BEST BETS: Simien brings zydeco history to Dover

Two-time Grammy winner Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience will perform at the Schwartz Center for the Arts Wednesday night at 7. (Submitted photo/Michael Weintrob)

For over 35 years, Terrance Simien has been spreading the word about zydeco music and his native New Orleans to anyone whose interested.

“Our country has so many different, diverse stories of history and culture and ours is one of them,” he said this week by phone from his home in Louisiana.

“I’ve been playing music for 36 years and since I’ve started playing, there have been so many questions. People seem to be fascinated with the music and eager to learn about its history. I love sharing the music with anyone and everybody who is interested. It’s not only Louisiana history but it’s American history.”

Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience will perform Wednesday night at 7 at the Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts.

That morning, he’ll be at Central Middle School performing an educational concert for students starting at 9 a.m. and then at 11:30 a.m., he will hold master classes on zydeco and Creole music for Dover High’s Jazz Ensemble and band.

He and his wife Cynthia created the “Creole for Kidz & The History of Zydeco” performing arts program, which provides informational performances to K-12 students, teachers and parents.

Since it was created in 2001, “Creole for Kidz” has reached nearly 500,000 people in more than 20 states, Mali, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Paraguay, Canada and Australia. They have also created MusicMatters, Inc., a nonprofit organization for education and advocacy.

Mr. Simien, a two-time Grammy Award winner, has performed over 7,000 concerts in more than 45 countries.

“Everywhere we go, we connect with the audience. And I think the reason is the multi-cultural fusion of ideas that’s in the music. They all just come together,” he said.

“It’s also very accessible. People get it right away. When we start playing, they start smiling and dancing.”

Zydeco is a musical genre that evolved in southwest Louisiana by French Creole speakers, which blends blues, rhythm and blues and music indigenous to the Louisiana people.

The fast-tempo sound is characterized by an accordion and washboard instrument called a rub-board.

Born in Mallet, Louisiana, his family is documented as one of the first Creole families to settle St. Landry Parish in the heart of zydeco country.

He counts himself fortunate to have grown up with the music and been mentored by the likes of zydeco greats such as Clifford Chenier, Geno Delafose, Boozoo Chavis and Rockin’ Sidney.

“I was very fortunate in coming into the music at a time when most of the great pioneers were still playing but the music was at its lowest point,” he said.

“But then seeing the change from it just being played in local dance halls to something that was catching on internationally was great. Instead of playing it in dance halls, it was being played at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. For some of those guys, they got to see that happen before it was too late.”

Mr. Simien said that for a long time, zydeco music was “secluded” between Louisiana and East Texas. But in the mid 1980s, that started to change.

He points to Rockin’ Sidney having a hit with the song “My Toot Toot” in 1984; the Dennis Quaid New Orleans-based film “The Big Easy” featuring zydeco music in 1987; and Paul Simon showcasing the genre on his 1986 album “Graceland” as contributing factors in its rising popularity.

“All of a sudden, people were hearing it on the radio and seeing it on the big screen and people really got interested in the music and the culture of the Louisiana Creole and Cajun people. It exploded and it’s still going today,” said the 51-year-old Mr. Simien.

Another breakthrough came in 2009 when Disney released the animated film “The Princess and the Frog.” It was set in New Orleans and featured their first black princess.

In the film Mr. Simien performed “Gonna Take You There,” a zydeco-flavored song penned by Randy Newman. He says it’s become a fan favorite among the younger set.

“When we do our educational programs, kids are more aware about the music and the culture from watching the movie. We do that song and all of the kids recognize it and it’s something they can connect with,” he said.

“What a pleasant surprise and an honor to get that call from Disney. It’s such an awesome thing that Disney did. That movie could have been set in any American city but they chose to have it set in New Orleans and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

But perhaps his biggest accomplishment came in 2008 when his band was honored with a Grammy award for their album “Live! Worldwide.” It was the first in zydeco since Rockin’ Sidney received his in 1985.

It was extra special as it was the first Grammy to be awarded in the category of Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. He and his wife spearheaded the effort to establish the award.

“I can’t even come up with a word to describe how it felt to win it. But what topped that was when we found we got that category. That’s so rare to be able to do that,” he said.

The category lasted just four years and is now called Best Regional Roots Music Album, encompassing different forms of New Orleans music but also genres such as Hawaiian and polka.

Mr. Simien’s group won a Grammy in that category in 2014 for their record “Dockside Sessions.”

He’s looking forward to next week in Dover, where he can both educate and entertain — as he’s done for most of his life.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of driving. But it’s a blessing to get on stage and see the people,” he said.

“I enjoy meeting new people and seeing new things. It’s just been a beautiful experience all the way around. I look forward to every gig.”

Tickets for Wednesday’s show are $15 for adults; $12 for seniors 65-plus, military with ID, students and children.

For more information or tickets, visit schwartzcenter.com, stop by the box office Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or call 678-5152.

In the Mood in Dover

In what seems to be an annual tradition now, Dover Downs announced this week that the Glenn Miller Orchestra will bring their classic, big-band favorites back to the Rollins Center on Friday, Oct. 27. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show.

Tickets can be purchased online at doverdowns.com or by contacting VIP Services at (800) 711-5882. Prices range from $13 to $18.

First formed in 1937 by Glenn Miller, the orchestra continues to play almost 300 shows per year in front of more than 500,000 people annually.

With a repertoire of more than 1,700 compositions, the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s list of favorites include “Moonlight Serenade,” “In The Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “St. Louis Blues March,” “Sunrise Serenade,” “Little Brown Jug” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The orchestra has been led by music director and vocalist Nick Hilscher since January 2012. Mr. Hilscher, who began his professional career in the 1990s as a teenager, has been featured on several albums with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, including “On The Air” and “Steppin’ Out.”

He released his latest solo album “Young and Foolish,” in 2010, which features the music of Nat “King” Cole, Buddy Holly, Roger Miller, Cole Porter, Elvis Presley and Hank Williams Sr.

At the Bandstand

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, the summer concert season heats up.

Since 1963, Rehoboth Beach has offered free entertainment at the Bandstand for residents and vacationers. This year marks another season featuring shows for all ages every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening beginning at 8.

Performances will kick off with Sons of Pirates on Saturday. Sometimes billed as a Jimmy Buffet tribute band, the group plays the beach music of Buffett, Bob Marley, Zac Brown and splashes in classic hits from James Taylor and more. On Sunday, Desert Highway will perform the music of The Eagles.

The season jumps into full swing on Friday, June 16, with its opening act, The Uptown Band and continues on Saturday, June 17, with a performance by U.S. Air Force Max Impact and Sunday, June 18 with Triple Rail Turn, formerly Philbilly.

This Philadelphia-based country band will also be the headliner for this year’s June Jam in Houston on June 10.

For an event list, visit www.rehobothbandstand.com.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales 3D” and the big screen remake of “Baywatch.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the spiritual drama “The Shack” and the comedy “Fist Fight.”

 

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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