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Catch the Mardi Gras spirit in May at Gator By the Bay

Gator By the Bay

Written By Wendy Lemlin

10,000 lbs of crawfish ready to be devoured. Dance floors filled with happy feet, twirling to Cajun waltzes and joyously two-stepping to a lively creole zydeco beat. The lilt of fiddles, the syncopation of rubboards, the trill of accordions filling the balmy air… Yes, you might think you're in the Cajun Country of southwest Louisiana, but you can skip the heat and humidity and enjoy life right here in San Diego for the 15th annual Gator By the Bay Festival on May 5-8, 2016. With over 90 performances on seven stages, the festival showcases not only Grammy winning Cajun and zydeco artists directly from Louisiana, but also legendary Chicago and California blues performers, rockabilly, roots and world music, and award-winning salsa and Latin bands. The festival attracts enthusiasts from all over the U.S. and beyond, to eat every last one of those crawfish, soak up the SoCal sunshine, and dance their boots off on the shores of San Diego Bay.

Not familiar with the sounds of Cajun and zydeco music? Cajun music has its roots in the traditions of the French Acadians (aka Cajuns), who settled southwest Louisiana in the mid-1700s. This is music made for dancing with joy, with the sounds of accordion and fiddle front and center. The wilder, looser sister to Cajun music, zydeco stems from the mixed-race Creole people, taking the airs and waltzes of the Cajuns, and infusing the tunes with African, Caribbean and Native American influences, resulting in a rollicking, up-tempo, heavily syncopated sound. It’s impossible to listen to the highly infectious music of either genre and not want to get up and shake a leg or booty.

To get things rolling in high gear, the festival kicks off on Thursday night, May 5, with a zydeco concert featuring Grammy-nominated C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band. C.J. is the son of the late great “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, considered the father of modern zydeco. Continuing May 6-8, the eclectic music schedule not only showcases Cajun and zydeco headliners from Louisiana including Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys, Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble, and Grammy nominees Bonsoir Catin, but also such blues heavyweights as Roy Rogers, John Nèmeth, Curtis Salgado, Kid Andersen, Sugaray Rayford, and The 44s with Kid Ramos. Filling in the schedule is a full roster of local favorites, such as Johnny Vernazza, Sue Palmer, “Harmonica John” Frazer, “Big Jon” Atkinson, The Manny Cepeda Orchestra, Bayou Brothers, and many, many more. Especially look for exciting musical “mashups,” presenting combinations of individual artists not heard anywhere else.

Gator By the Bay is more than just another music festival. Its family-friendly appeal is also about food, culture, and the Mardi Gras spirit of joie de vivre. Free dance lessons of all types, music and culture workshops, including a blues harmonica workshop in which 75 free harmonicas will be given out, cooking demos of classic Louisiana dishes, New Orleans-style “Second Line” parades led by Euphoria Brass Band and an extravagantly costumed traditional Mardi Gras Indian, and the first ever Bourbon Street Food Court Kazoo Parade, with free kazoos for the first 100 participants, as well as plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained, make Gator By the Bay the ideal way to celebrate Mother’s Day weekend in San Diego.

Gator By the Bay is held at Spanish Landing Park on Harbor Drive, across from San Diego International Airport. All ticket, schedule, artist bios, and general festival information can be found at www.GatorBytheBay.com.