Once you hear the sweet sounds of Cajun music, you’re hooked forever. The foot-stompin’ sounds of the accordion and fiddle, often accompanied these days by drums, guitars, bass and an occasional washboard, stimulate the senses and start the body in motion.
Where better to dance to the music of southwest Louisiana with its heavy French influences than the historic Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston.
Save the date – Feb. 25, 2017, from 6:30 p.m. to midnight – for a rollicking night of Cajun and Zydeco music and dance, with the added treat of Cajun delicacies by the Chili Brothers.
Old-timers recall dancing to the music of the Glenn Miller Orchestra back in the ’40s at Rhodes. The well-preserved building still provides one of the largest dance floors and bandstands in New England.
South County’s own Chuck Wentworth has been bringing the best of Cajun, Zydeco and, within the past decade, all types of rhythm and roots music to Rhode Island since he started playing the music on his radio show on WRIU back in 1978.
“I found a bunch of old L.P.’s, played a few, and they just struck a chord with me,” he said.
Chuck became involved with the original Cajun and Bluegrass Festival at Stepping Stone Ranch in Escoheag in 1981 and has been immersed in the genre ever since.
“I took my first trip to New Orleans in the early eighties, spending two weeks there during Mardi Gras,” he said. “For four years I led a group from the old Learning Connection to New Orleans and the bayous. I decided that instead of bringing 30 people to Cajun music, I’d bring Cajun music to Rhode Island.”
Today, thousands of people from all over New England and points beyond have enjoyed the music at both Ninigret Park and Rhodes on the Pawtuxet.
The Mardi Gras Ball has been held at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet every February for 24 of the 25 years. Wentworth says it is the perfect location for the event. Long time attendees reserve tables of 10 ($325) and make a party out of the evening.
Headlining this year is Steve Riley, who with his Mamou Playboys has become a household word in Rhode Island, according to Wentworth.
“I was the first person to book this [then] young kid 25 years ago,” Chuck said. “I took him touring all over the country. He has become a loyal friend. Last year was the only year in 25 years that he missed the Mardi Gras Ball.”
Joining Riley will be three-time Grammy nominee Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars. Romero has been playing traditional Cajun and Creole music for over 20 years.
Rounding out the program is a popular festival performer, Corey Ledet, an incredible Zydeco accordion player who learned the craft from his friends and relatives in Louisiana.
The Mardi Gras Ball partners with VSA Arts of R.I., an arts association that combines the arts and disabilities.
There are no lulls in the evening. While bands are setting up, the crowd is treated to the music of the Hot Tamale Brass Band and their New Orleans Dixieland jazz.
The highlight of the evening is the costume contest, where prizes are awarded for best group, couple and individual.
Tickets to the Mardi Gras Ball are $30 in advance, $40 at the door. There is a cash bar. For tickets and information call 783-3926.