The 2nd Bristol Cajun & Zydeco Festival

Friday 16 to Sunday 18 September 2005

Following the success of the first festival last year it was no surprise that everything ran equally smoothly in Year 2.  This is thanks to the hard work of Alan Gardiner, Satu Phillips and many others including Carole Lateman who had selected and booked the up-tempo Cajun and Zydeco bands for the weekend.  Friday night kicked off with The Hackney Ramblers, fronted by Tony Weatherall on the accordion, and well known as one of the top British Cajun bands. They soon got everyone into the festival mood.  In the interval we had a cabaret – a superb display of lindy hop from Hoppin’ Mad including the occasional back-flip (don’t try this at home!).  For those still with energy there were late night sessions on Friday and Saturday at The Tantric Café – a short walk away.  Listening and dancing went on ‘till about 3am.

The venue for the festival was The Folk House again and this is an ideal place to hold it.  Situated in a central Bristol location in Park Street you enter through a covered alley (which could easily be missed – especially as the organisers were prevented from putting up a temporary sign) and this leads into a delightful mature walled garden with plenty of chairs and tables including in  a pergola and on a small balcony.  The ground floor of the building was a café bar and the fare included a selection of English and Cajun food (at £ 4 for a main course).  All inside areas were non-smoking, but it was such a warm sunny weekend that many people took their food out into the garden to eat.  During the weekend I tried stuffed aubergine which was delicious and chicken etouffee which was good but could have been a little more spicy for my taste.  It was worth mentioning that the surrounding area is full of all types of restaurant within a few minutes walk including a branch of Wagamana (Japanese style noodle bar), several bistro type restaurants, a tea house and a Wetherspoon’s pub which was offering 2 meals for £ 5.99 at any time!

The Folk House is on a hill and the dance hall had windows along one side.  With a couple of air coolers and lots of fans around the room we just about kept cool enough.  Although the festival was well attended the dance floor was less crowded than at some festivals.  Apart from enjoyment the festival had a purpose which was to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  This started with a raffle on Friday and an auction on Saturday. Also Satu had also organised a number of imaginative fund-raising games for the intervals.  In all £ 724 was raised (including £ 80 from Carole SwampRock fundraiser gig on 10 September) and this was split between the American Red Cross and MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund who received $ 660 each.  Thanks also are due to Martyn Day from the Crane River Cajuns who was the auctioneer and MC for the games.

Saturday morning had the first Cajun dance workshop with Kay Anderson.  I didn’t go to this, but it was such a pleasant warm morning that I walked around the Floating Harbour.  Crossing Pero’s Bridge (named after an 18th century slave), with its two enormous horn sculptures, there was an organic market on Harbour Quay.  After this I crossed the main part of docks at Princes Street Bridge and visited the Industrial Museum which covers Bristol’s heritage, then walked East along pretty waterside streets before crossing back at Redcliffe Bridge.  I had a look around the Arnolfilni art gallery (also free) with interesting modern exhibits plus Turner’s Norham Castle, Sunrise which was on loan from The Tate. 

Crane River Cajuns played for the Saturday lunchtime dance.  There are lively group of five from London and three of them sing – Jim Bean, Martyn Day and Stephanie Graffitti.  The two hours included some of their original numbers as well as classic two-steps and waltzes.  Later in the afternoon we had the first Zydeco workshop with Amrik Singh and Mary Elms.  They not only demo well, but are really good teachers – not always the case with Zydeco instructors.  For the evening dance we had the wonderful Joe le Taxi which now has Danny Del Rio on rubboard.  Fronted by Rees Wesson on accordion and vocals this band can’t go wrong for me.  I especially love their version of the Mardi Gras Song.

At Sunday lunchtime after the second Zydeco workshop we had Lil’ Jim & Deepzone Zydeco.  This 17 year old accordion maestro emerged at Gloucester Cajun & Zydeco Festival.  Backed up by members of R Cajun and Zydecomotion including Chris Hall, it was a real hardcore Zydeco session.  Later in the afternoon Kay Anderson put on her second Cajun dance workshop and the festival ended with Elvis Fontenot and the Sugar Bees in the evening with their exciting mix and Cajun, Zydeco, rock, soul and blues.  It was a great weekend and I look forward to the next.

Nigel Worthington