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Crawfish Fest features Cajun comfort
Annual festival highlights crawdads, zydeco and Cajun cuisine
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J.B.’s ZydecoZoo performs Friday, April 5, 7 to 11 p.m., at the 15th annual Crawfish Festival at the Cajun Café on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd.
PINELLAS PARK – Crawfish, crawdads, crayfish – no matter what they’re called, the Cajun comfort food is in season and a celebration is required.

The 16th annual Crawfish Festival will run Friday through Sunday, April 5-7, at Cajun Café on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park.

Admission at the gate for adults is $15 on Friday, $20 on Saturday and $20 on Sunday. Admission at the gate for children ages 3 to 14 is $3 each day. Children 2 and younger will be admitted free with a paying adult. Advance tickets are $10 for Friday, $20 for Saturday and $20 for Sunday. A three-day pass also will be available for $25 in advance or $30 at the gate. For advance tickets, visit Etix.com.

As usual, the highlight of the festival will be those tasty freshwater crustaceans that look like miniature lobsters. The crawfish will be served up in authentic Cajun and Louisiana style. When in season, Cajun Café offers boiled crawfish as a dine-in special, available only as long as the supply lasts. The generous helping is served piping hot with corn on the cob, potatoes, onions and bay leaves.

Since it doesn’t seem right to partake in this uniquely Cajun experience without musical accompaniment, organizers also have lined up fitting entertainment in the form of zydeco music and dancing. The festival also will feature plenty of authentic Cajun food, fine craft ales and an art exhibit.

Cajun comfort food

Crawfish are plentiful in the swamps and marshes of south Louisiana and 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 Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, John Wilson & the Zydeco Houserockers, J.B.'s ZydecoZoo and Ramblegrass.

Curley Taylor was born and raised in Louisiana and has been around music all of this life.

Taylor was 16 when he started playing drums in his father’s band, Jude Taylor & His Burning Flames. By the time he was in his mid-20s, Taylor found himself with an impressive résumé: He had performed with many of Louisiana's music legends.

While on the road with CJ Chenier, Taylor took up the accordion. Over a six-month period, he learned to play the instrument. Not long after, he formed a band featuring Keith Clements on keyboards and Erick Minix on drums.

Taylor’s first CD, “Country Boy,” earned the respect of zydeco fans and music critics. Reviews compared his accordion playing to that of the late Beau Jocque.

According to his Myspace page, John Wilson is an Iberia Parish native.

Growing up in the heart of Louisiana's Acadia Bayou country, Wilson was playing harmonica and triple-row accordion by age 12. Zydeco ran in the family: Wilson’s style was heavily influenced by an uncle along with other performers who frequently played the roadhouses of Southwest Louisiana. As a rising young zydeco personality, Wilson formed his Zydeco House Rockers in 1991 and quickly established the band as a favorite on the zydeco dance hall circuit.

The band’s first big break came in 1993 when the Zydeco House Rockers were invited to perform at the Silda Jazz Festival, Norway’s signature international jazz fest.

Not all zydeco bands are based in the Creole counties of Louisiana: J.B.’s ZydecoZoo hails from Florida.

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.

This year’s tentative festival schedule is as follows:

Friday, April 5

• Gates open – 5 p.m.

• Ramblegrass – 5 to 7 p.m.

• J.B.’s ZydecoZoo – 7 to 11 p.m.

Saturday, April 6

• Gates open – 1 p.m.

• Ramblegrass Band – 1 to 2:30 p.m.

• J.B.’s ZydecoZoo – 2:30 to 4 p.m.

• John Wilson & the Zydeco House Rockers – 4 to 7 p.m.

• Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trobule – 7 to 11 p.m.

Sunday, April 7

• Gates open – 1 p.m.

• John Wilson & the Zydeco House Rockers – 1 to 4 p.m.

• Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble – 4 to 8 p.m.

Exhibiting artist

Susie Gyarmathy will dsplay some of her work at Cajun Café on the Bayou during the upcoming Crawfish Festival.

Gyarmathy was born and raised in Pinellas County and her paintings depict local wildlife and beach scenes – particularly those images she remembers from her childhood.

A mixed media artist, Gyarmathy is currently concentrating on acrylic painting. She has no formal art training, but she has always been involved in some sort of creative process.

“I began painting in 2010, with a mural on my grandbaby’s playroom wall, followed by a canvas painting that my oldest daughter had requested,” Gyarmathy says in her artist bio on her website. “Once I picked up the brush, I didn’t want to put it down. In 2011, I participated in three small art festivals, one of which was a juried fine art festival.”

For more information about Gyarmathy, visit www.sandytoeswarmheart.com.

Festival information

The festival grounds are located outside Cajun Café on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park.

Parking is free and parking attendants will direct attendee to a parking space. Cajun Café on the Bayou prohibits bringing the following items to festival grounds:

• Alcohol of any kind

• Glass containers

• Coolers (large or small)

• Animals (service animals with documents will be allowed)

• Knives or weapons of any kind

Additionally, no beverages may be brought into or out of the festival gates.

For information, visit www.cajuncafeonthebayou.com.
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