The lead singer in Cha Wa, the first band I saw at the Crawfish Fest at Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta on Saturday, was dressed in brightly colorful, beaded and feathered Mardi Gras Indian regalia — the kind of outfit that has been made in New Orleans by hand, with painstaking attention to detail, for many generations. And Amanda Shaw, the leader of the last band I saw, was wearing a Simpsons T-Shirt.
Similarly, there was an incredible range in the music I heard throughout the day. Most of it was obviously steeped in Louisiana traditions, but also open to new possibilities, as in the Brass-a-Holics’ mix of traditional New Orleans brass band music and modern funk, or Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes’ electric cello solos and ebullient covers of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” Just about anything was possible.
The 27th annual Crawfish Fest ends today, with The Funky Meters, Cowboy Mouth, Marcia Ball and others. Weather may play a significant part in the day’s events, but was only a minor factor on Saturday, with some light rain that did become heavy, but only briefly, late in the day.
I divided my time between the Main Stage (on a large field, where some people can’t even see the stage), the smaller Pavilion Stage (a more nightclub-like atmosphere) and the Dance Hall (where lots of people do, indeed, dance), and usually didn’t stay for full sets, in order to see as many different acts as possible.
Most were, literally, from Louisiana, though New Jersey was represented most prominently by From Good Homes, the veteran roots-rock band that gets together these days only for occasional reunion gigs. They made sure to open with “Fruitful Acre,” a song of theirs that recycles a riff from the New Orleans standard, “My Toot Toot,” and played lots of old favorites, such as “Second Red Barn on the Right,” “Suzanna Walker,” “Rain Dance” and “Comin’ on Home.” For their first encore, they honored the late singer-songwriter Guy Clark with a cover of his “Homegrown Tomatoes.”
I missed parts of their set, though, to check out a little of the bluesy singer Jon Cleary on the Pavilion Stage (though, as he noted, in New Orleans even the blues is funky), and 25-year-old fiddler Shaw in the Dance Hall. That’s the kind of festival the Crawfish Fest is: You can’t hear it all, so you just move around and hear as much as possible — in between visits to the food tents, which are for many people, I suspect, as much of an attraction as the music, with their opportunities to sample boiled crawfish, jambalaya, alligator sausage and other Louisiana delicacies.
There’s also overnight camping, for those who really want to make a weekend of it, but I was there just in the day.
Early on in the Dance Hall, I had seen The Revelers play a traditional tune, using just two fiddles and a triangle. For me, though, the most powerful blast from the past came from Cha Wa, fronted by Spy Boy J’Wan Boudreaux — grandson of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles, who was one of the major figures responsible of bringing wild, celebratory Mardi Gras Indian music to a national audience for the first time, in the ’70s and ’80s.
J’Wan Boudreaux is still quite young, but he seems to have this music in his bones: He and the band performed Mardi Gras Indian standards such as “Little Liza Jane,” “Hey Pocky-a-Way” and “All on Mardi Gras Day” with percolating funk beats and virtuosic horn solos. More than any other music on this day, it seems to have been transported — directly, magically — from the streets of New Orleans to a rural setting in Northwestern New Jersey.
Here is today’s schedule. For information, visit crawfishfest.com.
11:30 a.m.: Marcia Ball
1 p.m.: Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas
2:30 p.m.: Cowboy Mouth
5 p.m.: The Funky Meters
11:30 a.m.: Alexis P. Suter and the Ministers of Sound
1 p.m.: King James and the Special Men
3 p.m.: Samantha Fish
5:15 p.m.: Marcia Ball
11 a.m.: Cajun/Zydeco Dance Lessons
12:15 p.m.: David Greely Trio
2:45 p.m.: The Revelers
5:30 p.m.: Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas
11 a.m.-5 p.m.: Face painting
1 p.m.: Marcia Ball (workshop)
2:45 p.m.: George Porter Jr.