At one point yesterday at the Crawfish Fest, the Honey Island Swamp Band, appearing on the main stage, was presenting the kind of virtuosic set that might go over well on the jam band circuit, while the Stooges Brass Band were playing ferociously hard-driving party dance-funk music on the second stage, and, in the dance hall, Jesse Lége & Bayou Brew were keeping couples gliding around a sawdust-cover floor with their traditional Cajun music.
It was a typical moment for the festival, now in its 26th year.
The Crawfish Fest — which ends today at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta with a lineup headlined by the legendary Dr. John — offers a wide-ranging mix of Louisiana music to go along with its assortment of Louisiana food (boiled crawfish, jambalaya, po’ boys and so on). It’s a relaxed festival — bands don’t shuffle on and off the stage quickly, like they often do at other fests, but get to stretch out with 90-minute or even two-hour sets. And audience members don’t seem to be preoccupied with rushing around so that they don’t miss a minute of their favorite act, or elbowing people aside so they can stand as close to the stage as possible.
In some ways, the festival resembles a giant tailgate party. The differences are that people hang out under tents or on blankets instead of by their cars, they buy food from vendors instead of grilling their own, and live music being played on the main stage off in the distance, rather than a boombox, provides the soundtrack.
The first full day of the festival, yesterday, offered, as its main attractions, Anders Osborne and Sussex County’s own From Good Homes (“I came all the way from Frankford, myself, to be here today,” joked FGH frontman Todd Sheaffer). And neither disappointed.
Osborne, a native of Sweden who has lived in New Orleans since the ’80s, played a little bit of everything — reggae, heavy blues, pop, spacey jazz — but he and his band dependably built to big, dramatic finishes no matter what the song’s musical style was. They peaked with the funky “Stoned, Drunk & Naked,” featuring guest organist John Ginty.
Ginty, a New Jerseyan, also joined From Good Homes for their entire set, whose highlights included the intense, prayer-like”Rain Dance” and the good-time jam “Second Red Barn on the Right.”
FGH was one of New Jersey’s most popular home-grown bands in the ’90s, though the group stopped playing together regularly about 15 years ago, and its members pursued other projects: Sheaffer now fronts Railroad Earth, for example, while bassist Brady Rymer has become a Grammy-nominated children’s artist, and drummer Patrick Fitzimmons stepped out from behind his kit to become a singer-songwriter. They still reunite occasionally, though, and still can draw a large, enthusiastic crowd, at least in New Jersey.
They’re a rare example of a Crawfish Fest band that doesn’t have a strong connection to Louisiana, though they do have a slight one one. They recorded their 1995 album Open Up the Sky in New Orleans, Sheaffer mentioned when introducing “Fruitful Acre,” a song that recycles a riff from the New Orleans standard, “My Toot Toot.”
Here is today’s Crawfish Fest schedule. For information, visit crawfishfest.com.
11:30 a.m.: C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band
1 p.m.: Jarekus Singleton
2:30 p.m.: George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners
5 p.m.: Dr. John
Jager Pavilion Stage
11:30 a.m.: The Matt Angus Thing with Anthony Morgan’s Inspirational Choir of Harlem.
1 p.m.: Nikki Hill
3 p.m.: Marc Broussard
5:15 p.m.: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds
11 a.m.: Cajun dance lessons
12:30 p.m.: Jesse Lége & Bayou Brew
2:30 p.m.: Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys
5 p.m.: C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band
11 a.m.-5 p.m.: Face painting
1 p.m.: Workshop with Rosie Ledet
2:45 p.m.: Workshop with C.J. Chenier