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Terrance Simien bringing zydeco sounds to Iowa City Jazz Festival
Grammy-winner returning with blend of multicultural influences
Terrance Simien helped save zydeco.
While coming of age in the Big Easy, Simien taught himself to play the accordion and formed a zydeco band, Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys, in 1981.
“We were one of two teenage bands in the world playing zydeco at that time,” Simien said. “The other was the Sand Brothers Five. We were playing before elderly crowds.”
But the script has flipped more than 40 years later. The middle-aged Simien is rocking out in front of a youthful audience, and will headline the Iowa City Jazz Festival’s opening lineup at 8 p.m. July 1 on the Ped Mall Stage downtown.
“There are so many younger people that are into zydeco,” Simien said. “It’s such a wonderful thing. That’s particularly so in southern Louisiana and east Texas. The audiences are young and there are so many more zydeco bands. I’m just so pleased that the music is being embraced.”
If you go
What: Iowa City Jazz Festival: Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience
Where: Ped Mall Stage, downtown Iowa City
When: 8 p.m. Friday, July 1, 2022
July 1: Music 5 to 9:30 p.m., Ped Mall Stage; after-party 10 to 11:55 p.m. at Graduate Food Hall (Gene’s), 210 S. Dubuque St.
July 2: Music 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; artist booths at Clinton Street 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; food and beverage garden 11:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; 9:30 p.m. city fireworks at Old Capitol Museum; after-party at Elray’s, 211 Iowa Ave., 10:15 p.m. to 2 a.m. July 3, with jam session hosted by Blake Shaw
July 3: Music noon to 4 p.m.; artists booths noon to 4 p.m., Clinton Street;
Extras: Main Stage at 16 N. Clinton St.; Ped Mall Stage at 210 S. Dubuque St.; Local Stage at Clinton and Washington streets; bring seating, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages or buy from vendors; festival happens rain or shine
Part of the appeal of zydeco musicians is that they are daring. There’s no concern about radio play.
“So those in zydeco, like me, are never afraid,” Simien said. “We convey what’s in our heart and mind. That goes for the guys my age and the young zydeco musicians, who are infusing rap and hip-hop elements into zydeco. That way it sounds fresh. I love it. With zydeco there are three feet: one is in the past, another is in the now and a third is in the future.”
Simien’s past is to be celebrated. Such albums as 1990’s “Zydeco on the Bayou,” 1993’s “There’s Room For Us All” and 2006’s “Across the Parish Line” are filled with vibrant, celebratory tunes. Simien’s zydeco includes rock, R&B, funk, gospel and reggae.
“I like to mix it up,” Simien said. “I enjoy all different sounds and if you add some of those ingredients to zydeco, it gets very interesting. I love how upbeat this style of music is. It’s great for right now considering all that we are going through in a divided nation, COVID and so much more. It’s good to just get out and embrace music and have a good time and leave all of the baggage behind.”
Simien is paying tribute to those who preceded him with his latest album, “Ancestral Grooves,” recorded with his Krewe De Monifique (Magnificent Krewe) super group featuring brass band trumpet player James Andrews and zydeco accordion ace Keith Frank and Dirty Dozen Brass Band saxophonist Roger Lewis. Longtime Bob Dylan drummer and producer of Simien’s Grammy-winning 2014 album, “Dockside Sessions,” George Receli and Simien’s daughter, vocalist Marcella Simien, were part of the production.
“It was so great to work with my daughter, who is so talented,” Simien said. “She's doing her own thing (as a solo artist). It was so much fun to combine zydeco with brass and then add some French lyrics. I was right at home.”
Iowa City connection
Iowa City feels like a home away from home for Simien.
“A few years ago I did a residency in Iowa City when I was in the state for about two weeks,” Simien said. “We were doing concerts, but we were also doing educational performances called ‘Creole for Kids.’ We played some zydeco and I was providing details on the history of our music.
“I also did some cooking demonstrations. I remember having so much fun cooking up gumbo. But I come from the land of zydeco and gumbo. We're all about that stuff.”
When Simien returns he won’t be spending much time in the kitchen since he’ll be busy on the stage.
“It will be me doing my little thing on the accordion,” Simien said. “I love the accordion. I focus on my instrument and the vocal side of the music. I love that we use a lot of harmonies in our music. It’s a beautiful thing.”