Simien brings Creole warmth to Duluth

Jill Fisher

At precisely 7:41 pm, Wednesday, April 20, 2022, New Orleans came to Duluth.

The purveyor was Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience, playing at Duluth’s West Theatre.

Bringing his hot Zydeco sound to our winter-like spring, the 5-piece band delivered a welcome respite for the aficionados who attended. Drums and bass pounded out Zydeco rhythms together with horns – trombone and saxophone – keyboards and the requisite accordion.

At times, different band members played a steel washboard to enhance the Creole sound.

Setting the theme for the concert, Simien performed “Gotta Have Peace,” following it up with rousing songs from their recent CDs including “Miss Lolly Pop” and “Creole Country.”

Even slower tunes exuded lots of energy that shook the initially cool reserve of the Northland audience.

With delightful showmanship, Simien tossed ropes of Mardi Gras beads into the audience, prompting people to get up and out of their seats, increasing the electricity of the performance.

Simien gave an emotive rendition of his original “T’Connais Moi Te L’aime” in his native Louisiana Creole French. Probably none of the attendees understood the lyrics, but the message was clear, capturing the essence of their New Orleans roots and everyone’s attention.

It was not the only selection that demonstrated Simien’s ability to sell a song. Closing the first set, he led a New Orlean’s traditional “Second Line” through the house.

After a short intermission Simien provided background on each of his Zydeco bandmates who included both relative newbies and seasoned veterans. He introduced drummer Ian Molinaro-Thompson, who has been with the group for only three months, noting he is a graduate of the Berklee College School of Music in Boston.

Saxophonist Orlando Gilbert has been with the band 3 of his 24 years, while Danny Williams, has contributed to their sound for 31 years as keyboardist and co-producer. Revon Andrews, on trombone (another youthful member), is the cousin of Trombone Shorty, of the famous Creole Andrews family.

Bassist Stan Chambers likewise got his chops early as a part of the Chambers family of musicians going back generations.

In short, this is no over-the-hill gang – they gave full out performances. Simien was happy to share his view that these younger players promise the Zydeco sound would continue well into the future.

Moving on with the music, the band performed rockin’ covers that included Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and “Love the One You’re With” by Stephen Stills. They also gave a nod to our local hero, Bob Dylan with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” inviting the audience to join in on that last line. The track is included on the band’s Dockside Sessions, which was one of two albums that received Grammy awards.

A final “Second Line” through the theater was intended to end the show, but the band was called back for an encore and, at concert’s end, folks left feeling fine.

The next night an entirely different mood filled the Sacred Heart Music Center, where a benefit concert for Ukraine relief was held. A range of 23 performers donated their talents to the cause, with selections reflecting the desperation of that country.

From the Ukrainian National Anthem played on the famous Felgamaker organ, afterwards sung by Steve Solkela, to recitations by local poets and personal accounts of connections to Ukrainian citizens, the evening provided a potpourri of performances.

Two musical offerings were particularly moving: “A Change is Gonna Come” sung by Born Too Late and Rachel Kilgour’s version of “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.”

The concert recalled much of the music of the 1960s anti-war movement and had a solemn quality that sent us all home in serious, if not downcast, frames of mind.