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Crawfish Festival features zydeco fun
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Photo courtesy of J.B.’S ZYDECOZOO
J.B.’s ZydecoZoo performs at this year’s Crawfish Festival at Cajun Café on the Bayou.
PINELLAS PARK – It’s time for a party on the bayou. The 17th annual Crawfish Festival runs Friday through Sunday, April 4-6, at Cajun Café on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd.

There will be plenty of boiled crawfish as well as authentic Cajun food, live music and dancing and free dance lessons with Dwight Dupree.

That’s right: Those wee critters considered Cajun comfort food are in season. No matter what specific term one might prefer – crawfish, crawdads, crayfish – this annual festival serves to celebrate the regional delicacy along with Cajun culture.

As if all that wasn’t sufficient, this year’s event features something for craft beer enthusiasts. Cajun Café will be serving six craft beers on tap at the back bar in addition to the usual bottles. On Saturday, Greg Rapp, owner and brewer at Rapp Brewing, will be on hand to serve six Rapp beers from a second bar, starting at 3 p.m.

Admission at the gate for adults is $10 on Friday, $15 on Saturday and $10 on Sunday.

This year’s tentative festival schedule is as follows:

Friday, April 4

• J.B.’s ZydecoZoo – 5 to 8 p.m.
• Donna Angelle & the Zydeco Posse – 8 to 11 p.m.

Saturday, April 5

• J.B.’s ZydecoZoo – 2 to 5 p.m.
• Donna Angelle & the Zydeco Posse – 5 to 8 p.m.
• Wayne Singleton & Same Ol' 2 Step – 8 to 11 p.m.

Sunday, April 6

• Donna Angelle & the Zydeco Posse 2 to 5 p.m.
• Wayne Singleton & Same Ol' 2 Step – 5 to 8 p.m.

The annual event takes place on festival grounds located outside Cajun Café on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park. Paul and Rebecca Unwin, the current owners of the restaurant, oversee the festival.

Cajun Café on the Bayou was established in 1996 by Rebecca’s father, Joe Thibodaux of Thibodaux, La. Thibodaux hand-selected his favorite recipes from friends and family in the Thibodaux area to develop the café’s original menu. Most of his favorites are still served at Cajun Cafe on the Bayou to this day.

The restaurant is known for its freshly cooked, authentic Cajun and Louisiana cuisine as well as its selection of craft ales on draught and in bottles.

Visit www.c­ajunc­afeon­theba­you.c­om.

Cajun comfort food

Crawfish are plentiful in the swamps and marshes of south Louisiana and are considered a Cajun comfort food. According to the website of the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board, in addition to wild-caught crawfish – particularly from the Atchafalya Basin – there are thousands of acres of crawfish ponds managed by farmers in the lower Gulf Coast regions that provide a consistent and readily available supply of fresh crawfish.

Most crawfish are harvested between December and June, but March, April and May are the peak months when Louisiana supplies are greatest and quality is best.

The board reports that the combined annual yield ranges from 120 million to 150 million pounds of crawfish, with the total economic contribution to the Louisiana economy exceeding $300 million annually. It is estimated that more than 7,000 people depend directly or indirectly on the crawfish industry in Louisiana.

Crawfish are an excellent source of high-quality protein. They are low in calories, fat and saturated fat. According to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board, crawfish also are a good source of vitamin B12, niacin, iron, copper and selenium.

Zydeco band lineup

Zydeco evolved in the bayou country of Louisiana in the 19th century, derived from Creole musical traditions. It combines tunes of French origin with elements of Caribbean music, blues and roots music. Some of today’s zydeco artists embrace modern genre components, as well, such as soul, reggae, hip-hop and ska.

Scheduled to perform at this year’s Crawfish Festival are J.B.'s ZydecoZoo, Donna Angelle & the Zydeco Posse and Wayne Singleton & Same Ol’ 2 Step.

Pianist John Babich – J.B. – was so enamored with the city of New Orleans and its musical heritage that he felt compelled to acquire an accordion and start playing zydeco shows in Tallahassee. After attending Florida State University’s School of Music in the 1970s, Babich became a touring musician and played in several bands. He recorded five albums with Bill Wharton.

In 2002, J.B.’s ZydecoZoo was born, debuting with a concert at an American Legion Hall in Tallahassee.

“Our music is high energy, rockin’, rhythmic zydeco in the vein of Beau Jocque, Clifton Chenier, C.J. Chenier, Rockin' Dopsie and Stanley Dural Jr.,” Babich says in his band’s biography. “Also, my debut CD release ‘J.B.'s ZydecoZoo,’ contains 10 smokin' original zydeco tunes.”

Rounding out the festival lineup is Tampa Bay’s own Ramblegrass Band, a bluegrass/jamgrass outfit featuring Bob Edwards on guitar, Mike Godwin on banjo, Phil Myers Jr. on mandolin and Jack Ray on standup bass.

Born in 1951, Donna Angelle’s parents first noticed her interest in music when she was 8 according to her biography on Sonicbids.

Encouraged by her high school music teacher, she went on to learn to play the clarinet, saxophone, viola, and flute. By the 1970s, Angelle had begun her professional music career playing keyboard for the artist Bobby Price. At the time, she was influenced by the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight, and various artists who were making appearances on “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.”

After being injured in a serious car accident, Angelle spent several years away from music. When she returned, she showcased a variety of styles such as zydeco, oldie soul, and hip-hop.

She met with Mike Lachney of Bad Weather Productions. Lachney, who produced several zydeco artists – including John Delafose, Rosie Ledet, Pee Wee and the Boll Weevils, and Lady T. – was impressed by Angelle’s soulful sound and signed her to his label. Her first record, “Zydeco Soul,” was released in 1995. It featured hits of the ’60s and ’70s with a touch of zydeco.

Wayne Singleton is founder, lead vocalist and accordionist of the band Wayne Singleton & Same Ol’ 2 Step.

According to a biography on the band’s website, Singleton was raised in Lewisburg, La., in a community centered in the area considered to be the birthplace of zydeco. He has been playing zydeco music since the age of 7.

These days, Singleton writes most of his songs. He has mastered every instrument played in his band and has earned his status among the elite of the younger zydeco musicians. Over the years, he has had the opportunity to play with many of the legendary acts, such as Beau Jocque, Zydeco Force, Keith Frank, Chris Ardoin, Sean Ardoin and Andre Thierry.
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