Swamp sounds: Jalopy Theatre hosts virtual Cajun music festival

Swamp Fest Jalopy
Jalopy Theatre’s Cajun festival will go online for the first time ever from May 15-May 17.
Colin Gould

A Red Hook Cajun music festival will launch its first fully-virtual weekend-long bash on Friday, May 15, when Jalopy Theatre presents its first “Cyber Swamp Fest” — a series of online performances, jam sessions, and workshops in the francophone folk traditions of the Bayou.

“It’s a joyous kind of music, but it’s almost as if country music were in French,” said Kelli Jones, a Louisiana-based Cajun singer and multi-instrumentalist. “It’s about love, loss, and friendship. It’s all about dancing and community and it’s very approachable — but also kind of exotic as well.”

Jones — a veteran performer of the showcase — will kick off the three-day fest with a cocktail hour, where she will play some of her favorite records from the swamp and give tutorials for local mixed drinks.

The programming continues with a lineup of several evening performances streaming online for free on Jalopy Theatre’s Facebook page, including one by Jones’s three-piece T’Monde. The group recently pre-recorded their show at a safe six feet apart, according to the musician, who said that, while it took some getting used to, it was nice to play some tunes together after weeks in quarantine.

“It was weird because I haven’t played music with people in a couple of months at this point and we hadn’t left our houses,” she said. “But it was a nice thing, even far apart from each other.”

Louisiana-based musician Kelli Jones will host several Cajun music workshops.Colin Gould

The Columbia Street venue organized the event as a virtual version of its annual Swamp in the City, which organizers have postponed to November in the hopes that in-person shows will be possible again by then, according to Lynette Wiley, Jalopy’s executive director.

The 60-90-minute workshops will move to the web-conferencing platform Zoom and will cost $30 with funds going toward supporting the venue as it remains closed during the pandemic.

Jones will host a Cajun rhythm guitar workshop where she will teach the two-step and waltz beats of the genre, as well as some common songs and jams. She will also lead another session on Cajun singing, introducing online audiences to French vocabulary and telling the stories behind the songs.

While moving the energetic sounds online takes some adjusting, Jones is glad to be able to gather Kings County’s Cajun aficionados despite exceptional circumstances, and hopes that the switch-up will grow the festival’s reach via the web.

“It’s definitely some escape for all of us being at home for quite a bit of time, but it’s also a form of togetherness, because it’s kind of an extended community,” she said. “Especially now that, even if we’re halfway across the country, we’re all going through the same thing.”

“Cyber Swamp Fest” by Jalopy Theatre May 15-17. Online performances here starting Friday at 7:30 pm. Free
Workshops on Saturday 2–6:30 pm, Sunday noon-5:30 pm, $30 per session. To register, visit www.jalopytheatre.org.