From the make-your-eyes-sweat crawfish etoufee to the dance-till-you-drop zydeco, the tastes and sounds of Louisiana share one delicious thing in common: Spice is not just something you put on your gumbo, it's the extra-hot Tabasco that defines a way of life.
The food is spicy, the music is spicy, the people are spicy. Everything about the culture is spicy.Which made Saturday's Festival New Orleans at Franklin Quest Field one of the spiciest events this town has seen in quite some time. Real Cajun food in Salt Lake City? Honest to goodness zydeco?
Yep, that was the smell of jambalaya simmering, of crawfish just screaming to have their tails squeezed, of alligators swimming in barbecue sauce. And yes, that was a Dixieland jazz band marching around the stadium, while a couple thousand fans kicked up their heels to the zydeco-rock of Zachary Richard (that's "REE-char," of course).
Salt Lake City's first Festival New Orleans was a chance for Utahns to taste a small slice of authentic Cajun culture. An assortment of Louisiana chefs and musicians are making a 17-city tour in an attempt to re-create the spirit of the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
While that particular festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the world, the traveling Festival New Orleans is a scaled-back version with only about a dozen food booths, a half dozen vendors of Mardi Gras paraphernalia, two concert stages and about 3,000 or 4,000 wish-they-were-in-New Orleans revelers.
How authentic was it? Depends on your point of reference. Since you still can't find knock-your-socks-off Cajun food anywhere in Salt Lake City, even average Louisiana food tastes mighty good.
So for an expert opinion, I defer to Theresa Thibodeaux and Eva Blake, both Louisiana natives now living in Utah. The file gumbo? Not too good. The jambalaya? OK, but Theresa could make it better.
The crawfish etoufee? "As good as it gets. One taste and I knew you wouldn't want to share," Eva said.
The music received the same kind of mixed reviews. The festival kicked off with the Just-A-Portion gospel choir (ironically performing on a stage with the word "Voodoo" across the top), followed by the zydeco of John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys and later Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots. The prime-time evening attractions were Zachary Richard and Buckwheat Zydeco.
Delafose was great, but Sunpie paled by comparison. And Ree-char? A sensational performer who serves up a musical gumbo of country, rock and Cajun sounds.
Instead of fans imitating shark fins, though, you get thousands of people holding their hands like crawfish pincers and wildly singing "squeeze the tails and suck the heads" - the chorus to "Crawfish," of course.
Richard closed his set appropriately with "Going to Louisiana." But on this sun-baked Saturday, Louisiana came to us.