Mardi Gras with Bayou X & Celebration Brass Band

[feather_share] February 1, 2015

I met Peter and Linda Simoneaux and their band Bayou X at the Mardi Gras celebration at Mole Hill Theatre last year.  At some point during the set, Peter joked about the lack of Mardi Gras festivities up north. So as he and the band readies for their third appearance at the Annual Mole Hill Mardi Gras Ball, I asked him to tell us about New Orleans music, and the three bands he and his wife Linda have formed.

Bayou X for Mole Hill Theatre Third Annual Mardi Gras

Born and raised in New Orleans, from French and Irish descent, Peter attended University of New Orleans to pursue a degree in English, with the goal of a career in academia. He then went to graduate school at Syracuse University and then Temple University in Philadelphia. “I loved the poetry,” said Peter.  “The professor part, however, never really worked out for me.”

During the mid-1980s, Peter was working in publishing in Philadelphia, and began playing music. “I actually started out playing African music on indigenous instruments with my friend, now my blood brother, Adimu Kuumba. Adimu was brilliant musician and musical instrument maker who taught me how to make musical instruments out of found materials and how to make music out of only two notes, on a piece of string, or wire, or a couple pieces of wood. He taught me that sometimes, the simplest of music, the most elemental, could also be the most powerful.” Peter also started playing fiddle, at first the riti, made of a gourd, a stick, goatskin and horsehair, and then violin. His first band was the Wild Bohemians who, in 1983, helped organize the first South Street Mardi Gras parade, a tradition that remains vibrant today. In addition to playing African and New Orleans style music, Peter also played Cajun and southern old time music on the fiddle.

Wild Bohemian Mardi Gras Parade 2013

In 1986, at the third Wild Bohemians Mardi Gras parade, he met his wife Linda. “I was playing rubboard in Red Devil costume,” Peter recalls. “She was dressed up in a skimpy belly dancer costume. We got together pretty quickly and have been together ever since.” Shortly after, they formed the Cajun band Schuylkill Bayou Ramblers with Jared Snyder on accordion, Peter on fiddle, and Linda playing fiddle and percussion. In 1996, they moved to northern Vermont with their young family and settled in Langdon, NH four years later.

Bringing New Orleans Music to the northeast with three bands

Since moving north, Peter and Linda & I have been playing as Ti'z Orphelins, or, Lil' Orphans. “In Cajun music and culture, the orphan is a symbol of sorrow and hardship, but also joy and resilience. Those are the things that we communicate in a lot of the music that we play.” The style is traditional Louisiana house dance music from the 1920’s and earlier - two steps, waltzes, contra dances, and mazurkas. “It's both antique-sounding and very vibrant, and still widely played in Louisiana today,” explained Peter.

While Lil' Orphans performs as a duo with Linda on accordion and Peter on fiddle, they often perform with local musicians.  “We’ve made a lot of musical friends, said Peter, “and we try to accommodate them into our music in as many ways as possible. So, we will play as a duo, a trio with guitar or percussion, or as a quartet with drums and bass or guitar, or whatever combination of different musicians we feel like playing with on a particular gig.”

In 2009, Peter and Linda recorded Big Powerful Woman under the name Lil’ Orphans Cajun Express, with musicians Daniel Kasnitz on bass, Jonathan Reinhardt and Steve Frankel on guitars, and Richard Mayer on drums.  Released in 2011, it has traditional music as well as originals by Linda and Peter. Here is my favorite song – and the title track – Big Powerful Woman , written by Linda Simoneaux.

Big Powerful Woman CD cover

 In 2013, they renamed the band Bayou X, and expanded their repertoire to include Cajun & Creole dance hall music of the 1950s and 1960s, as well swamp pop, New Orleans Creole traditional jazz and R&B, and Caribbean music. “It's well known that a lot of indigenous Louisiana music - jazz, Cajun, zydeco - is a hybrid of European and African music,” explained Peter. “What's less well known and discussed is that all this music passed to New Orleans and southern Louisiana through the Caribbean, especially Trinidad, Martinique, Haiti and Cuba. In our music, we try to integrate all these influences, and demonstrate how they work together; playing both traditional and original music, and depending on the gig, it might be more Cajun/Zydeco, or more Caribbean/African.”

 

Celebration Brass Band at 2014 Strolling of the Heifers Parade in Brattleboro

Peter formed The Celebration Brass Band in late 2008. “I had always wanted to play New Orleans style brass band music, but the lynchpin of that sound is the sousaphone, the big marching bass tuba that you see in high school and college bands. And we could never find a sousaphone player around here.” Then Peter met Tim Ellis, who expressed an interest in forming a band, and so Peter began the New Orleans Brass Band Project, starting as a weekly workshop to cultivate a group of musicians dedicated to playing this music. It has since evolved into a band of 6 to 8 musicians on average.  Core members at this time include Tim Ellis and Linda Simoneaux on sousaphones, Peter on bass drum, Stephen Voorhees on snare drum, with Scott Sizer and Anders Burrows on trumpets, and Chuck Ober and Dan DeWalt on trombones. “We are always on the lookout for new musicians who are interested in playing this music. We have long-running relationships with the Strolling of the Heifers in Brattleboro, and the Main Street Museum in White River Junction,” said Peter. “Like all true New Orleans brass bands, we specialize in parades, outdoor concerts, weddings, funerals, and private parties.”

Mardi Gras 2015 Celebrations

Bayou X plays for the Fourth Annual Mardi Gras Ball at the Mole Hill Theatre in East Alstead on Saturday, February 7.  “This is a great venue for us, and the party has gotten better and better every year,” said Peter.  “As always, we'll have some new tunes and new twists in the lineup of our band. In this case, for the first time ever, we'll be featuring the terrific Brooklyn/Brattleboro based Sunny Lowdown on electric guitar, along with Bayou X regular, Luke Houk, making his debut with us on piano.” The event features a generous potluck with lots of authentic dishes; BYOB. Join many of the partygoers – and the band – in wearing a costume.

Bayou X plays again on Sunday, February 15, at Pizza Stone in Chester VT, one of the band’s favorite venues in Vermont or New Hampshire.  The band will be a 4 or 5 piece group with Bob DeSena on drums, Luke Houk on bass, and possibly Dan Kasnitz on acoustic guitar.

Peter and his music friends will be wrapping up their Carnival season with a big show at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro on February 28 at 7:00 PM. “This will be the VJC's first-ever Mardi Gras event,” said Peter, “and it will feature both the Celebration Brass Band and Bayou X, as well as a Samba band, and a bunch of other special guests still to be determined. It's going to be a blast, and we can't wait for it to take place.”

Check their Facebook page for updates and future gigs.

 

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