Mardi Gras Festival

The Colorado Belle and Edgewater kick off their tradition of holding outdoor festivals along the Riverwalk for the spring season with a “Mardi Gras Festival” on Fri-Sat, Feb 17-18 (2 p.m.-10 p.m.) and Sun, Feb 19 (noon-7 p.m.). Live zydeco music will flow from the Riverwalk Stage at the Loading Dock Bar & Grill thanks to two bands—Mark St. Mary and The Vegas Strip Kings. Cajun food and beverages will be served up at nearby booths. There is no charge to listen to the music; food and beverages are sold separately.
The Loading Dock patio is a hot spot to claim a table to listen to the music and watch the crowds, however, you must check in with the podium inside the restaurant to get a table on the patio. The food and drinks served here are not the same as the items available at the booths on the Riverwalk (Loading Dock menu only).

“Finger  lickin….”
The food menu at the Riverwalk booths near the Loading Dock Stage will feature:
•Plates—seafood and sausage jambalaya; sausage and chicken gumbo; Cajun fried chicken; shrimp po’ boy; red beans with Boudin; green chili corn muffin with honey cinnamon butter.
•Desserts—bourbon pecan pie and beignets
•Beverages include Bud/Bud Light; wine; full service bar with premium and call drinks; Gatorade; and bottled water. There are souvenir glasses of “Legs” and “Flasks” that can be refilled for half price.
Prices for food and beverages are a la carte and range from $2 to $8 (excluding the souvenir glasses)
Here is more on the bands…

Mark St. Mary may have left the mangrove swamps of his home state of Louisiana when he migrated to California a few decades ago, but not really. Louisiana is in his blood, it’s part of his DNA and it’s in his fingertips as they glide over the accordion.
While St. Mary has been a California transplant for years, he has made it his personal mission to not only educate people about the music of the bayou and the rich culture that surrounds it, but to never let it die. He has been a fixture on the zydeco music scene on the West Coast for decades and has become a popular performer at the Colorado Belle’s annual Mardi Gras Festival.
We got in touch with St. Mary last week via a phone call. Here’s his take on…

Zydeco or Cajun?
St. Mary: I’ll give you the showdown on it, alright? This music was an unknown music until forerunners before me came to the light, like Doug Kershaw “The Ragin’ Cajun.”
But the music was called Cajun French zydeco music. That’s actually two different musics. The Cajun is white traditional French music. The zydeco, which means “snap bean,”  is the Creole traditional French music, which is what I play. And I’m a native Louisianan and my mama and papa was from there, too.
The St. Mary blend…
St. Mary: What I do is I mix zydeco up with a little R&B and a light, light blend of country-western in there. You can feel it in the two-steps and the waltzes that I play, you know. I also add a little boogie woogie and low down dirty blues on a piano note accordion. I also play the 10-button Diatonic—we call it a French accordion. It’s actually a German-made accordion that we Louisianans adopted in the late 1800s as part of our music.

Who were your influences?
St. Mary: My mentor was Clifton Chenier—pronounced “Shun-eer” in English, “Shen-yah” in French dialect. He’ played for President Reagan, traveled Europe, played for the Queen of England. He was the undisputed King of Zydeco. He mixed his music with hard-driving French music, the waltzes and two-steps, and a little blend of the blues in there.
You see what I’m saying? He was my mentor, until I got off on my own and developed my style and mix it the way I see fit.
But it’s more about reading the crowd than it is playing. Experience will tell you just ’cause you play your own style of music, that doesn’t mean it’s going to appeal to everybody. So you’ve gotta feel ’em out to make it appeal and once you get ’em going, you gotta hold ’em right there.

Traditional music…
St. Mary: There’s other French bands out of Louisiana—Cajun, white, Creole or black, or whatever you want to call it—they want to play their dance but they’re getting away from their tradition. They’re not playing their traditional waltzes and two-steps of the bayou land and it’s getting too far away from the tradition, you see?

Signature song?
St. Mary: It’s a thing called “Joli Blonde,” or “Pretty Blonde” in English (a.k.a. “Jolie Blon” –the song has various spellings). It’s a waltz. Cajun and Creole know that song from Houston, Texas, to New Orleans. Then I have my own songs to shake ’em up real heavy, too.

Crowd favorite?
St. Mary: Well, that’s hard to say because I’ve played to so many people. Like just the other night, I was at a hippie joint in the heart of Berkley called Ashkenaz. It’s a mixed crowd, a packed house. I played the traditional music, then I jumped on the blues, and then I shook it up with some boogie-woogies and stuff. So a lot of the songs are their favorites. You see what I’m saying? You just gotta feel ’em. I play with feeling, I don’t play just to play. And if you can’t play with “bon ton” (“good time”) Mark St. Mary, you won’t have as much fun, oh yeah.

Mission statement…
St. Mary: I’m about dedication and preservation of my music. I give a great presentation ’cause I don’t want to misguide new fans. I want ’em to get on board the right way with the right music—real traditional music—where they can get in there and say, “doggone, I didn’t know I was gonna have this good of a time. This guy’s off the hook.”
You know, times change, people change and music changes and you gotta change with it or get left behind. But don’t change so much ’til you losing your tradition. That’s happening right now with zydeco music.
I’ve been playing since 1969 and I’ve been nailing it hard a long, long time. These youngsters are trying to incorporate hip hop music into zydeco and where it does not go. It’s awful. That’s why my music is so delicate, because I touch people’s lives. One minute I might play “Release Me,” and the next minute I might play “In The Mood,” music out of the ’40s by Tommy Dorsey,  then I shake ’em up with a jambalaya, crawfish pie, and a file gumbo.”—and throw it back with a “Joli Blonde.” You see what I’m saying? That’s what I’m after.

The Isleton Crawdad Festival in California was probably the biggest zydeco festival in the West and now it’s gone.
St. Mary: I was crowned the “Delta King” at that festival. I still have the crown and wear it every now and then. I started that particular festival. That thing was off the hook. That thing was crawling with like 30,000 people on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Way back in the ’80s when I came to California, the mayor and I got together. He caught my act at a blues nightclub. He says, ‘I need you to help me get this rolling.’ I said, “you got it, I’m staying in California a while.” And we started it up.

The Colorado Belle Mardi Gras Festival…
St. Mary: I’ve been playing Laughlin for six or seven years and you’d be surprised at the people who are gonna show up—and show up all weekend. These people have known me for a long time in that area. Some of ’em know me ’cause they caught shows in Northern California or they caught me in Louisiana. It’s a family thing, you see what I’m saying? If you wanna have a good time, go see Mark St. Mary.

The Vegas Strip Kings are a group of seasoned musicians who got together simply because they just love to play and see people having a good time. Their music is versatile, making them regulars at blues festivals as well as zydeco festivals. We talked with drummer and spokesman for the group, Jim Lovgren via a phone call last week. Here’s his take on…

The genesis of the band…
Lovgren: We’ve been together about five years. But most of us have been friends for a long time and played in several different bands together. One band, whose name I won’t mention, was particularly successful. We were touring all over the world and had a record deal with a blues label out of San Francisco. But it ended abruptly when the namesake of the group quit. We were left holding the bag.
But we were still getting jobs coming in, especially around Mardi Gras, so we thought, “Why not keep the party rollin’?” So we got a new singer in Daylon Wear who brings a lot of original concepts and ideas to the group.
Besides doing a lot of cool covers, we have an album or two worth of original material. We have a CD release party we’re doing next month, probably the week after we’re down there in Laughlin. We’ll have some of the live CDs with us. It’s called Lo-Fi Live at the Sand Dollar. It’s sitting at No. 10 on the Reverb Nation regional chart, and it’s also available for streaming on Soundcloud.

Who’s in the band?
Lovgren: Al Ek on guitar, harmonica and vocals. Daylon does vocals and plays acoustic guitar and washboard; Billy Truitt plays keyboards, the accordion; and Rob Edwards plays the doghouse bass (acoustic stand up bass) and vocals. I play drums.

Their music…
Lovgren: It’s kind of an eclectic mix of Americana and zydeco. We do some New Orleans zydeco with some traditional blues, some Tex-Mex sounding stuff and rockabilly. It’s woodsy, swampy, roots music. Our covers include Buckwheat Zydeco, The Meters, Doctor John, Los Lobos, as well as traditional blues like Muddy Waters and Little Walter. We even throw in a bit of country with Hank Williams. Our piano player is into Jerry Lee Lewis so we get the crowd going with that, too.

A signature song…
Lovgren: We always close with a song called “Hot Tamale, Baby” by Buckwheat Zydeco. It features everybody in the band—it’s a high energy zydeco song that always leave them wanting more.
This is our third time doing this festival in Laughlin. We do a lot of Mardi Gras festivals around here in Vegas, too. We play at the House of Blues every year.



Along the Riverwalk at the Colorado Belle

Friday-Sunday, February 17-19. Fri-Sat (2 p.m.-10 p.m.); Sun (noon-7 p.m.). Free, food/beverages sold separately