by Tom Dempsey and Carol Taylor (now Carol Dempsey)
On the weekend of June 29-30, 1996, we (and several other Seattle zydeco zealots) attended Louisiana Sue’s Cajun Gumbo Ya Ya Festival in Napa, California.
This festival featured Zydeco Force from Louisiana. We especially loved the local band Andre Thierry with Zydeco Magic, and Kent Menard’s zydeco band also played with panache. Two more great Bay Area bands, Tete Rouge and Frog Legs, played contagious Cajun tunes on a smaller stage. They proved Cajun music can pack as much punch as zydeco!
Festival flyers encouraged us to bring our own lawn chairs, which gave us a relaxing seat after dancing in the 100-plus degree heat. Festival booths sold gumbo, boiled crawfish, crab cakes, shrimp, hot sausage, beer, and bottled water.
One evening while we rested at my brother Dave’s apartment in San Francisco, a 3.5 (Richter scale) earthquake shook us just like the bouncing dance floor earlier in the day. We explored Muir Redwoods Park one morning before the festival and climbed stairs in an historic San Francisco neighborhood the next.
Flying to California for a dance festival makes a great three-day weekend trip from Seattle!
by Carol Taylor (now Carol Dempsey)
"Louisiana Sue" Ramon, a vital force in the Cajun/zydeco scene on the West Coast, grew up attending the Jazz Festivals held every year in her native New Orleans. After moving to California in 1986, she became so homesick that she started giving barbecues so her new California friends could experience the back home flavors and foods she loved. These food frolics evolved into a published cookbook, with 10,000 copies presently in circulation. In 1987 to 1989, Sue established the Isleton Crawdad Festival. She organized other food festivals, and starred in radio and television cooking shows featuring Cajun and zydeco music in the background.
To emulate the porches of family homes where Creole and Cajun culture evolved, she built the Cajun Back Porch, which became the center piece of her road show featuring Creole/Cajun music, dance, and food. At Travis Air Force Base, she organized her first primarily music festival, starring Willis Prudhomme. Willis visited the West Coast three more times for Sue, including this August when he went on to play in Seattle for the first time!
To expose more West Coast people to her culture, Sue took "virgin dancers" back to her home in Louisiana. She introduced these neophytes to plenty of good ol’ home cookin’ every day and a different hot music club every night.
Today, Sue organizes her music festivals (such as her biggest, the Cajun Gumbo Ya Ya in Napa) starting at her desk with a pencil, pad, and telephone. A service handles her mailing list of 5000 names. Russell Ardoin, production manager extraordinaire, builds the dance floors, stages, and so forth. Volunteers or paid temps handle jobs such as gatekeepers and ticket sellers. Sue finds the organizational work easy. But the weather remains unpredictable, beyond her control, and crucial to the festival’s success. That’s funny, I thought California always had beautiful weather!
Sue recalls her funniest festival experience from the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa. She set up her Cajun Back Porch, and every night at the Fais Do Do, she yelled her famous Cajun "Aiyeee!". Unfortunately, a dairy lay directly across the street from the fairgrounds, and Sue’s yell scared the cows so much that they "could not let down their milk." The lack of milk meant no free ice cream for the Fair goers, and the dairy workers were not pleased. Sue’s yell had melted the ice cream before it was made!
Louisiana Sue’s other interests include movies and traveling. She particularly loves Mexico. Her brain stores a virtual doctoral dissertation worth of information regarding the similarities and differences between Mardi Gras and Carnivale festivals given all over the world. Reggae, Gospel, and Blues are her favorites when not listening to zydeco.
Sue loves watching zydeco/Cajun enthusiasm grow on the West Coast. Larger venues now respond to her booking suggestions; this year great zydeco will play in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Denver and Boulder, Colorado. As good bands cycle out of favor in Louisiana about every two years, they become more willing to travel farther and charge fees that West Coast dance halls can afford. This helps Louisiana Sue’s purpose in life: to give the West Coast a beat, a zydeco beat!
Thank you, Sue, for your hard work, and laissez les bons temps rouler!
You can contact Louisiana Sue and order her Newsletter at telephone: (916) 962-6134; address: 9175 Kiefer Blvd. #133, Sacramento, CA 95826-5105 (new as of 3/97). Internet: http://www.louisianasue.com
Near the end of May I tired of Seattle's wintry weather, and I hungered for a change of scenery along with some hot zydeco music. California’s Long Beach Festival, held June 1st to 2nd, 1996, sounded good to me. On a Friday, I flew into a seemingly tropical paradise, reminiscent of my Florida hometown.
Taking a hotel shuttle, I checked out the festival site on Friday evening. The festival occupied a pretty ocean-side park called Rainbow Lagoon. With a name like that I thought I might find some food to suit my tastes. Alas, no escargot, but many concession stands were set to offer Louisiana cuisine the next day. Nearby lay the Long Beach Convention Center, a bike/pedestrian trail, harbor tours, restaurants, and the Queen Mary.
On Saturday morning, the bright sun foretold a hot day. My survival kit included water, sunglasses, a hat, and a perch. Activities began promptly at noon, and people flocked everywhere! Seeing the dance floor so far from the stage surprised me, until I heard that last year they were closer together and some of the dancers had fallen into the lagoon. I don’t see any problem with a little swim!
I listened and danced to great music by Geno Delafose, Mark and Ann Savoy, Steve Riley, Sheryl Cormier, and C.J. Chenier. As a pleasant surprise, I saw some familiar faces from Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area. I also made new friends from the Bons Temps Social Club of San Diego. They sure know how to have a good time, all the way to the final watermelon dance. They passed a watermelon from one person to the next, danced with it, and at last heaved it high into the air. The final watermelon splat marked the end of the festival on Sunday.
On Monday I happily returned to the cooler clime of Seattle and started planning my next festival jaunt. Et toi!
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