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At Grammys, zydeco music gets a spark of renewal

Terrance Simien, a leading light among the younger generation of zydeco musicians, is raising the genre's profile at this year's Grammy awards.

Sidney Williams at his Zydeco club, El Sido's, in Lafayette, La.

Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff

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When Terrance Simien turned 19, the zydeco musician packed his instruments into a dilapidated van and, along with a bandmate, drove until he arrived at the Lone Star Cafe, on Fifth Avenue, in New York City. The joint was a "dive," he remembers. "Terrible. But it was a popular place to hear music, and we were there to get exposure."

They got it. In the midst of a raucous set of zydeco tunes, Mr. Simien looked out across the audience, and noticed some familiar faces: Paul Simon. Mick Jagger. Bob Dylan. Soon Keith Richards and Ron Wood jumped up on stage, for a jam. "It was surreal, man," Simien grins. "It was a surreal experience. In some ways, it still is."

Despite the occasional foray outside Louisiana, zydeco's roots are deepest in Lafayette, a Southern town perched on the Vermilion River, 130 miles west of New Orleans. Driven by a bustle of accordion and washboard – and soaring French vocals – the folk genre was born here, and perfected by generations of Creole and Cajun musicians.


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