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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 02:08 pm

Zydeco welcomes Mardi Gras

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Dwayne Dopsie does Zydeco at the Capital City Bar

Back in August of 2010 Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers dropped into town for a concert and fundraiser hosted by Tim Kodyra of Meatsmack to benefit Jimmy “the Meatman” Weinheoft. The fun in the sun show out at the lake was such a rousing success Tim signed them up for a return visit, this time in a different season and location.

The national touring group of highly touted musicians sets up camp Feb. 19 at the Capital City Bar and Grill only a few weeks from the March 8 date of Mardi Gras, 2011. All that upcoming Carnival, Fat Tuesday, Lent and other party-related stuff makes this show with a real, honest to goodness, New Orleans-based Zydeco band, a sweet segue into the season.

To refresh your memory on these odd terms, Zydeco is a blues-oriented version of Cajun Creole band music from southern Louisiana complete with accordion, washboard and two-step beats. One of the most famous of the Zydeco/Cajun purveyors was Clifton Chenier who toured and recorded from the ’50s through the ’80s achieving serious industry recognition. Rockin’ Dopsie, another accordionist of the Zydeco mode, best known to the masses for playing accordion on the Paul Simon Graceland cut, “That Was Your Mother,” is the father of Dwayne, the subject of our feature.

From this musical heritage Dwayne became immersed in Zydeco from a very young age, playing the washboard by 4, the accordion by 7 and on stage performing as a professional musician only a few years later. After years of playing around (so to speak), Dwayne formed his own band and hit the road to steady success, performing his particular brand of barroom Zydeco all across the country. His older brother Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr., also does the Zydeco thing for a living, thereby making making music a truly family affair.

This year the lunar calculations to figure when Easter lands (in a beautifully natural configuration, it’s the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox) put the resurrection recognition day on April 24. Christian calendar planners then count backwards 40 days to deduce the beginning of Lent. This is important to us because Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and the day before that is Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras, one of the biggest party nights in the Western world.

Before committing to 40 days of fastidious fasting leading up to Easter, some resourceful religious devotees party very hardy on the days before the implementation of the restrictions and in that feasting lies the genesis of Mardi Gras, Carnival and all parties pertaining to the lessons of Lent. Of course the beauteous reality of this concept is simply this: you must be a member of the church club to do the religious stuff, but any simpleton or wise guy can partake in the party side of Lent.

But hey, it’s any excuse for a party and the long traditions of Mardi Gras and Carnival far outweigh or at least are as important as, the invented religious holidays and celebrations that inspired the involved and intricate revelries. Locally we’ve had Mardi Gras happenings the last few years downtown and Chatham hosts a fun party as well. St. Louis’s Soulard district puts on one of the nation’s top gatherings outside of New Orleans. But nothing tops Mardi Gras in the Crescent City with all the fantastic floats, bizarre beings, bunches of beads, fabulous food and of course copious amounts of alcohol often imbibed in the famed drink known as the Hurricane.

And all this discussion of Mardi Gras then leads us back to Zydeco, a distinct American music born in the bayous of southern Louisiana and nurtured in New Orleans and delivered to Springfield through the work and travels of Dwayne Dopsie.  

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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