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Cajun-Zydeco Festival two-steps on over to Armstrong Park

9th June 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Celebrating its 8th year, the Cajun-Zydeco Festival (June 14th and 15th) finds a new home in Armstrong Park. The event was formerly held at the U.S. Mint in conjunction with the Creole Tomato Festival. The new site offers a lot more shade, the lovely fountains plus space and grass for folks to either kick-up their heels or just kick back. The only downside is that instead of presenting music on two stages, the festival is being whittled down to one. That means that fewer bands will perform over the two-day event though the hours are extended from 11 am to 8 pm. The schedule, however, offers a taste of the cream of the crop of artists from indigenous southwestern Louisiana musical genres – Cajun and zydeco. Grammy-winning Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet and Buckwheat Zydeco stand as giants in their respective styles.

It’s been four years since Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural played at the Cajun-Zydeco Festival. Since the accordionist/organist/vocalist is on the road so much, each of his local performances becomes that much more special. His Jazz Fest set stood as one of the highlights of the entire event with accordionists including C.J. Chenier and Terrance Simien, rubboard man Rockin’ Dopsie and vocalist Zachary Richard all jumpin’ on stage to pay tribute to Buckwheat.

“We had some fun, I tell you,” Buckwheat agrees. “It was a blessing. When I see people out there with a smile on their faces, I’m rewarded. I’m just a people person. That’s what I’m there for, to make you happy.”

Buckwheat’s son, Reg, whose given name is (amazingly) Sir Reginald Master Dural, particularly impressed at Jazz Fest. He’s a strong rubboard player but then, in a move that might have been a first for many in the audience, he play?ed the keyboard side of Buck?wheat’s accordion at the same time as his father.

“We do that every once in awhile,” says Buckwheat, adding that he sometimes invites an audience member up to play with him. “I give them one note to hold and tell them, ‘Don’t let go!’”

At age 16, Reginald, now forty?something, began working with his father as a roadie, took up the washboard and then Buck?wheat taught him to play organ. At the Fest, he manned the accordion when Buckwheat moved over to the big Hammond B-3. “He’s very musically inclined and just a very, very good musician,” Buckwheat says proudly. “I’m not bragging. It’s just a fact.”

Buckwheat, still a country guy at heart, lives on seven acres of land in Carencro, Louisiana just four miles north of Lafayette where he grew up. “I raise sheep, dogs and cats,” he says laughing. Finding shearing sheep to be too much work, he changed breeds and says now he just likes having them around. “I don’t have to get on my tractor like I used to do. They help me out with the grass and I take care of them.”

Despite those deep roots, he says that being on the road is his home ways from home. “I love what I do,” declares Buckwheat whose career stretches back to the late 1950s when he played organ with such noted artists as Joe Tex and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. That led to him forming his own, 15-piece, organ-driven funk band, Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers. Though his father, a push-button accordionist who performed Cre?ole or La La music, encouraged Buckwheat to take up the accordion and get involved with zydeco, it wasn’t until he played with the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier that he was at all interested in the genre. He spent two years playing organ behind Chenier before he began to “shed” on the accordion himself and eventually form his own band simply known as Buckwheat Zydeco.

It’s been a long time since Buckwheat, whose name since childhood, came from a character in the “Our Gang/Little Rascals” film series, found inspiration from the likes of Fats Domino to “bang” on the piano keys in his pre-teen years. “I love Fats,” declares Buckwheat who still performs Domino’s hits like “Walking to New Orleans.” Highly influenced by the music coming out of the big city, Buckwheat continues to pay homage to his rhythm and blues roots covering tunes like Lee Dorsey’s 1962 chart-topping hit, “Ya Ya.” He got his first organ at age nine and graduated to the Hammond B-3 when he was 16. “I still have it, says Buckwheat who delved into the legendary, jazz organ greats like Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff. “That’s what I was listening to coming up,” says Buckwheat who still considers the organ as his signature instrument.

Buckwheat has come a long, long way since he first strapped on the big, piano-keyboard accordion. With multiple Grammy nominations and a win for 2009’s killer Lay Your Burden Down, he stands as the top dog on the zydeco scene an arena that, presumably because of its country/swampy roots has always celebrated animals. Think Chenier’s often performed “I’m a Hog for You Baby.”

Buckwheat also boasts a modern outlook and will soon be the subject of an online video, “Buck?wheat’s World.” He also writes a blog for the much-respected Huffington Post and was the surprise guest on host Jimmy Fallon’s final airing of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and performed with the knock-out house band The Roots.

“It was fantastic,” Buckwheat enthusiastically declares. “You don’t get no better. They were very professional and professionalism and personality go together – you can’t have one without the other – and they have that. It was very fun to play with those cats and they have fun. With Fallon, how can you not? He can do just anything.”

At the Cajun-Zydeco Festival, where he’ll close out Saturday’s schedule beginning at 6:45 p.m., Buckwheat has the luxury of bringing down some of his long-time horn players who no longer travel with the band. “I’m a horn fanatic,” says Buckwheat who played saxophone during his elementary and high school years.

Old school, new school and Cajun and zydeco upstarts are all onboard at the Cajun-Zydeco Festival that runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The always energetic push-button accordionist and vocalist Rosie Ledet, the “Zydeco Sweetheart” two-steps it out on her closing set in beautiful Armstrong Park on Sunday.

This article originally published in the June 9, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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