Zydeco Experiment

Buffalo Zydeco, 7/10/05, Sherman, NY

By Robert "Gumby" Hillard

Let's talk about Zydeco Experiment, now better known as Buffalo Zydeco. While I cannot tell you the first time the band played under the ZE moniker, the core of the ZE lineup was always Jeb, Tara, and Jim. Joe Thrift was the scrub dude up until his departure from the band, and Wade Puryear was a regular on the drums. Many more folks have come in and out of the laboratory over the years, including Trevor MacDonald, Amy Glicklich, Kevin Wimmer, and JT Puryear.

I can recall the late-night ZE dance sets at the Great Blue Heron Festival in Sherman, NY going back at least as far as 1996, maybe even 1995. They may have been doing their zyde-thang at Grassroots even earlier, but the I'm fairly certain that 1996 was the first year time that ZE made an appearance at Blue Heron.

(Editor's Note: ZE's first appearance at Great Blue Heron was in 1993. Longtime fan John Miklasz explains: "Having attended all the Great Blue Heron Festivals dating back to its humble beginings in 1992, I just wanted to make an addition to Gumby's history of Zydeco Experiment. The first dance tent was set up at the Blue Heron Festval in 1993. It was at the top of the hill as opposed to its current lakeside location. Zydeco Experiment made its first apperance at the festval that year, playing until dawn as has become their tradition. If I remember correctly, there were only about 25 people in the tent when they started and maybe 5 or 6 left when they finished. This was the first time I saw Donna playing zydeco music, although I had seen Jeb in the band Zydeco Norton as far back as 1989. They used to play at the Rooney Mountain Bluegrass Festival in Deposit, NY.")

I do know that there was a companion outfit that started in the early 90s called Zydeco Norton that included Jeb, Tara, Jim, Kevin Wimmer, and Dirk Powell, amongst others. I'm pretty sure they played gigs up and through the mid-90s.

Appearances of ZE outside of the WNY festivals were (and still are) somewhat rare. One notable exception worth seeking out is the "encore set" of the 12/12/98 holiday show at the Rongo (Rongovian Embassy) in Trumansburg, NY. More recently, they've played a few zydeco dances (with and without Preston Frank) at The Haunt in Ithaca. And there was an doomed attempt to pull off a VA-based ZE in the dance tent at Floydfest 84, but for reasons that escape my memory, this never transpired, as shown by the setlist.

ZE & The Frank Family
About playing with the Franks...As I recall, as much as I thought (and still do think) that DtB/ZE layed down a seriously mean zydeco groove, at the time, they really did not consider themselves worthy of any sort of comparison to their musical heroes in the bayou. In fact, I remember Jeb laughing out loud at my suggestion that they should consider making a ZE record...and again when I asked whether they might play a ZE show on their Spring 2001 trip to Louisiana. Heck, with the exception of Standing Room Only (plus a grrrrrreat version of Uncle Bud with Steve Riley on accordian), they steered clear of the zydeco tunes for most of that Louisiana trip. It seemed that zydeco was something they did for fun, and they didn't dare take themselves too seriously.

Based on this mindset, I am speculating that, while they had long ago become good friends with the Frank family, they may not have felt completely confident about sharing a stage with them. So they ended up waiting until Preston invited THEM to play a set with HIM...which I believe may have occured for the first time (although planned in advance) at either the 1999 or 2000 Great Blue Heron. This was also the first time that ZE played on the main stage at Blue Heron, as opposed to in the dance tent. Heck, it may have been the first time they played in the daylight (those Sunday afternoon ZE sets in the tent didn't start until around 2000 or so).

Of course, once they got past that little formality, it's been a serious musical kinship ever since. The Frank family influence on the Finger Lakes dance scene, coupled with the seriously groovy and loosey goosey nature of Zydeco Experiment, is formidable. In fact, I am convinced that there is a style of zydeco (both dancing and playing) that can be tied to this somewhat non-traditional mix of influences. I think it was Barbara Walker's sister who called it Excydeco, which I think is damn fitting...

News & Rumors Archives »