Front Porch

Gator Opening Night: Gypsy Jazz, Van the Man’s Daughter, and the King of Slydeco!

Zzymzzy Quartet (l. to r.): Paul Hormick, Beston Barnett, Matt Gill, Pete Miesner. Photo by Dan Chusid.

Sonny Landreth

Shana Morrison

Peter Oliver at Gator. Photo by Dennis Andersen.

Robin Henkel. Photo by Dennis Andersen.

It must be obvious by now that Spain’s imperial ambitions were arrested too soon for her to build, as the French did, in New Orleans, a full-blown capital city, which might have well been the capital of the United States if Napoleon had not sold for cash the huge interior that La Salle had claimed as Louisiana.

—Alistair Cooke, “America”

In 2018—with many Americans wondering exactly what defines progress in the District of Columbia—the thought of elected politicians running through the French Quarter unsupervised is a scary thought indeed. But since the French did not triumph in the three-way colonial conquest (the British gradually wore down both the French and the Spanish) on the continent, we can still celebrate the significant cultural contributions that the French made. If the French influence found in the kitchen and out on the dance floor sounds appealing, San Diego’s annual Gator by the Bay Festival will be able to satisfy culinary fantasies and any desires to kick up the heels.

Perhaps the spiciest Mother’s Day Weekend in the United States, Gator by the Bay, will once again be held at Spanish Landing Park, adjacent to Lindbergh Field. The music kicks off on Thursday night, May 10 with the “hot jazz” sounds of the Zzymzzy Quartet, followed by Shana Morrison and Caledonia, and Sonny Landreth.

Zzymzzy—featuring group leader Beston Barnett on guitar and vocals, Pete Miesner on guitar and lead vocals, Troubadour contributing writer Paul Hormick on bass, and Matt Gill on clarinet—provides an attractive musical menu where the hot jazz of Paris shares space with the Great American Songbook. Imagine a party where Django Reinhardt is the entertainment for hire; there’s a knock on the door and in walks Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. Last year, the Zzymzzy Quartet returned to the recording studio after a long hiatus and released a new CD, Petite Fleur.

They are also playing the festival after many moons. “We have played at Gator by the Bay in the past, but fell off the roster in the last few years, probably because we’re not precisely New Orleans music,” said Barnett. “But we do love the dancers, and there’s that French New Orleans connection, which, for me, is all about the great Sidney Bechet. In my mind, he’s the link between gypsy jazz and New Orleans jazz; we do a couple of his compositions on our new album, including the title track “Petite Fleur.” We’re happy the Gator folks found us a spot this year in the opening night dance.”

The daughter of “Belfast Cowboy” Van Morrison and his former wife, Janet “Planet” Rigsbee, Shana Morrison has accumulated a solid discography of rhythm and blues influenced albums. Along the way, she has performed many on-stage duets with her father.

On his official biography, Sonny Landreth possesses impressive musical bookends; John Hiatt’s on one side and John Mayall’s on the other, with participation by Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and Clifton Chenier on their own musical volumes. The king of “Slydeco”—a reference to his unique guitar approach to zydeco—Landreth will be playing selections from his acclaimed live album, which was recorded in Lafayette, Louisiana.

At press time, the following Southern California acts have been confirmed for Gator: Johnny “V” Vernazza, Chris Fast Band, Bill Magee Blues Band, Sue Palmer and her Motel Swing Orchestra, Whitney Shay, Mercedes Moore Band, Casey Hensley Band, Manny Cepeda, the Bayou Brothers, Theo & the Zydeco Patrol, Billy Lee and the Swamp Critters, San Diego Cajun Playboys, Gino and the Lone Gunman, The Palominos, the Euphoria Brass Band, Flipside Burners, Sara Rogo, Clinton Davis, the G Burns Jug Band, Robin Henkel, Three Chord Justice, Ass Pocket Whiskey Fellas, “Harmonica John” Frazer, Patric Petrie, Jillian Calkins, Anthony Cullins, the Fooks, and Benji Davis and the Honey Cat Blues Band.

Also performing from our region will be Earl Thomas, Café R&B, Vaud and the Villains, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Blue Largo, Alice Wallace, the Stilettos, Skelpin, Fuzzy Rankins, David Sousa and the Zydeco Mudbugs, Fontenot, Pappion & Plauche, High Light Cajun Band, Crew D’Etat Brass Band, Michele Lundeen, Bubba McCoy Band, the Tighten Ups, the Sleepwalkers, Cadillac Wreckers, Gregory Page, Bobby Sanchez Combo, Johnny Deadly Trio, Chicken Bone Slim, Jason Weiss, Tim Steelbone Cook, and the Crown Point Music Academy.

Save some room for the crawfish!

Gator by the Bay will be held from May 10 to 13. Visit for complete ticket information.

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