Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners are one of the headliners for this weekend’s 30th annual Bayou Cajun festival
Some people are born with a natural musical talent. Others are born with the drive to create something unique and beautiful for others. Leroy Thomas was born with both.
Thomas, frontman of the band Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners, grew up in a household that was never quiet, but it was filled constantly with the sound of music. And growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, that music he grew up listening to was zydeco.
Zydeco, as explained by Thomas, comes from a French phrase meaning “snappy peas.” It’s a fast-paced musical style that relies primarily on two instruments: the piano accordion and the washboard. “From the day [my siblings and I] were born we were listening to it,” Thomas says.
According to Thomas, zydeco is extremely popular in the bayou. He said every weekend in Louisiana, listening and playing zydeco is what you do. And zydeco is what thousands of people will be listening to this weekend at the 30th Long Beach Bayou Festival at Rainbow Lagoon Park on East Shoreline Drive.
If you want to dance to some funky music from the bayou, Thomas and his band will be playing Saturday from 7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday from 3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.
According to Bervick “BJ” Deculus, the Long Beach Bayou Festival event planner, Thomas is one of the best zydeco musicians around. “Leroy Thomas is one of the few zydeco musicians who is still playing true zydeco music and relates well to his Creole culture,” says the Long Beach Bayou Festival event planner. Deculus. “Leroy keeps the tradition of the Creole Culture alive and flowing.”
Both of Thomas’ parents played a variety of instruments, in addition to his uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters. Although he received musical instruction from his family members, Thomas says he was mostly self taught. Thomas first began on the drums, which was his father’s signature instrument.
According to Thomas, his father’s style of drumming was so unique that not only did it influence Thomas and his brothers, but many other prominent zydeco musicians. In his teens, Thomas says he became interested in playing the accordion, so he taught himself to play and eventually joined his father’s band Zydeco Force.
Zydeco Force recorded the hit song “Why You Wanna Make Me Cry,” which is the most frequently played song in zydeco music for over 20 years, according to Thomas’ website. However, Thomas eventually set out on his own, forming Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners in 1998. Since then, Thomas has played across the country in front of audiences as large as 80,000 people.
Thomas says that even in front of those large crowds, he doesn’t get nervous. “It’s all about having people get up and dance,” he says. And that’s what Thomas means to do. Yet, despite his lack of nerves in front of large crowds, Thomas said it’s the small, intimate gatherings that make him nervous. “If they call me to a schoolhouse to play in front of a group of kids then I’m shaking nervous,” he says. “ I’ve never been able to figure out why.”
Aside from zydeco, his band also plays country, blues, and rock n roll – but at the end of the day, it’s all about zydeco. “That’s what I do, all I do is play zydeco,” he says. When asked how he would describe zydeco to someone unfamiliar with the musical style, Thomas says: “I would say, [it’s] fun music that you want to dance to immediately when you hear it.”
There will two stages for music this weekend – one for zydeco and a blues stage. Besides Thomas, other featured bands include Bonne Musique Zydeco (Saturday from noon to 1:15 p.m.), Mark St. Mary Louisiana Blues & Zydeco Band (Saturday from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.), La Recolte Cajun Band (Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.), Terry & the Zydeco Bad Boys (Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.) and the Revelers (Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.). On the blues stage, Guitar Shortly will play Saturday evening from 7:30 to 9, Big Jay McNeely will precede Guitar Shorty from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and the Sai Whatt Band will play Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p .m.
The box office for the 30th annual Bayou Fest opens at 10 a.m. Gates open at 11 a.m. The event ends at 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $30, seniors (60+) and students (18+) are $30 at the gate. Children 12 and under and free.