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Music News: The Cajun Invasion

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On October 17 and 18, 2009, Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland, just outside Washington DC, is being invaded by eight different, highly popular Cajun and Zydeco bands for the first ever Dancing by the Bayou Fall Dance Festival.

What’s that? You don’t know how to dance to Cajun or Zydeco music? No problem, just get out there and fake it! Lessons in Cajun and Zydeco dance have been ongoing and will continue after the festival, and details are currently being worked out for mini-lessons during the festival.

While it’s true this is the first ever Cajun/Zydeco dance festival, the two people running the show, Michael Hart and Sharon Schiliro, have been teaching dancing in the DC area for 18 years. They have also been producing monthly dances at Glen Echo for 18 months, and will continue to do so. Add to that the fact that Washington also has a very active, vibrant dance community in general, and a thriving Cajun/Zydeco dance community in particular, and it seems that Hart and Schiliro have a recipe for success, with their hard work no small part of it. The Washington DC area may not have had a Cajun or Zydeco festival for some time, but there are several thriving Cajun and Zydeco bands in the area, and dance floors for miles around in DC, Maryland and Virginia are often packed when these bands make their regular, frequent appearances in the area.

The eight bands mentioned earlier comprise both local and national acts, and will fill both days with plenty of all varieties of this wonderfully unique music. One more band will most likely be added, but as of right now the lineup includes BeauSoleil Cajun Quartet; Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas; Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole; Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners; Jesse Lege & Bayou Brew with Joel Savoy; Johnny Ace and Sidewalk Zydeco; Little Red and the Renegades; and Squeeze Bayou Cajun Band.

“Glen Echo Park is a magical place situated on the Potomac palisades near Bethesda, Maryland,” according to information at the Dancing by the Bayou website, found here and here.

There are plentiful picnic facilities available on the grounds of what began life as a Chautauqua retreat, then became an amusement park, and is now a National Park. The facility hosts a growing number of arts, environmental and history programs annually, with the summer season being the busiest.

If you’re planning to stop by either or both days, you can be assured there are picnic facilities within the park, and the nearby DC suburb of Bethesda and close-by River Road have slews of restaurants, offering a choice of anything from fast food to elegant dining. There is usually a food concession open in the park, however, it’s closed for the season.

The National Park Service requires that a certain number of tickets be held at the Park for people without advance reservations. To be on the safe side, though, email Michael Hart or call 301-762-6730 to insure your place. There are plans to make Dancing by the Bayou an annual event, but will, naturally, depend on this year’s attendance. And if you’d like to volunteer at this or any of the dances, use the same contact information.

Cajuns, or Acadians, were some of America’s original European-origin settlers and were here long before many of the later English settlers.  They’re a significant part of America’s history, who became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase.  While much of the music is sung in French, Cajun and Zydeco are as American as peanut butter and jelly.  Their homeland, mainly western Louisiana, comprises 828,000 square miles, and cost a total of 15 million bucks, which works out to about 18 bucks per square mile.  Did we get a bargain?

Any changes to the preceding information will be posted in the Comments section of this article.

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About Lou Novacheck