Being more than 1,300 miles from New Orleans, Boulder is an unlikely spot for a Mardi Gras celebration complete with a rockin' zydeco band, Cajun food, dancing, drinking and costumed foolery. However, that's exactly what's happening Saturday night thanks to the folks at public radio station KGNU and Colorado Friends of Cajun and Zydeco music. Back to perform at the shindig for a second go-round is the eminent combination of two old-time zydeco greats: Ed Poullard and Preston Frank.
See also: KGNU Mardi Gras Dance
Ed Poullard is a native of Eunice, on the broad southwestern Louisiana plains where native Creoles and emigrant Cajuns met, mingled and molded the sounds of zydeco, one of the nation's few indigenous musics. He learned his craft at his father's and grandfather's knees, absorbing the sounds made by working men and women in their spare time at the dances, parties and celebrations that speckled the calendar.
The 62-year-old, who started on drums and guitar before moving on to the more traditional accordion and fiddle, kept his day job while he worked on his music -- and on the instruments themselves. Along the way, he studied with Creole fiddle legend Canray Fontenot. Now situated out of Beaumont, Texas, Poullard is happy to make his way inland to entertain in Boulder. "We've enjoyed really good turnouts," he says. "There really is an audience (in Colorado) that likes this style of music. It's great being on board."
And when he gets here, he'll be playing his own hand-crafted accordion. "I'm working on number 49," he says from his home (you can see a selection of his creations here). Zydeco musicians were forced to learn how to make their own accordions during embargoes on German goods in World War Il. Poullard learned the painstaking craft in 2003, and is thought to be the first Creole accordion maker.
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Continue reading for more about Ed Poullard and Preston Frank. His instruments are functional works of art, each an amalgam of gaily patterned bellows, polished metal struts, mother-of-pearl buttons and beautiful dark wood. "It took me a while to get my own technique," he says. A lifetime of craftsmanship in woodworking and cabinetmaking didn't completely prepare him for the challenge, he admits.
"It's time-consuming, difficult, precise," he explains. he fact that each accordion is made up of more than 600 pieces, and that the result must also be in tune, makes his accomplishments all the more impressive. (Zydeco accordions are diatonic; they have no sharps or flats.)
Poullard differentiates between Cajun and Creole zydeco. "Cajun is about speed and flash," he says. "We can do that, but we like to put the groove in it. We make music you can dance to."
Dan Willging, CFCZ president, is aiming for precisely that. His group has been promoting and celebrating Louisiana French culture across the Front Range since 1997. He calls Poullard and Frank "vibrant elder statesmen of old-time Creole zydeco music," and says he sees in them as last links to zydeco's pure past.
Willging says the genre is undergoing rapid change, under such labels as nouveau zydeco, zydesoul and double-clutch. A new generation of innovators -- including Frank's son, Kevin; Chris Ardoin; Leon Chavis; and Kenne' Wayne -- are adding elements of hip-hop, funk, soul and pop to the traditional music. And Poullard and Frank also get around, collaborating withthe likes of Darol Anger and Donna the Buffalo.
True enthusiasts and aspiring musicians will even get to learn from the masters themselves this weekend. Both gentleman will be giving workshops in Creole accordion and fiddle at the Swallow Hill Music Center on Saturday, February 7, the morning of the concert. Given the Denver music scene's love of spicy beats and unusual instrumentation (Tom Hagerman, are you listening?), it could be a revelatory experience.
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The KGNU Mardi Gras Dance Benefit, in conjunction with the Colorado Friends of Cajun and Zydeco Music and Dance, is Saturday, February 7 at the Avalon Ballroom in Boulder. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; dance lessons begin at 7 p.m.; the band plays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 each in advance; $30 at the door. For tickets and more information, visit kgnu.org or cfcz.org. Learn more about Swallow Hill programming online.