Mardi Gras beads flew through the Lied Center for Performing Arts morning and night Friday, launched by Terrance Simien who brought the party -- and the zydeco music, 1163 miles from his Louisiana home.
In the morning, Simien and his band The Zydeco Experience had about 1,000 elementary school students screaming, singing, dancing and grabbing the beads as they presented “Creole for Kidz and The History of Zydeco.”
Engaging and energizing the young audience, Simien talked about the southwest Louisiana culture that gave birth to the music he has taken around the globe.
"We have our own style of music," Simien said. "We call it zydeco. We have our own style of food. We call it creole food. Ever had jambalaya? Ever had etouffee? Ever had fried alligator."
There were plenty of affirmations of alligator eating from the kids -- which I’m guessing might have been fibs. But they were locked into the show, which included “The Eunice Two Step,” a song by Amede Ardoin, one of the first to record Creole music and Clifton Chenier’s slow bluesy waltz, “You Used to Call Me.”
Chenier, the architect of modern zydeco also invented the frottoir, the over-the-shoulder rubboard, one of the only percussion instruments invented in the United States.
About a dozen youngsters got to try their hand at playing the ribbed, washboardlike instrument. Frottier player Ralph Fontenot ventured into the crowd on every song, pulling a couple kids up on stage to play small frottoirs.
Using his family as an example of Creole history, Simien talked about his German, Native American, African, French and Spanish ancestry.
"I've got jambalaya DNA,” he said. “So does the music we play."
Simien and the Zydeco Experience demonstrated that during the 2 hour, 20 minute evening show that had much of the audience dancing in front of its seats and rushing toward the stage to catch some beads.
There was plenty of straight-ahead zydeco, driven by the accordion and frottier with Simien, who’s a fine vocalist often singing in French. But there was more to the gumbo than just the traditional sounds.
Rock got an accordion-drenched flavor on covers of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and “The Weight,” reggae mixed into the Creole sound on Peter Tosh'a "Stop That Train,” soul came via Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and Simien and company turned Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” into pure zydeco with a swinging back beat, rubboard rhythm and driving accordion.
At the end of each set, Simien headed down to New Orleans for “Mardi Gras” music -- a medley of The Meters “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fire on the Bayou” to end the first set and the classic “Iko Iko” that turned into “when the Saints Go Marching In” and “Jambalaya” to close the second.
As he got into “Hey Pocky Way,” Simien got an idea, which he threw out to the audience and then repeated at the end of the second set and the end of the show.
“This should be an annual thing, Mardi Gras at the Lied Center." Simien said. "If the powers that be want it to be, I'll be here every year. ... You know I cook a mean gumbo and a mean jambalaya. I’ll bring my seasonings. We'll have a real party. You can come in costumes. We'll have a parade. Mardi Gras in Lincoln. Oh yeah.”
Sounds good to me.