Everyone's had music forced on them at some point in their lives—whether it's the Muzak version of "H to the Izzo" at your serving job, your older brother's death metal or the oldies your parents played on road trips. Sometimes it works out (Sam Cooke was regular spring-cleaning music when I was a kid), sometimes it doesn't (McMenamins ruined the Postal Service's Give Up for me for at least a year), and sometimes it opens your eyes.
During my adolescent years, my mother and stepfather embraced zydeco music. They took zydeco dance lessons; they dragged my brother and me to concerts across Chicagoland; they convinced us to spend every Fat Tuesday eating Cajun grub, watching crawfish races and dancing to Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas at a place called Crawdaddy Bayou in Wheeling, Ill. My mom—who often sports a Cha Chas T-shirt declaring, "I'm a zydeco hog"—and stepdad now live in Spokane, Wash., and they drive all the way to Portland whenever a zydeco band comes through town. So when I heard that zydeco legend Boozoo Chavis' grandsons were coming to Portland, I wondered if I'd enjoy zydeco on my own, without family pressure.
Saturday, April 21, I found out. Local nonprofit Cascade Zydeco hosted the Dog Hill Stompers, a Louisiana-based band composed of Chavis' grandsons, at Northeast Portland's Norse Hall. Upon arriving, I joined a large dance circle led by Janine and Roland Jemerson and managed to pick up the basic zydeco dance steps: slow, quick quick, slow, rock step, slow (kinda like swing). I was paired up with both first-timers and more experienced dancers and slowly learned to add accoutrements like lunges and spins. One fellow gave me a tip: If you lose your step, it's easy to jump back in on the rock step. A friendly woman partner encouraged me, saying, "If you're smiling, you're doing it right."
And I was smiling. I was smiling most of the night (and I only had two drinks). After the dance lesson, Boozoo's grandsons—who looked more like a hip-hop crew in their white sneaks and low-riding jeans—took the stage and led a sweaty, three-hour-long set of blues-tinged goodness that had cowboy-booted, middle-aged white ladies and slick-looking, young black men alike quick-stepping their hearts out. Then, one of the Stompers paused to say how much he wished he could hug his grandfather again. Standing red-faced and out of breath, I realized that musical family ties—however forced—can't be broken: I couldn't wait to show my mom and stepdad the moves I'd learned at our next zydeco outing.