Tuesday, January 1, 2008

First Night with Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha's

First Night Boston is an arts celebration that takes place in many different venues around the city. I have been to similar events in Providence and Newport, but this was my first visit to the original one, in Boston. It is rather spread out, but there are clusters of venues, like churches and hotels. What attracted me to this year's celebration was Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Cha's, but since this is a festival of many different kinds of arts we decided to sample a few other acts to round out the night. One was Birdsongs of the Mesozoic with baritone Oral Moses. They did some avant garde spirituals in a church, and the vocals /arrangements were interesting, but it was a little too serious for my mood. We only stayed for a few, then out to the parade (which looks better on TV than in real life, as it is difficult to get a good viewing spot). But it was fun to be out amongst all the revelers, who were getting ready for the early fireworks on Boston Common. Nathan was scheduled to start the first of 3 sets at 8pm, and shortly before that, the line was snaking all down the block, so we decided to check out some of Valerie Smith, a singer who tries to recreate Nina Simone. It was sweltering in the hotel conference room where she was performing, and she had to keep wiping sweat off her face that was getting in her eyes. She was a good, soulful singer, but not very convincing when she had to read the words of a Bessie Smith song. Out of there and across the street, they were already lined up for Nathan's 2nd set. It was in a huge cavernous space that used to be an armory. Apparently many of the people from the first set just filed right out and got in line for set #2. (They do that at First Night to give everyone a chance to get in.) At first,the audience was tentative, and most people were seated - all the chairs were taken and some were sitting on the floor. But with each song more and more people got up to dance. It's always so much fun to see people's reaction to zydeco music, when they aren't really familiar with it. I kind of take it for granted, but it is a new discovery for many people, especially in this part of the country. The sound was pretty bad in the drafty, high ceilinged armory. But Nathan's spirit was unstoppable, and the band's music is so infectious it is hard to sit still. I was interested in seeing a piano player back at the church a few blocks away, but we knew Nathan was a good bet so we went outside a few minutes before it ended to get back in line for the 3rd set. At the time there was no one else lined up so it felt kind of foolish but as soon as the set ended, more and more people who had been inside went out and re-joined the line. This made it look very desirable to passersby, so even more were attracted. The break was only about 10 minutes and the 2nd time in we got a better seat, which I wasn't in for very long anyway. This time even more people were dancing - some as couples, and others more free spirited moving and shaking, just reacting to the music more than trying to do the prescribed dance steps. As Nathan said towards the end, "If you don't shake a leg at a Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Cha's show, call the undertaker, 'cause you must be dead!" And as he so often says in his shows, when he gets a warm reception, "I'm from Louisiana, but I feel like I'm home". When there's a first-rate zydeco band from Louisiana at a First Night celebration, I feel like I'm home too. I mean, puppet shows and poets are ok, but when it comes to celebrations, there's nothing more upbeat than some good down-home zydeco, and what better way to welcome in the New Year.

Here's a little video plus a link to some photos of the evening's festivities.

Happy 2008 and here's to another year of festive living!

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