030493 C. J. Chenier, Ottawa, ON

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Midway through my university undergrad I dated a girl named Maria for six months or so.  I met her in my History of The Blues class, she was a big fan of live music – especially traditional blues – and made a point of seeing every old blues guy that came to town, which meant she spent a lot of time at The Rainbow Bistro downtown in The Market.

That’s where we were on March 4th, 1993, to see C. J. Chenier (Maria was also really into zydeco).  I’m not sure if this was my first time hearing a zydeco band – it very well could have been – but we ended up seeing quite a few in the relatively short time we were dating (and unfortunately I was pretty lax about keeping track of these bar shows in my ticket album). 

Only the best zydeco bands get up as far as Canada, and C. J. Chenier and The Red Hot Louisiana Band are certainly among the best (no wonder, C. J.’s dad Clifton pretty much put zydeco on the map).  It’s primarily three-chord music (which fits right in with the blues bar vibe) and endlessly upbeat; simple Cajun-drenched lyrics come back again and again over washboard scuttles and bouncy bass runs while fiery, dextrous accordion lines keep the dancefloor hoppin’. 

When I think back to this show (or any of the zydeco shows we saw together) I invariably picture the bar being hot and humid, steaming almost.  Maybe the air was thick from all the dancing (or my mind was clouded by all the accompanying drinks), but more likely it was the music.  Zydeco is just so…Louisiana; a few notes and I’m transported straight to sweaty, smelly Bourbon Street.

Maria and I saw a lot of shows together but for whatever reason this was one of the few I wrote down.  That’s too bad; now that I’m more familiar with both blues and zydeco I might impress myself with some of the acts we caught.  Either way I can thank Maria (wherever she is*) for pulling me out to lots of great shows.  I don’t remember ever having a bad time.

*She’s a public school teacher, as it turns out.  Up until covid I spent two weeks every winter playing and teaching in a bunch of Ottawa-area schools with my buddy Doug as part of the Ottawa Bluesfest’s Blues In The Schools program and the last time I did it I ran into Maria at one of the schools we played.  She came up and said hello after our set and I recognized her immediately.  Amazing how old and ugly I got in the ensuing twenty-seven years while she still looked exactly the same.  I was so surprised to see her that I didn’t have the wherewithal to thank her for being such a great musical influence, which kind of irks me.  

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