As a freshman at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in the late 1970s I used to jog daily on the levee. Heading out early one day I was stopped at the railroad tracks by a closing gate. Through the crossing came a Southern Pacific Freight train. And it kept coming and coming and coming. Finally, just when you thought it had to be done, it still kept coming.
On Sunday, August 21, at the Hopewell Borough Park Gazebo Snapperhead Zydeco, a cajun swamp pop Zydeco band, gave a performance much like that early morning freight train – strong, powerful and driven; they just kept comin.’
Back when I was at LSU before anyone outside of Louisiana or Quebec knew what cajun music was we just called it the stuff we heard across the river. Snapperhead Zydeco took us across the river at their outdoor concert with a nonstop energized down-on-the-Bayou boil that kept the crowd hootin,’ hoppin,’ and hollerin.’ It was a sizeable audience especially considering this event was held on the rain date. People of all ages, kids, dogs, bicycles were kept jumping through both formidable sets.
Snapperhead Zydeco is a Hopewell-based band consisting of husband and wife cofounders Ted (lead guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Roxanne (rubboard, vocals) Klett. Add in Wayne Leibel on accordion, John Timpane on bass, and Bob Lewis on drums. Guest guitarist this night was Martin Goldberg.
The sound system and the setup were superb – acoustics were great considering the outdoor venue. A little more light inside the gazebo on the band would have been good; as the sun set it was hard to make out who was singing and who was soloing.
Seated up front on his throne was Wayne "Squeeze Daddy" Leibel giving up boisterous lead vocals while at once priming the pump with wailing solos and swamp-stomping backbeat accompaniment on his accordion. All he needed was a trident and a crown, and he could have been Neptune, King of the Mardi Gras.
A very capable vocal group, lead vocals were split among several players. Ted Klett expertly bent solos through his harmonica, catching enough of the sad side of the notes to remind us of the blues influence on this form of music. While singing the majority of lead vocals he flip flopped and flew through solos on lead guitar alternating with rhythm guitar backup.
Roxanne Klett literally "scratched" out rhythmic accompaniment on the rubboard – the Louisiana version of the washboard, a galvanized steel instrument worn like a catchers chest protector and looking vaguely medieval. She also handily took on lead vocals on several tunes and background harmony on most of the others.
Bassman John Timpane stirred the swamp bottom with driving bass, picked up a few lead vocals and backed up with vocal harmony on the rest.
And what can I say about Bob Lewis, the drummer – like that big long freight train he just kept rollin’. It was too dark to see if he sang anything.
The band romped through cajun classics – "Tout les Temps en Temp," "Jambalaya," "Iko Iko" – and Zydeco-rendered versions of songs we all know – "Flip Flop and Fly," "Baby Please Don’t Go," and "Wooly Bully." Snapperhead also served up some originals including "Happy School."
From the proverbial apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree department: Lena Klett, Ted and Roxanne’s 15-year-old daugter, borrowed the spotlight between sets and captivated the crowd performing two soulful ballads, singing with clarity and confidence, strumming a solid rhythm guitar. We’ll hear from her.
For more information on Snapperhead Zydeco visit www.snapperheadzydeco.com.
The Darla Rich Quintet
It’s one thing to set your band up front of an audience of jazz aficionados and eager dancers, dig deep into a repertoire of well-known classics by the likes of Ellington, Berlin, Johnny Mercer, and Charlie Parker, play them like they’re today’s hits, and fill the dance floor with every song. It’s another thing to make it look easy. On Saturday, August 20, in the Starlight Room at the Hopewell Valley Inn and Bistro in Hopewell, that’s just what the Darla Rich Quintet did.
Apparently this isn’t news to most of the crowd, the staff, or, well, maybe even the band, since they’ve been rolling out the jazz carpet here every other Saturday night for about four years now. Although for this first timer to the band and the Bistro, it was news – good news.
The Hopewell Valley Inn and Bistro is your not-so-typical-anymore comfortable, casual, yet capable dining establishment, with an influence of old Europe and plenty of space to relax in. The hosts, Susan and Paul Molnar, offer a full, varied menu of favorites – some Hungarian specialties; ample choice of wine, beer, or cocktails with dinner; and a long-enough list of homemade desserts. Choose a seat for you and your crew in the roomy main dining room, the spacious, airy front porch, or the semi-private Starlight room especially designed for music, dining, and dancing.
The Starlight Room, with its parquet dance floor and seating for about 90, was filled this night with a crowd that ranged in age from about 35 on up, weighted just a bit toward those who were more likely to have grown up dancing "cheek to cheek." And as the Darla Rich quintet helped to prove they were all dancers.
The quintet, headed by founders Darla (bass/vocals) and Rich (guitar/vocals) Tarpinian, features Joe Bezek on alto saxophone, David Stier on drums, and "Mr." Jim May on guitar and vocals.
Playing a range of tunes from the schools of blues, be-bop, bossa nova, Latin jazz, and swing, by artists from Gershwin to Sonny Rollins to Jim May himself, the quintet drew a steady stream of dancers to the floor, while keeping the chair-bound (like myself) attentive with a seemingly bottomless cup of polished standards. With deference to both those whose memories are scored by this music and those new to the genre, the band kept the arrangements both reminiscent and fresh. The volume and presentation were ideal for a dinner club crowd – clear, consistent, and never overbearing or intrusive.
Deftly strolling the fretboard, Darla provided steady guiding bass lines, backed up Rich and Jim on vocals, and tossed in a confident lead vocal when she felt like it. Rich took on most of the lead vocals, giving clear, smooth renditions of widely ranging compositions, never tempting jazz vocalist fate by trying to "outsing" the music. At the same time, he and Mr. May seamlessly passed the lead/rhythm-guitar baton all evening without a hitch. Each guitarist, in his own style, with his own machine, embraced solos gracefully and equally gracefully took over rhythm while his counterpart stepped forward.
Having rhythm and lead guitar well under control, Jim May also took the lead mic on a couple of not as popular pops, calling across the decades with heart and tenderness.
From my seat across the room, I listened and watched as Joe Bezek put his alto sax through its paces. At clearly (for this venue) less than full throttle, but right on track, the phrase that was repeatedly evoked in my mind was "no sweat," as he glided through both sets.
Near the end of the second set, I turned to my companion and said, "I think they should give the drummer some." As if on cue, Joe walked over to the mic and said, "It’s about time we gave the drummer some." And David Stier gave some back – with interest.
Accomplished artists seem to know a bit more than others just what to leave in and just what to take out. Clearly one of those, Dave dished out a solo that lured the listeners in beat by beat, adding in, leaving out, until everyone – the crowd, the band – were leaning in, intrigued to hear where the next brush would fall.
A revealing reminder at the top of the band’s magnificently prepared set list reads: "REMEMBER – Keep volume down – Dinner." It would be interesting to hear this group perform in a venue where no holds are barred.
The Darla Rich Quintet, www.acmemusicco.com. Upcoming performances include:
Every other Saturday, next date: September 10, Hopewell Valley Inn and Bistro, 15 East Broad Street, Hopewell. $15 food/drink minimum on performance nights. 609-466-9889.
Every first Wednesday, next date: September 7, Fedora Restaurant and Cafe, 2633 Lawrenceville Road (Route 206 South), Lawrenceville. 609-895-0844.