Front Porch

San Diego Musicians Spice Up Gator Fest

Enthusiastic audience at Gator by the Bay. Photo by Jon Naugle.

Perennial favorites, Sue Palmer & her Motel Swing Orchestra

Hot Rod Lincoln

Euphoria Brass Band

Perhaps the most accurate word of San Diego’s ongoing fling with all things Louisianan is “growth.” Spring is in the air; time for baseball, blooming flowers and eating gumbo while rocking to a zydeco beat: could it be time once again for Gator by the Bay?

The calendar never lies, and this year’s celebration down at the Spanish Landing will be huge. There will be buses assisting commuters, more tents in the enclosed areas, and ample opportunities to toss your diet into the Bay. But one of the major areas of growth is the roll call sheet of San Diego area musicians contributing to the diverse genres of zydeco, blues, jazz, rockabilly, and gospel.

As we go to press, the following acts from San Diego (and the neighboring communities from South Riverside County) have been confirmed: The Paladins, Buzz Campbell and Hot Rod Lincoln, Johnny “V” Vernazza, Nathan James, “Big Jon” Atkinson, Bubba McCoy Band, Chris Fast Band, Bill Magee Blues Band, Len Rainey and the Midnight Players, Sue Palmer and Her Motel Swing Orchestra, Whitney Shay, Mercedes Moore Band, Casey Hensley Band, Lady Star Blues Band, Manny Cepeda, Kimba Light, Jarabe Mexicano, Combo Libertad, Bayou Brothers, Theo & Zydeco Patrol, Billy Lee and the Swamp Critters, San Diego Cajun Playboys, Six String Society, Ginger Cowgirl, Sara Petite, Nathan Rivera and Jessie Andra Smith, the Fremonts, and Shelle Blue.

Also scheduled to appear are locals Gino and the Lone Gunman, Joey Harris and the Mentals, the Euphoria Brass Band, Flipside Burners, Lady Rogo, Clinton Davis, Robin Henkel, the Palominos, Dulaney and Company, Three Chord Justice, the Farmers, Ben Powell, Screamin’ Primas, Ass Pocket Whiskey Fellas, Quel Bordel!, Gypsy Swing Cats, “Harmonica John” Frazer, Patric Petrie, Jillian Calkins, Naked I, the Spanky Turner Show, Leilani Kilgore, Anthony Cullins, Benji Davis and the Honey Cat Blues Band, West Coast Irons Works, Alpha Vets, Jason Weiss and the Thursday Night Pickers, and Crown Point Music Academy.

Among the entertainers from Louisiana will be the award-winning acts Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie (Duraldi, LA), Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band (Lafayette), and Steve Riley and the Mamou (LA) Playboys.

Since Thursday is the “new Friday” or “early weekend” around the city, fans of the fest will be able to start the party early on May 11. The music will begin at 6pm with Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen. A practitioner of the fine art of New Orleans busking, Wait is also a familiar face in the clubs of the Big Easy. Bitten by the bug of wanderlust after placing all his worldly possessions outside in front of his Columbia, Missouri home and hitting the road, Wait digested a steady diet of soul, R&B, country, folk, and blues in his travels. At 8pm, the audience will hear the Americana sounds of Temecula’s Dulaney and Company. Having joined forces after an inspiring Bob Dylan concert in 2012 Jerod Dulaney and Malissa Miller have expanded into a band, featuring brother Chad Dulaney (percussion), Josh Weigel (guitar), and Kyre Wilcox (bass). Headlining the Thursday night showcase for Gator by the Bay is Texas native Marcia Ball, no stranger to the festival or San Diego clubs. Ball doesn’t just tickle the ivories but pounds the 88s with an intensity that has provided her worldwide recognition. Inspired by the New Orleans piano playing of James Booker, Professor Longhair, and Fats Domino, Ball is also a compelling vocalist who listened to Irma Thomas, the famed New Orleans singer whose single release of “Time Is on My Side” preceded the Rolling Stones’ cover of the song. Ball appeared in the Clint Eastwood documentary The Blues and received enthusiastic reviews for her 2014 CD The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man on the Alligator label.

With so much diversity, it will be difficult for attendees to decide on the “best” band of the weekend. But when it comes down to eating, crawfish might be the king, with 10,000 pounds of the freshwater crustacean being brought into Gator by the Bay. Other tempting choices on the menu include catfish, seafood gumbo, fresh raw oysters, boudin sausage, po’ boy sandwiches, beignets, sweet potato pie, and homemade ice cream. Cooking classes will be held to instruct the public on how to create these and other Southern delicacies. Tourist bureaus representing several parishes from Louisiana will present vacation packages as seductive as the home cooking. Louisiana’s commitment to a West Coast festival some 1,800 miles away from New Orleans is perhaps best exemplified by this year’s appearance of Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser. In addition to his daily duties in the state capitol of Baton Rouge, Nungesser is commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. He’ll become a familiar face over the weekend.

The festival is family friendly in atmosphere and affordability. Kids under 17 are admitted free and active military can enjoy the entire festival run free with proper ID. Gator by the Bay will be held from Thursday, May 11 to 14 at Spanish Landing, across from the airport. Visit for ticket packages and concert schedule.

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