The 1st Bristol Cajun & Zydeco Festival

Friday 8 to Sunday 9 October 2004

For a first festival Alan Gardiner and Philippa Woodcock are to be congratulated – this event was really well planned and very enjoyable – a sentiment echoed by most of the observations I read in the Comment Book and by dancers I spoke to.

The festival took place in Bristol Folk House – close to the centre of Bristol and with shops and restaurants nearby – though of course it had its own food too (Cajun needless to say). Entering through a covered alleyway we came to an enclosed garden with tables and chairs before entering the venue. On the ground floor was a large food and bar area before going downstairs to a large dance room with a wooden floor. As the venue was on a hill this was not a basement but got some daylight from one side. During the dances the benefit of ceiling fans and several floor standing fans was very much appreciated. Smoking was not allowed in this room, or in part of the bar/cafe area. I did not get round to trying the Cajun food there, but I can say the home-made cakes were good!

The festival kicked off on Friday night with a pre-dance free Cajun workshop with Kay Anderson followed by the Boat Band. In the interval we were entertained by the Applejacks Appalachian Dancers. The second set from the Boat Band included some very pretty tunes and I would like to find out the name of the last waltz they played. On both Friday and Saturday there were free late night jam sessions at the nearby Tantric Jazz Café until 3.00am.

Saturday morning held both Cajun and accordion workshops. I didn’t go to these but instead walked through the delightful Clifton area with old stone houses, little parks and winding streets to see an old friend. I did make the lunchtime Cajun dance with Whiskey River, however, which was lively and well attended. After this several of us went down to the Floating Harbour which is a large dock area in the centre of Bristol and had a late lunch in Mad Dock – an upper floor cabin overlooking the water. The city has a lot of appeal. It would have been good to have seen Clifton Suspension Bridge again, and the gorge where the road in from the west is surely the most attractive entrance to any UK city. Also to stroll on Clifton Downs – perhaps taking in a relic from the Victorian era – the Camera Obscura.

Phil Underwood gave a Zydeco dance workshop on Saturday afternoon and then his band Zyderythmics played in the evening. It was the perfect choice of band with their highly danceable Zydeco music and beautiful singing from Phil, Sue Warren and Steve Hennings. In the interval we had a cabaret – this time with Ann and Graeme of Hoppin’ Mad swing-jive dancers. With enough people to create a really good atmosphere (and hopefully to cover costs) there was still space to dance. Altogether it was a great evening.

Several of us – from London, Oxford, even Belgium – were staying at the Clifton Hotel which is about 10 minutes walk from the venue. It cost £ 45 per night for a single room including an excellent breakfast. The reception staff were friendly and helpful. The Washington – almost next door – is owned by the same group. One advantage of Bristol is that you don’t really need a car. I came on the train to Bristol Temple Meads – 1 ¾ hours from London – made more comfortable by upgrading to First Class for only £ 1 extra return – with a free glass of wine too. On the short taxi journey to the hotel I asked the taxi driver what had changed in Bristol over the last 10 years. He said very little had changed, but they did sell a flyover to the Middle East! How do you sell a flyover? Turned out it was a “temporary flyover” – something like a Bailey Bridge, I think.  It’s now a roundabout.

On Sunday there were further Zydeco and Cajun workshops and a lunchtime Zydeco dance with K-Zee. This was followed by a fiddle workshop and then Breaux played for the final evening. The two cabarets on Friday and Saturday evenings were very professional and a nice bonus. All in all there was really good attention to detail at this festival and the music was great. I look forward to next year’s.

Nigel Worthington