The crowd that filled Wilbert’s Food & Music on Saturday night may have thought they stepped through a wormhole and landed themselves somewhere between Texas and Louisiana. Even the amazing fare on Wilbert’s menu echoed the southern spirit of the evening. And the music that filled the night may have left them thinking the journey to Bourbon Street could be made by simply stepping out the front door.
The night began with Northeast Ohio’s Mo’ Mojo setting the pulse. The Zydeco sound that rolled from the stage as they dove through their performance reached out to the audience, pumping the beat into everybody’s heart and soul. Their high energy set infected the crowd, gearing them up for an unforgettable performance by CJ Chenier and his band.
From the moment CJ Chenier and his band struck their first note the dance floor was filled with bodies moving and grooving to the infectious sound. And that energy never left. Even when the couples took over the dance floor for a slower style number, the energy continued to echo through their hearts and feet. But there wasn’t too much slowing the band or the audience down. The amount of spirit that was pumped into the air throughout the evening was enough to leave everyone flying as they found their way home.
CJ Chenier is the son of Clifton Chenier the “King of Zydeco.” He grew up in Port Arthur, Texas away from his father and the Zydeco influence. But he was undoubtedly a natural born musician. He started his instrumental career on the saxophone and was playing in bands by the time he was a teenager. His incredible talent won him a scholarship to study music at Texas Southern University. In college CJ Chenier continued to explore his own personal style of music, influenced by the R&B, funk and jazz music he had been surrounded by as he grew up.
As he aged his interests turned back to the music of his ancestors with both his father and uncle grounded in the Zydeco tradition. He initially began playing with his father in The Red Hot Louisiana Band on sax in 1978. But as his father began to grow ill he started taking a larger roll on the accordion, eventually leading the band. When his father passed away in 1987, he continued right where his father left off.
One of the wonderful things about Zydeco music is that it has taken it’s origins in French Creole and African-derived influences and adapted through the years, incorporating new sounds and styles of music. In CJ Chenier’s performance on Saturday night his old roots in R&B, funk and jazz could be heard. And during the set Davidione Pearl from Mo’ Mojo joined them on stage with his sax for a few numbers, bringing in the extra dimension of the horn.
All and all, CJ Chenier and his band left an imprint on those in attendance that will not be soon forgot. The level of camaraderie and fun that saturated the evening is one that is not commonly found in a room filled with such a mixture of people; young and old, familiar and foreign. Undoubtedly, everyone will be keeping their eyes out for the next time CJ Chenier brings the Cleveland streets back home to The South.
More Info: For more images from this night's performances click here.