Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blast from the Bayou at Strawberry Park

With temperatures in the 90's and high humidity, last weekend began our first heatwave of the season. So it was as much to escape the heat and enjoy the wooded setting and resort-like amenities offered at Strawberry Park that we headed to the 12th annual Blast from the Bayou. The four day festival began on Thursday and featured an extensive lineup of well known Cajun and Zydeco acts, plus the Radiators to add a little variety. We arrived on Saturday around 2 pm, and purchased a 2-day ticket w/ an overnight option. Because Strawberry Park is a full service campground/ RV Park, they don' t require festival goers to purchase a full weekend pass to camp just one night. We set up our chairs in the shady amphitheater, just as Chris Ardoin was finishing up his set. One thing about Strawberry Park is they have continued to make improvements over the years, adding 2 dance floors - one right in front of the stage, and one off to side surrounded by trees, giving the effect of being in a large treehouse.

The festival has 2 stages, one in the wooded amphitheater, and another under a tent adjacent to the main pavilion which houses a snack bar and rec center, with lots of picnic tables from which to watch the music, so you don't have to carry your chair over (although you may). Beyond the rec center is a pool complex with 3 swimming pools and 2 hot tubs, so this is where we headed between bands, which alternate from one stage to the next. There is usually only a 15-20 minute break , but you can hear the music from the pool. I just kept my bathing suit on with a sarong or sun-dress on for the whole festival. The water was freezing cold (the air temperature had been in the 50's during the week, only warming up on Saturday) but provided a much needed refresher once I finally got in. However the sounds of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys coming from rec center lured me back out. It is hard to see the band unless you are dancing on the large wooden dance floor under the tent, which was no problem.

The lineup I printed out a couple weeks in advance had the Radiators slated for two 1-hour sets, one at noon (!), and one at 6 pm following a scheduled one-hour dinner break (when they traditionally allow evening only attendees to come in for a lower price). But they wisely shifted around the schedule to allow the Rads one 2-hour set from 5-7 with no dinner break. From the pool area, we could hear them starting up, so we made our way back over to the amphitheater.

All these years of following New Orleans music, I have not seen the Radiators as much as you might think, only about a half-dozen times or so, including last weekend's Crawfish Fest, last year's midweek party during Jazzfest and a couple times at Rhythm and Roots and maybe one or two other festivals. In other words, it has always been at an event where there is a lot going on, or lots of people to talk to. This set at Strawberry Park was the first time I was able to focus on the music and get pretty close. I had thought they would be like a fish out of water at this festival, which was attended by more zydeco dancers than Fish Heads. But the dancers, who never stopped, seemed to enjoy the different style and kept grooving throughout the set. Looking around at the crowd, and the Radiators themselves, the song "Never Let your Fire Go Out" was an apt anthem.

The Pine Leaf Boys played after them under the Rec Center tent, with guest accordionist Jesse Lege on a few songs. Then, everyone who must have been hanging out at their campsites or at the pool emerged and packed the dance floor for the last set of the night, by the ever popular Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie.

Sunday brunch at the Strawberry Grill snack bar featured a "Cajun Omelet" filled with shrimp & sausage in a tomato based creole sauce. Well, it was Italian sausage but isn't that the Cajun way? Use what's available! It was pretty good, especially accompanied by BYO Bloody Mary's. Then right back on the dance floor for Jesse Lege & Bayou Brew, followed by Corey Ledet in the amphitheater. It was still really hot, so more pool time was in order before watching
Beausoleil, who played a beautiful set featuring more waltzes and instrumental numbers, (including one of my old favorites, Dimanche Apres Midi) instead of non stop raucous dance music. Not to say they there wasn't dancing, just at a more relaxed pace, and most dancers tried to stay in the shade.

Chris Ardoin
ended up the day with his style of R&B tinged zydeco, ending just as a perfectly timed thunder storm rolled in, bringing relief to the heat.

More pictures from Strawberry Park

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