Louisiana comes to Kettering

Annual Swamp Romp Zydeco festival returns to Fraze

By Tony Baker

Photo: Lil’ Malcolm performs at Swamp Romp 2011 at Fraze Pavilion

There’s not much going on at Fraze Pavilion on an overcast Friday afternoon. A few kids stream by on bicycles and rollerblades. The hum of landscaping machinery can be heard coming from a nearby apartment complex.

Empty benches and picnic tables. A few old folks out for an afternoon stroll. Sidewalk Closed and Ticket Holders Only signs hidden in the bushes, waiting to be deployed for the next event. Orange, green and purple banners hang from lampposts, presenting a timeline of major events from the venue’s 14-year history, and shouting out the names of a few sponsors as well. In the large pool just west of the main attraction, seven small geysers shoot water into the air, their spouts reaching to about head height.

And then you have the Pavilion itself. Ghostly metal bleachers, flimsy paper signs taped to the backboards in the front row, indicating those seats are reserved for elderly or disabled patrons. A grassy slope leads down to several rows of folding maroon-colored seats ranged in front of the large amphitheater.

It’s hard to believe that soon those seats will be filled, the Pavilion and the park beyond playing host to over 4.5 thousand guests.

The first Swamp Romp was held in 1996. Don LeDoux, long-time DJ at Dayton’s WING FM radio station and current owner of Cajun Specialties, a restaurant and catering business based in Troy, was actively involved in putting together the first event and continues to be involved in the festival, according to Karen Durham, General Manager of Fraze Pavilion. Durham came to the venue in 1997.

Swamp Romp is dedicated to Zydeco, a blend of blues, R&B and Native American musical stylings that originated among French Creole speakers in southern Louisiana in the early twentieth century. The name is thought to have been inspired by a French phrase meaning “the snap beans aren’t salty,” a reference to the poor Cajun and Creole folk who started the genre not being able to afford salty meats to add flavor to their dinnertime fare.

There are many challenges to putting together an event like Swamp Romp, Durham explains. First among these is finalizing the date for the festival, followed closely by finding entertainers who happen to be available on that date.

“We like to use as many local musicians as we can during our festivals,” Durham says. “Unfortunately, there are not very many bands locally and regionally who play Zydeco. We typically bring a nationally known artist to headline the event.”

This year’s headliner is Buckwheat Zydeco, a Louisiana-based group that has performed with artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, U2 and the Boston Pops. Wayne Toups, Terrance Simien, Boozoo Chavis, Geno Delafose, Steve Riley, CJ Chenier and Chubby Carrier have all been previous headliners.

“Because the festival takes place in the middle of a park as well as on the Fraze stage, our day starts in two different places,” Durham says. “First we have a set-up crew that does everything from putting tents up that the vendors will use to setting up tables and chairs that our guests use for dining. At the same time, our technical crew begins setting up sound and equipment for the day’s performances. Vendors arrive and unload their product and begin food preparation. Staff arrives to get instructions for the day. Then the gates open and the festival begins!”

And the workers and organizers at Fraze aren’t the only ones with long days and lots of preparation ahead of them, according to Dennis Stroughmatt, lead singer of the Illinois-based Cajun/Creole/Honkytonk hybrid Creole Stomp.

“Our day starts with lots of driving,” Stroughmatt says. “We’re from Illinois and across the state, which is pretty big, so we’re in the truck reading and listening to music on the way and just generally getting mentally ready for the show. The challenge is maintaining a great deal of energy after driving for several hours, but we always give it our best no matter what, whether we’re playing an hour from home or 20 hours.”

In the end, however, it’s all worth it.

“It’s fun to play music for people to have a good time, but we also play for personal enjoyment,” Stroughmatt says. “We try to enjoy our work because we never forget when we go on that stage that we are working, not just playing. We’ve always enjoyed the people at Swamp Romp, as we know there are some hardcore Cajun and Zydeco fans over in the Dayton-Kettering area, and we look forward to bringing a little taste of Louisiana to them.”

Swamp Romp will take place Saturday, July 18 at Fraze Pavilion, 695 Lincoln Park Boulevard in Kettering. The event begins at 4 p.m. and admission is free. For more information, please visit fraze.com.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Tony Baker at TonyBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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