Music News & Reviews

Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival to spread out at new digs

With larger stages, bigger dance floors and more places to dock a boat, organizers of the Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival hope to create a better bayoulike experience with a new location.

Downtown Isleton used to host the festival’s music, crawdads and crowds, but this year’s event, running Saturday and Sunday, will be held on the water at the Delta Boat Storage, next to B&W Resort & Marina, on Brannan Island Road.

“In Isleton, we were really limited in our space because we were on the streets,” said Lynette Brister, Isleton Chamber of Commerce president. “We knew we were outgrowing the city itself.”

More than 10,000 people attended the festival last year, Brister said, and she expects a similar turnout this weekend. She hopes the proximity to the water, not to mention the number of award-winning musicians and thousands of pounds of crawfish, will give people an experience similar to what they’d find in Louisiana.

“The majestic waterways, the trees, everything is going to give you that Cajun-bayou experience,” she said.

Free parking at a nearby lot on Jackson Slough Road, and free shuttle buses (provided by Delta Charter Service) will be available. Free shuttles from businesses in the Delta Loop, many of which have boat docks, will also be running.

Swamp, a San Francisco-based seafood restaurant, will be serving up 8,000 pounds of crawfish for the festival. The crawdads will all be fresh from the Delta, Brister said.

“(The owner) actually came out to our site and cooked them up and they were mighty tasty,” Brister said. “That’s our main feature, but you’ll have everything from alligator to frog legs – the whole nine yards.”

While crawdads are a main feature, it wouldn’t be a Cajun festival without music. Fourteen bands are set to perform this year, with two stages and two dance floors that are double the size of last year’s, Brister said.

Live music will go from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Grammy-nominated blues singer, songwriter and piano player Marcia Ball will be joined by a host of other celebrated zydeco, blues, Cajun and Americana musicians, including Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic.

“This is, frankly, a stronger lineup than last year,” said Mindy Giles, an event producer at Swell Productions, who coordinates the festival’s music lineup. “We were looking for world-class musicians.”

Giles said the lineup features more big-name acts than in past years, with some artists also playing the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. That list includes California-born Thierry, who began playing the accordion at age 9 years old and has played the Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival since he was 15.

From Richmond, Thierry, 34, spent much of his childhood with his Louisiana-native grandparents, listening to their Creole music and watching the accompanying dances at their church, St. Mark’s Catholic Church.

Thierry said the California zydeco, Cajun and blues scene is more traditional than what you may hear in Louisiana.

“Out here, they’re more into preserving the culture and all that, so the music is kind of like what it was when it first came out here,” Thierry said. “In Louisiana, they’ve got more modern. Out there, they’re bringing in more hip-hop and R&B.”

Thierry’s grandparents were some of the first to bring the Louisiana music culture to California, he said, and it caught on fast. “I don’t know if they knew it was going to take off the way it did. It just took off like wildfire.”

As parents enjoy the music that Theirry’s grandparents helped bring to the Delta, kids can partake in entertainment geared for them, including a 30-foot inflatable slide, a 25-foot rock climbing wall and an obstacle course with tunnels.

With highs in the upper 80s and clear skies predicted for Saturday and Sunday, Brister hopes the festival shines a light on what the Delta has to offer.

“We can hopefully open up a lot of people’s eyes to what exists in their own backyards, and they don’t even know it,” Brister said. “It is absolutely gorgeous and it’s one of California’s hidden gems.”