Tab Benoit, who performed last on the main stage on the first full day of this year’s edition of Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Fest (June 4), at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, had the perfect song saved for his encore: “Crawfishin’,” an anthem about catching crawfish and eating them.
“If I don’t get some soon, I’m gonna die,” he sang.
This may have been a big of an exaggeration. But it was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of this annual event’s return after a two-year, COVID-induced hiatus, with nearly perfect outdoor festival weather — dry and hot (but not too hot), with a slight breeze at times — helping to enhance the experience.
The three-day festival ends today. See the lineup below.
The Crawfish Fest is, of course, a celebration of both Louisiana music and Louisiana food, with the crawfish and many of the musicians imported directly from that state. The main stage, where listeners sit or stand on a huge field, tends to offer the kind of aggressive blues-rock and New Orleans party music that works well in large spaces. You’re more likely to hear down-home Cajun or zydeco music on the smaller Pavilion Stage, or in the dance tent, with some soul and gospel and funk mixed in as well, everywhere.
You also tend to hear a lot of songs about food at Crawfish Fest. In addition to “Crawfishin’ ” — which Benoit, who is from Houma, La., introduced with a talk about eating crawfish “fresh out the ditch” back home — he performed “We Make a Good Gumbo,” with lines such as, “My baby got the fire/And I got the roux/We make a good gumbo/Oh, yes we do.”
But his set also included his fast, urgent version of the Bobby Charles-written, Muddy Waters-recorded protest song about meanness in the world, “Why Are People Like That,” an intense cover of the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” (see video below), slow blues numbers like “Nothing Takes the Place of You” and “Too Many Dirty Dishes,” the galloping “Night Train,” and more — each song featuring a blistering guitar solo, or two.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a New Orleans institution for the last 45 years, preceded Benoit on the main stage. Performing as a septet, with five horn players plus a drummer and guitarist, the band played well known songs from New Orleans and beyond — including Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time,” The Meters’ “Hey Pocky a-Way,” Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’ ” and James Brown’s “Super Bad” — but also detoured into long, musically eclectic jams, and invited women from the audience to dance with them onstage.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Jonathan Long, a Baton Rouge native, was more in the Benoit mode. Like Benoit, he performed as part of a hard-hitting power trio. And he had a gruffly soulful vocal style, lots of muscular guitar solos, and a bit of topicality via “Blues Revolution,” where he sang “We got a high cost of living but they ain’t raised the pay” and urged listeners to “start a revolution today.”
He also ventured into the crowd to take long solos on both this song and a cover of Michael Burks’ “Empty Promises.” And after his set was over, hung out in the crowd for the rest of the day, enjoying the music like everyone else.
It’s looking like the weather will be just good today as it was yesterday. Here is the June 5 schedule:
11:30 a.m.: Ally Venable
1 p.m.: Bonerama
2:45 p.m.: Big Sam’s Funky Nation
5 p.m.: Samantha Fish
11:30 a.m.: United by Music USA Blues Gospel Show
1 p.m.: Erica Falls
3:15 p.m.: Honey Island Swamp Band
5:15 p.m.: Flow Tribe
11 a.m.: Cajun/Zydeco dance lessons
12:30 p.m.: Jesse Lége & Bayou Brew
2:45 p.m.: Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys
5:30 p.m.: Terry & the Zydeco Bad Boys
For information, visit crawfishfest.com.
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