Maine has its Acadian roots. Louisiana has its Cajun spices. Mix up a batch of French accordion with blues guitar and boogie piano, and you have a real La La.

In case you’re not up on your Creole lingo, La La is synonymous with zydeco — a musical blend of Cajun music, blues, and rhythm and blues. It’s also what you call a party where musicians jam on a little of everything.

“The old folks used to call it a La La,” said C.J. Chenier, one of the artists performing at this year’s North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland. “Now people say we’re going to a zydeco. When you go to a La La, you’ll hear a lot of different stuff.”

C.J. Chenier knows what he’s talking about. His father, Clifton Chenier, pioneered zydeco in the 1950s before C.J. was born. Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band brought the ethnic music blend to mainstream music listeners. As the current leader of the band, the younger Chenier tosses in his own variety of musical influences.

Chenier grew up in east Texas not knowing his father and listening as a teenager to bands like Earth, Wind and Fire. He played the saxophone in a funk band and received a music scholarship to college. But his mother discouraged him from making a living with music.

“My dad was a rolling stone, and I really didn’t know him when I was growing up,” said Chenier. “My mother and sister kept telling me that music wasn’t a job and wanted me to work in the oil refinery.”

Chenier did work in the refinery, and he hated it. He worked on the railroad and hated that, too. He remembers when he got the call from his father to join the band. He was 20 years old and packed his clothes in a paper bag.

“It was a blessing when my dad called me,” Chenier said.

On the road in Louisiana with veteran musicians, Chenier had to learn that variety was the spice of life. Blues entered his repertoire, as did playing the accordion.

“I was kind of freaking out,” Chenier said. “Everyone was 15 to 20 years older than me. I didn’t know this music at the time. It all sounded the same to me. But I found myself boppin’ my head and tappin’ my foot. Then the audience kicked in, and I liked that. The culture, the food, the music — it just all came together.”

Chenier said no one can ever play the accordion like his father and gives all due respect to the elder king of zydeco. But Chenier definitely has the upper hand when it comes to the vocals. His easygoing, come-here voice sucks you in faster than a crawdad head.

Now Chenier has no problem throwing in any ingredient into his music or living up to his royal Creole pedigree. A funked-up Tom Waits’ song might surface. Some east Texas blues or smooth jazz could bubble up.

“I like variety,” said Chenier, who also plays the flute and keyboard along with the sax and squeezebox. “I don’t like to contain myself. I feel a whole lot better when I can be free.”

Chenier said he goes with the flow of the crowd and what it wants to hear. But if people turn him loose and let him, he’s looking forward to giving everyone an old fashioned La La.

What: The North Atlantic Blues Festival

When: July 12-13

Where: Public Landing, 275 Main St., Rockland

Tickets: $25 per day and $50 for weekend pass that includes the club crawl. Advanced tickets sales end Monday. $35 each day at the gate and $70 for weekend pass at the gate. $5 at the gate for children ages 6 to 12; free for children 5 and under.

More info and schedule:


Saturday, July 12

Jarekus Singleton

Teeny Tucker

Victor Wainwright

C.J. Chenier

The Golden State Lone Star Review

The Mannish Boys

Sunday, July 13

Mr. Sipp

Joanna Connor

Melvin Taylor

Jimmy Thackery

Joe Louis Walker

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