisiana cooking--grandma's recipes, in fact.

"Just like Hank Williams Jr. said, 'We're just carrying on an old family tradition,"' Stieffel said.

George Bercow, chairman of this year's event, said the festival seems to get more popular every year. Last year, organizer's had to stop admitting people for about an hour because the crowds were so large. To fix that problem, Bercow moved the festival to a larger location, an open field at the corner of Stearns Street and Los Angeles Avenue.

The Rotary Club expects to raise more than $125,000 from the festival for various charities.

Bercow said he is surprised by how popular the festival has become. When a fellow Rotarian and Louisiana native suggested a Cajun theme more than a decade ago, Bercow said he was skeptical. "Personally, I didn't even really like Cajun music," Bercow said. "But I get to like it more and more every year."

About half a dozen bands are scheduled to play, all of them specializing in the bluesy Zydeco music or the more twangy Cajun tunes.

Betsy Stobbe, 45, of Laguna Nigel, bounced up and down to a tune as she watched dancers spin in front of a band. Despite a stifling heat that kept most under the shade with a bowl of red beans and a coke, Stobbe said she was ready to boogie.

"I can't imagine anyone sitting still with music like this," Stobbe said. "Once I'm out there dancing, I won't even think about the heat."

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