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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

Featured Stories

Gator by the Bay: Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

by T.E. MattoxApril 2024

Tons of fun at Gator by the Bay!

Grand Marshall Peter Oliver leads the parade.

Rosie Flores. Photo by Valerie Fremin.

Sue Palmer and Laura Chavez. Photo by Tim Mattox.

Deke Dickerson

Mitch Polzak

CJ Chenier. Photo by Hank Randall.

Sonny Landreth

Jimmy Carpenter

Nick Moss & Dennis Gruenling. Photo by Tim Mattox.

Nikki Hill

 The four-day music festival, called Gator by the Bay, returns to San Diego May 9–12, 2024, and it’s jam-packed with an incredible array of live music, a vast assortment of fabulous food, and more fun and entertainment than is possible to list here. Ideally located, Spanish Landing Park sits right on the bay and comes to life with over 100 musical performances on seven different stages with everything zydeco, blues, Cajun, country, rockabilly, swing, salsa, and New Orleans-style jazz. Award-winning headliners abound with names like Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Sonny Landreth, Jimmy Carpenter, Marsha Ball, Fuzzy Rankins, Southern Avenue, and C.J. Chenier to mention but a few.

The event is billed as a Zydeco, Blues, and Crawfish Festival, but it’s so much more; there’s a little something for everyone, including Louisiana cooking demonstrations from master chefs in the culinary arts, dozens of vendors from clothing to artwork, and free dance lessons so you can update or perfect your very own bayou boogie. It’s truly a Creole cultural exchange for the entire family, where you can strut your stuff through the park in the second line parade or just feed your face with powdered Beignets. Let the good times roll!

And speaking of the second line parade, Grand Marshal and Gator founder Peter Oliver says it’s been 21 years now. “When we first started the festival we didn’t know we couldn’t do it…so we did it anyway.” And Oliver readily admits, “It’s true that I have referred to Gator more than once as my baby. She’s all grown up and ready for new adventures.”

Gator co-founder, Catherine Miller, remembers, “Our first festival was in 2001. Two years in Chula Vista in October. Then, in 2003, we moved to Spanish Landing Park, and in 2005 we moved the date to May on Mothers Day weekend. We have been presenting this marvelous event on Mother’s Day weekend at Spanish Landing ever since.”

Oliver helped start the Bon Temps Social Club in 1993 and says it’s been the banner carrier since the very first Gator by the Bay. “The Social Club continues to host frequent dances in San Diego.” he says. “Louisiana-themed educational and cultural topics of all sorts can be found along our Louisiana Avenue at the festival, right near the Bon Temp Dance Pavilion. We even host a Kids Day on the Thursday morning of the event for about 200 local third and fourth graders, where we offer live Louisiana music, education, food, and even Cajun and Zydeco dance lessons…makes me happy to be a part of it.

This year’s Gator celebration is highlighted by an amazing and diverse collection of musical talent. It kicks off on Thursday May 9 with a Western Swing Extravaganza, featuring the gifted Rosie Flores. Newly recognized for artistic excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, Flores’ guitar style has been influenced by everyone from Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers, to Gram Parsons and Jeff Beck. So there’s little doubt where her versatility on the six-string originates. Flores is the type of crossover artist who is just as comfortable in a honkytonk as she is at your local blues bar. Deke Dickerson and the Whippersnappers are well named. Bring your rockabilly dancing shoes because these guys do not let up. Evoking the early days of ’50s rock n’ roll like Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis—then adding a little twang from Duane Eddy and Lonnie Mack—you’ll understand why Dickerson has had such a storied career in this roots rock genre. Mitch Polzak and the Royal Dueces have that same dynamic and intensity in their music while adding a touch more Flatt and Scruggs instrumentation, then doubling down with a little Clinch Mountain Boys or Bill Monroe mandolin, and you’re all in with Mitch Polzak and the Royal Dueces.

Friday, May 10, at Gator is in celebration of what would have been Clifton Chenier’s 100th birthday. In honor of this legendary performer, his son, Grammy-nominated musician CJ Chenier, slide guitarist extraordinaire Sonny Landreth, and roadhouse blues piano sensation Marsha Ball will all be on hand to pay homage to the late, great King of Zydeco. The sweet sound from the Bayou will be a constant all four days from masters of the accordion Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys and Geno Delafose and French rockin’ boogie. This year, Gator is also featuring a new generation of Cajun roots musicians that have all garnered national attention. Don’t miss the San Francisco Bay area’s Iko YaYa and Lafayette, Louisiana’s own, Daquiri Queens. Both bands are guaranteed to keep your gumbo steamy all weekend long.

Blues fans have a lot to look forward to as national and international touring artists make rare Southern California appearances. Make sure you seek out the Grammy-nominated and Blues Music Award-winning band out of Memphis called Southern Avenue. Their artistry ranges from harmonies steeped in sweet soul to soaring blues all wrapped in a commanding stage presence. A true musical experience you won’t soon forget.

Nikki Hill is an electrifying blues singer/songwriter out of North Carolina. If you like your blues gritty, rock hard, and sweaty Nikki, along with husband Matt and the best blues guitarist in the nation; San Diego’s own, Laura Chavez ,this band is a must see. Speaking of Laura Chavez, she’ll be playing with four different bands over the weekend, so make sure you get out and show her some hometown love.

Nick Moss is out of Chicago and honed his blues chops from some of the best. Playing with legendary bluesmen like Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Jimmy Rogers, and Jimmy Dawkins, the multiple Blues Music Award-winning Nick Moss band lights up this year’s Gator with longtime friend and one of the world’s best harp players, Dennis Gruenling.

Jimmy Carpenter is a world-renowned singer/songwriter, saxophone player, and a Grammy Award-winning composer. He’s won BMA’s as best instrumentalist for his sax playing twice in 2021 and again in 2022. Carpenter’s diversity throughout his career has seen him performing with players like Tinsley Ellis, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. He now fronts the Jimmy Carpenter Brass Band, which generates enough party power to trip anyone’s breakers.

Robert Jon and the Wreck are a hard-driving Southern California blues band that can stun you with their blazing guitar riffs and then tear your heart out with harmonic, soulful ballads. No matter what means of transportation you prefer, definitely take the ride with Robert Jon and the Wreck.

Gator By the Bay loves to share its stages with our local family of artists. Oliver says, “In addition to the stellar national and regional musical acts we are bringing in, Gator by the Bay remains a showcase for our very talented local musicians to share their music with folks who may otherwise never have met them. The diversity of our musical genres is a testament to San Diego’s status as a musical melting pot and having such an assembly over one weekend pleases me to no end. We actually have at least four Louisiana-themed bands playing Zydeco, Cajun, and Gulf Coast music, and San Diego remains a hotbed of the various blues genres. Our North and East counties have been producing some amazing country and Americana, and many fantastic singer-songwriters hail from all over the county map. Damn, I’m proud to know them!

“Many of our local groups put on their Sunday best and actually create original shows just for their performances at Gator. I have always been honored that our local musicians take so much pride in the shows they create. And they always add a little lagniappe (something extra) to their shows just for Gator!”

See the complete line-up here…

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the people who have made all this possible for the past two decades. The Bon Temps Social Club of San Diego and especially individuals like Peter Oliver and Catherine Miller who have dedicated so much of their lives to make this festival happen. Along with their staff and volunteers they have literally taken inspiration and transformed it into one of San Diego’s premier and most anticipated destination events. And for that we can’t thank them enough.

Peter and Catherine may not be as hands on in the future, but they did share a little of their personal connection with the annual celebration. “This transition is not the end of anything,” Peter says. “It’s the beginning of a new era of music appreciation in San Diego. My heart is full of joy and admiration for the hundreds of volunteers who share a deep sense of pride and ownership in this event. I can’t imagine Gator without them.”

Catherine Miller

Catherine has a similar outlook. “This festival has grown over the years and continues to expand and evolve. We are excited for its future. Not only do we have a very committed base, the Bon Temps Social Club has a leading role; key volunteers and stakeholders are the backbone of the festival. Enthusiasm has never been higher. I believe the future of the event is very bright. Our music line-up is strong, and musicians enjoy playing this festival. Participation by the State of Louisiana Tourism and multiple Louisiana parishes continue to impart a true Louisiana thread that reflects the music, the culture, the food, and unmistakable joie de vivre.”

Get your tickets to Gator by the Bay for one, two or all four days…

…all I can tell you is rest up because you’re going to need it. See you at the crawfish boil.

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