BEST BETS: A toast to Mardi Gras at Schwartz Center

Philadelphia-based Zydeco-A-Go-Go will provide the backdrop for Mardi Gras Mayhem at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover Feb. 18. (Submitted photo)

New Orleans comes to Dover Feb. 18 when Mardi Gras Mayhem takes over Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts.

Featuring the Philadelphia-based Zydeco A-Go-Go six-piece band, the night will offer beads and event-themed food and drinks for purchase. Guests are encouraged to dress in their Mardi Gras finest.

Zydeco A-Go-Go was formed in 1992 by Peter Eshelman, professionally known as Pete Gumbo, after years of hearing the music played down in The Big Easy.

“I first went to New Orleans in 1978 for their jazz festival and saw Clifford Cheneir, who is known as the King of Zydeco,” Mr. Eshelman said.

“He was playing Louisiana zydeco blues and everybody was dancing — it was great music.

“In 1992, I grabbed an accordion and got some musicians together and we started playing.”

Bandleader Mr. Eschelman also plays piano for the band and sings.

He was a founding member of the New Orleans-flavored band Philly Gumbo, has backed Jamaican group Big Youth and Nigerian Afro-Pop recording artists The Lijadu Sisters. He has also played piano with such artists as Bo Diddley and New Orleans’ own Charles “Honeyboy” Otis.

Guitarist Billy Baltera studied at Boston’s Berklee School Of Music and is a well-seasoned pro.

Drummer Bob Holden is a founding member of Philadelphia’s R&B big band The Dukes Of Destiny and has backed rockers such as Robert Hazard and Quincy.

On bass guitar is Randy Lippincott, another seasoned veteran who has worked with dozens of blues greats over the years.

Tenor saxman Bobby Michaels and Pamela Eshelman on rubboard and vocals round out the group.

Rubboard, also known as a frattoir or washboard, a staple of zydeco music, is a percussion instrument which employs the ribbed metal surface of the device for rhythm.

Zydeco is a more danceable form of New Orleans-style music, Mr. Eshelman said.

“Cajun music tends to be more acoustic based where zydeco is more electric,” he explained.

“I was attracted by its upbeat catchy rhythms. It reminded me of rock ’n’ roll in the Chuck Berry, Fats Domino Texas blues kind of vein.”

Starting the band 25 years ago in the Philadelphia area that was not accustomed to the genre was an easy feat, Mr. Eshelman said.

“It was an immediate success,” he said.

“Right way, we knew we had something. There were people who had never heard it before but as soon as they heard it, they loved it. It was a testament that we were on the right track with this.”

Zydeco A-Go-Go has played in New Orleans with KBON, a popular radio station in Eunice, Louisiana, putting the group’s debut CD “Zydeco Dance Party!” into its daily rotation.

“The wide popularity of their CD and venues they have played are only outdone by the rich background each musician brings to the mix. This is going to be a fun show,” said Greer Williams Stangl, Schwartz marketing coordinator.

With Mardi Gras season fast approaching, Mr. Eshelman said this is his band’s busy season.

“We’re playing all over right now. We just played in Newport News, Virginia. We’re coming to Dover. We have some Mardi Gras parties around the Philadelphia area,” he said.

“We are also busy a lot in the summer with festivals. We stay busy pretty much all year. We’re just trying to bring happiness and joy wherever we go.”

Tickets are $20 to $25 and can be purchased by visiting schwartzcenter.com, calling 678-5152 or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St.

The show will also feature the debut of the theater’s Capitol Lounge.

As a nod to the former site of the Capitol Theater, the lounge will offer patrons a place to unwind during the hour leading up to the show.

The first 50 ticket holders who purchase entry into the lounge will be treated to specialty light fare and a signature drink. A cash bar will be available to round out the hour prior to show time.

Tickets for the Capitol Lounge are $10 and are available for purchase starting at 5:30 the day of the show.

Bubba’s Battle of the Bands

Staying with local music, Bubba’s in Dover is gearing up for a Battle of the Bands competition.

Starting Feb. 24, local bands will compete in a four-week series designed to “jump start the scene in Dover,” said Kathy Nickolson, who is organizing the competition with her husband, local musician Dave Nickolson.

The first week kicks off with Ross Hawkins, Wild Virtù and Weekday Warriors.

Bands competing March 3 are Bad Avenue, The Blues Reincarnation Project, Key of Red and Shades of August.

March 10, the roster will be Surreal Nation, Chill and the Rabbits and We Are One.

The opening rounds will wrap up March 17 with Remelia, Anatomy of an Outcast and Thirteen to One.

Each week, the music will start at 9 p.m. with a $10 cover charge.

One voting ticket will be given out at the door. No voting will take place until the last band has played. Each person will cast their own vote by placing their ticket in the bucket of the band of their choice. Votes will be counted shortly after the last band has played and will be announced the same night.

The winning band from each week will advance to the final round with the date to be announced.

Each band will have a 55-minute set with the exception of the battle on March 3. Since there are four bands that night, each set will be 45 minutes long with 20 minutes to break down and setup in between. Covers and original music will be accepted.

The overall winning band will receive a $100 gift certificate from B&B Music and Sound in Camden, a guest spot on the local music podcast Live at Scooter’s and a Friday night paid gig at Bubba’s with the band Sporadic Static.

The runner-up band will receive a $50 gift certificate from B&B Music and Sound.

“Our main goal in this is to provide a venue where original rock music is always welcomed in Dover. We want to be the spot that features our local talent in a positive and enlightening atmosphere,” Ms. Nickolson said.

On Feb. 17, Sporadic Static and The Susquehanna Floods will play a pre-contest gig at Bubba’s.

“It will be a chance for the competing bands to check out the venue and meet each other,” Ms. Nickolson said.

“After it’s said and done, we’re hoping to have live bands every Friday night. Some nights will be themed nights, singer/songwriter nights, etc.”

There will be a $10 cover at the door that night as well. Bubba’s is at 865 N. DuPont Highway in Dover.

Boots & Bling Saturday

The Smyrna Opera House’s 13th annual Arts Cotillion — Boots & Bling is Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight at the opera house.

The country-themed event will feature a live auction, music by On the Edge, hearty hors d’oeuvres, a wine pull raffle, open bar and a raffle for a five-day, four-night trip to Cancun, Puerto Rico.

The event will also feature the second annual “Taste of Smyrna” with food from a variety of local restaurants.

Tickets are $100 and can be purchased by visiting smyrnaoperahouse.org, calling 653-4236 or stopping by the box office at 7 W. South St. Tickets will also be available at the door.

All proceeds will support future programming at the Smyrna Opera House.

Shakespeare in Smyrna

Staying in Smyrna, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival presents an evening of readings, songs, and romance just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend at Painted Stave Distilling.

DSF actors will celebrate some of Shakespeare’s most romantic writing during this light-hearted evening, expanding to Kent County for the first time this year.

The performance begins at 8 p.m. Saturday at Painted Stave, 106 W. Commerce St., Smyrna.

It will also take place at 7 p.m. Sunday at Dew Point Brewing, 2878 Creek Road, Yorklyn.

Tickets cost $25 and include one drink (nonalcoholic drinks will be available). The Romeo & Juliet VIP Package at $80 includes admission for two, premium seats, two drinks per person (including the night’s signature beverage), and a sonnet recited to your date by an actor pre-show.

Tickets can be purchased on the Delaware Shakespeare Festival website at www.delshakes.org.

Now showing

New in theaters is the animated “The Lego Batman Movie 3D”; the continuation of the romantic drama trilogy “Fifty Shades Darker”; and the Keanu Reeves action sequel “John Wick 2.”

New on DVD and download starting Tuesday is the Oscar-nominated science-fiction film “Arrival”; the high school comedy “The Edge of Seventeen”; and the war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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