As I wiped the beads of perspiration from my brow, I gazed out on the sun reflecting on the murky water and pondered if it was the humidity or too much Tabasco. I swear I saw a snowy egret gracefully take flight from the water as the sweet sounds of zydeco music drifted off from a distance. Was I really seeing this, or was this a primordial flashback to the swamps and bayous of Louisiana? "Hmmm," I confusingly mumbled to myself, "Who cares?" I was here in Long Beach, California, to, as the Cajuns say, "let the good times roll" at this June 21 & 22, 2003 festival.

The Bruce D Band bangs out
Louisiana-style Bayou Blues.

It turns out that hallucinations such as this one can be a yearly occurrence thanks to the kind people at Comprehensive Child Development, Inc., since they are the annual Long Beach Bayou Festival coordinators. CCD is a non-profit agency with an eighteen-year history of providing very important services for approximately five hundred income-eligible families in and around Long Beach. Children are cared for in safe, nurturing and educational environments by dedicated staff and licensed family child care providers who make it possible for parents to work or participate in training programs knowing that their children are being well cared for and educated. This celebration of Cajun and Zydeco food, music, dancing, and cultural heritage is more than a great time: it's their annual fundraiser, too.

I can't think of a better outdoor setting than the Queen Mary Events Park that's just a stone's throw from the massive Queen Mary and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Six major Louisiana based touring Cajun and Zydeco bands were booked to play this weekend festival. As band members talked and joked around with each other, it seemed like old home week and made me wonder as my wife, Kim, and I wandered around backstage, if these bands cross paths on a regular basis. Probably. The six outstanding bands playing at scheduled times on Saturday and Sunday were: The Redstick Ramblers Cajun Band; The Creole Zydeco Farmers; Critical Brass; Thomas "Big Hat" Fields; Bruce Daigrepont's Cajun Band; and Geno Delafose and French Rockin Boogie. Being regular visitors to N'awlins, Kim and I have seen most of these bands playing at various clubs and venues throughout New Orleans on some of our many trips to our murky, muddy spiritual homeland. Old home week? That's not such a bad thing.

Jitterbugging at the
Long Beach Bayou Festival.

While each band took turns playing amazing Cajun and Zydeco music on the center stage for the numerous folks kicking back in their beach chairs, the real action was on the huge outdoor covered wooden dance floor. Couples two-stepped, jitterbugged, gracefully waltzed, and had a great time dancing their hearts out with smiles on their faces the size of crescent moons. Some faces looked familiar to us from the twice-monthly Cajun & Zydeco dances Kim and I try to regularly attend in Pasadena. Whether you are new or old, you were welcomed out to the dance floor. Can't dance? Don't worry; all you have to do is follow. While watching the crowd which ranged from young little kids all the way up to older big kids, I had to chuckle at what I would call an award winning T-shirt that clearly summed up the mood from the jam-packed twirling dance floor: Zydehaulics Anonymous: A 2 Step Program. The frenzied pace of the dancers was awesome to watch, and made me realize that I was getting hungry just watching them work up a healthy sweat. Hmmm, now to decide what hypnotic Cajun food that was wafting throughout the park would suit my hunger pains. Something was calling to me, but I just didn't know what it was.

The Little Gumbo Book; Twenty-Seven Carefully Created Recipes That Will Enable Everyone to Enjoy the Special Experience of

The Little Gumbo Book

Here are 27 carefully created recipes that will enable everyone to enjoy the special experience of gumbo. Recipes, roux, rice, stock, seasoning, it's all in this charming little book--with step-by-step directions.

We decided to wander throughout the 15+ food venders and let our noses guide us to the best culinary treasures. This adventure is very similar to visiting N'awlins, since you are guaranteed to eat nonstop since outstanding restaurants are plentiful, and represent so many different cultures, styles and recipes. The smells of Crawfish Etouffe, warm Cornbread, Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Gumbo, Catfish, Alligator on a stick, Lobster Puffs, and Shrimp Creole tantalized the weak and hungry to drop a few bucks for a mouthwatering culinary treat. You know that the food is spicy when your nose starts to run and requires a cool beverage to wash it down. Prior to this event, I've never been told this by my wife, but this phrase forever sticks in my mind, "I love you, but you still can't have my Cornbread." Still hungry? Bourbon Pecan Cheesecake, Bread Pudding, Sweet Potato Pie and not too sweet Pecan Pralines certainly made a great ending to an amazing feast as we watched sailboats cruise lazily off in the distance.

In an effort to not burst at the seams, we felt that it was time to further relax by browsing the vendors booths. Being lucky winners, we had to support a good cause and purchase raffle tickets to hopefully win great salsas, hotel packages, and other goodies. Well, the June gloom must have put a damper on my winning mojo, since none of our twelve raffle tickets ended up winning. Oh well, at least I didn't push it any further and try my luck by attempting to climb the rock wall that had fearless kids scrambling over it like certain less than desirable bugs in humid climates. Other vendors sold artwork, tie-dyes of all colors and types; batik clothing; Blues, Cajun and zydeco CDs and lots of other stuff worth your time to browse around. Kim found the cutest alligator bandannas that just had to follow us home so our trinity of Cajun Chow Chows could be decked out in style. With names like Zydeceaux, Lagniappe, and Thibideaux, they represent our inner Cajun souls that constantly remind us of the land of Mardi Gras, beads, doubloons and of course, hurricanes.

Got mojo? Don't even know what it is? Then you need to attend one of the many free cultural and educational workshops that were going on at a different part of the Queen Mary Events Park. Topics were presented by many of the bands and ranged from Cajun vs. Creole/Zydeco: The Real Difference; Introduction to Cajun Music; History of Cajuns in New Orleans; Zydeco in the Early Days; Creole Culture; The Evolution of Zydeco Music - the Music and the Dance; and Accordion and Rub Board Presentations. It was an incredible history lesson, and unlike school, it didn't require a test afterwards.

The Bayou Festival highlight is
the Mardi Gras Parade.

The highlight of the day for Kim and I was most certainly the Mardi Gras Parade and accompanying second line of costumed dancers. It was lead by The Long Beach Bayou Festival Grand Marshal, Chief Alvin Harrison of Louisiana. He made his costume and was an Indian complete with a feathered headdress that had many icons, etc. that represented Creole and family history. As the Critical Brass Band followed the leader, they played their mournful gospel funeral music. The Bayou Festival moderator informed the crowd of the history of this deeply religious event. The parade was typical at a funeral in Louisiana.

The names of the dearly departed were read over the PA so that family, friends, neighbors and strangers could communally share in the sorrow and all could ease the pain for the survivors. Tears of sadness were plentiful, even among people that didn't know each other, and quickly turned into tears of joy. The band slowly picked up the pace of the music after a few songs to that of a cheery Mardi Gras parade and everyone sang, danced and shed tears of happiness. Immediately behind the band in this parade were costumed festival attendees comprising the second line, a frenzied group of non-choreographed dancers just having a great time dancing to the music. More and more people joined in as the Grand Marshal lead the ever-increasing group all around the park so that everyone could, "pass a good time."
Emotionally and physically exhausted from the parade, it was time for us to pack up and head home. For us, a painfully long ordeal involving my critically ill mother had recently ended when she passed away, and this parade was a fitting send off. Next year we'll get to stay longer and enjoy the headlining bands playing throughout the cool evening while the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean and my hallucinated "Louisiana Snowy Egret" comes back for yet another Bayou Festival.

Feature and photos by Donald & Kimberly Tatera, Southern California Correspondents.

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