Friday and Saturday Night Concert Series starts with Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience


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With Mardi Gras beads around his neck, an accordion in hand, and a Creole/southern Louisiana drawl, Terrance Simien embodies what he says are the two most important aspects of zydeco music: culture and fun.

“It’s the music of my ancestors, and just taking part in that gives you insight on how life was like for them,” said Simien, whose family has lived in Louisiana since the 1700s. “Zydeco songs are positive and fun-loving and a great alternative to popular music.”

This upbeat Louisiana music style will be featured on the Pedestrian Mall at 6:30 p.m. Friday for the Summer of the Arts’ first Friday Night Concert Series event of the season. The Saturday Night Concert Series kicks off this weekend featuring theWest High and City High Jazz Bands as well.

Simien and his Grammy-winning band Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience will perform new and traditional interpretations of zydeco, a Creole-based genre that combines Cajun and blues styles, French and English lyrics, and such instruments as the accordion and metal “rub-board.”

“People have a connection with this music no matter where we go, and a reason for that is the multicultural influence the music has,” said Simien, who is of French, African, Native American, and German ancestry. “Local music plays such a big part in the identity of the community; it’s something that brings people together.”

Lisa Barnes, the executive director of the Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts program, said it is this socializing aspect of music that has kept the Friday Night Concert Series alive since 1991.

“In our last 23 years, people have become accustomed to coming downtown Friday night after work or whatever, letting the kids play on the playground, and enjoying some great live, free music,” she said. “It just really contributes to the vibrancy of downtown.”

Barnes said this effect is “stronger” when Summer of the Arts teams up with other organizations such as Hancher to bring such acts as Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience to the Midwest.

“The Friday Night Concert Series is a natural gathering spot for lots of people in the community,” said Jacob Yarrow, the Hancher programming director. “Terrance Simien teaches kids about a slice of American culture they might not be aware of. It’s nothing but fun.”

With the Creole for Kidz program and contributions to films such as Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, Simien said education is a big part of his career.

“I love playing for the kids, because the kids are really truly moved by the performance and connect with it,” he said. “It brings me joy that they’re enjoying what I did as a kid.”

The Saturday Night Concert Series was bred in 2010 out of the success of the Friday series, which this year has been extended to Sept. 27.

While Simien said his group hasn’t been to Iowa City since the ’90s — “Iowa City was always hip to the things the rest of the world wasn’t hip to yet,” he said — the local high-school jazz bands have been a hallmark of the series for around 10 years.

“It lets [students] know that being in band and jazz band isn’t about just sitting in an auditorium playing for mom and dad,” said Ryan Arp, the director of the City High Jazz Band.

“It’s about entertaining the community and getting out in the community and performing. I think that’s really, really important.”

With Simien’s group as an exception, the Friday Night Concert Series traditionally features more Johnson-County-based bands. This season includes David Zollo, Tallgrass, and the Ramblers.

The Saturday Night Concert Series highlights bands from outside the area such as Adam Ezra, the Recliners, and the Parranderos Latin Combo band.

Simien said community events such as the Friday and Saturday Night Concert Series encourage musical cultures such as zydeco, with old and new musicians adding “their own flavor to the jambalaya.”

“Pride in culture and heritage is what keeps zydeco music alive,” Simien said. “The future [of Zydeco] is so bright, I have to wear shades.”


Summer of the Arts’ Friday Night Concert Series, featuring Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Pedestrian Mall
Admission: Free

Summer of the Arts’ Saturday Night Concert Series featuring West High and City High Jazz Bands
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pedestrian Mall
Admission: Free

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