New Orleans and the Delta visits Sebastopol for music festival
By DAN TAYLOR | Sep 4, 2016

Louisiana came to Sebastopol for a friendly visit Sunday during the second day of the 21st Cajun Zydeco & Delta Rhythm Festival in Ives Park.

The second day of the festival was a new addition this year, devoted to the “Delta Rhythm” part of the equation, with some 800 or 900 visitors expected. The first day, themed “Cajun Zydeco,” drew an estimated crowd of 1,500 Saturday.

Perennial Bay Area star Maria Muldaur bounded onstage Sunday and greeted the crowd with a lusty rendition of a lyric that suited the occasion: “If you want to have fun, you gotta go to New Orleans.”

That’s exactly what Rick Pepper, 62, sporting a black beret, had in mind. Pepper said he lived in New Orleans for five years before settling in Marshall.

“I’m here because I want a taste of New Orleans that I miss — the music and the food,” Pepper said.

Vendors obliged with gumbo, barbecue, andouille sausage and more, as well as the usual hot dogs and hamburgers.

Muldaur, backed by her trio, sang a long and lively set, including “Cajun Moon,” but only mentioned her own signature hit, “Midnight at the Oasis” from the ’70s, in passing at first, referring to it as “that funny song about the camel.” Instead, she sang “Yes We Can,” a Pointer Sisters hit from the same era.

Ultimately, though, she did sing “Oasis,” introducing it with “Here it is …”

The Frobeck band, a Sebastopol favorite, opened the day’s musical performances, which also featured New Orleans blues pianist Henry Butler and closed with Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste and The New Aahkesstra.

The surprise hit of the day was Rusty Suspenders, a group of nine Analy High School students playing traditional New Orleans jazz, including “Mood Indigo,” “Sheik of Araby” and Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

“It’s an improvisational style,” said the group’s trombonist and leader Nick Hidy, 16, a junior at Analy.

The crowd responded warmly, calling for more, and the band complied, performing three sets during the day on its own smaller second stage across from the main stage.

“I’m really impressed with Rusty Suspenders,” said Kathryn Ondricek, 28, of Windsor, attending the festival for the first time.

Her husband, Allen Whitelonis, 29, who moved here from Texas, is not a New Orleans native, but the festival made him feel at home just the same.

“Cajun music is big on the Gulf every weekend, with everybody listening to zydeco,” he said, referring back to the Sebastopol festival’s first day,

The festival has a long history and has gone through changes along the way, but continues to build an audience, said Scott Hensey, president of the Rotary Club Sebastopol Sunrise. A portion of the proceeds help fund the club’s projects.

Perhaps the biggest hit of the day was the 40-foot-by-40-foot wooden outdoor dance floor in front of the main stage.

“I’m here to dance,” said Leslie Oliver of Occidental, and she and her partner, the New Orleans transplant Pepper, held their own on the dance floor.

Overall, the atmosphere of the festival was a mixture of musical sophistication and community spirit, which first-timer Ondricek summed up succinctly:

“I like the vibe here,” she said.

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or

Dyana Foldvary and Stuart Kandell dance to Maria Muldaur and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band during the Sonoma County Cajun Zydeco and Delta Rhythm Festival in Sebastopol, Calif. Sunday, September 4, 2016. The festival is now in its 21st year. Guests were treated to food and live music. (Jeremy Portje / For The Press Democrat)