ArtvoiceMardiGras
The Artvoice 2014 Mardi Gras event poster.

North of Louisiana, Buffalo is the place to go to celebrate Mardi Gras today! Grab your beads, deck yourself out in purple, green and gold, and get ready for a huge celebration — one to last you through the 40 days of Lent. After reading this, you’ll know some of the best places to hear jazz and taste King Cake in The Queen City. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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The Artvoice Mardi Gras Parade | Buffalo

Today marks the 19th Annual Artvoice Mardi Gras Parade rolls through Historic Allentown and the surrounding areas. Sponsored by Magic Hat Brewing Company, and Buffalo’s newsweekly “Artvoice,” this celebration is the biggest Mardi Gras party in the Northeast. Beginning at 5 p.m., the floats and parade-goers line up at Kleinhan’s Music Hall Lot on Symphony Circle and travel in a circle that connects Wadsworth, Allen, Main, Pearl and East Chippewa Streets, and Delaware Avenue.

The parade is free to attend, and a $5 bracelet grants access to participating bars and restaurants boasting Mardi Gras food and drink specials. The bracelets can be purchased at any participating venue. There is a full list on the Artvoice Mardi Gras website. Look for us there!

Chester’s Cajun Grill | East Amherst

In East Amherst, there is an unassuming local joint right on Transit Road, tucked in one of the many shopping plazas. Entering Chester’s Cajun Grill, one finds fantastic smells, tastes and Louisiana-style music playing in the background. With a dive bar feel, it’s the perfect place to relax with friends and family. Be sure to loosen your belt, though — portions are inexpensive, big and tasty. In the 2013 Taste of Buffalo, Chester’s received the Chairman’s Award for their Seafood Jambalaya, just one of many awards they’ve racked up over the years.

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Crawfish Etouffee at Chester’s Cajun Grill. Photo: Amanda Marie Rogers.

We recommend the Crawfish Étouffée — a heaping portion of the Cajun cuisine’s “holy trinity” of onions, bell peppers and celery — and lots of crawfish, along with slices of French bread. The hushpuppies (balls of fried cornmeal) are great as well, especially when paired with a bowl of gumbo and a beer.

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A New Orleans spread at Chester’s Cajun Grill. Photo: Amanda Marie Rogers.

Black Rock Zydeco | Buffalo and Grand Island

A style of music that developed in Louisiana, Zydeco is a little bit of everything. It started as a blend of Creole and Cajun music, but other influences are found too: blues, jazz, rock, country, soul and hip hop. If it’s got a rhythmic sound, it’s fair game.

In traditional Zydeco, a band’s name includes a reference to their hometown. Here in Buffalo, Black Rock Zydeco gets the party started. (“Black Rock” is a neighborhood along the Niagara River.) Since its inception roughly two years ago, Black Rock Zydeco has been working on spreading its unique style of music and dancing. The band has six members — Ron Kowalewski (vocals, accordion), Kathryn Koch (saxophone), Tim Gettings (bass), Stan Whatley (scrub board), Tyler Westcott (guitar) and Elton Hough (drums). We spoke with Mr. Kowalewski, who gave us a rundown of Black Rock Zydeco and the developing zydeco dance scene in Buffalo (there are already strong networks in both Rochester and Ithaca).

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Black Rock Zydeco in concert. Photo: Michelle Perkins Kowalewski.

Traditionally, Zydeco is a partner dance with heavily accented beats — but be advised that partners can most certain do their own thing, and it’s most importantly about having a good time! “The dance portion of the music is what we’re trying to build on. It’s about enjoying the dance — it’s a really great social dance,” Mr. Kowalewski told us. “It’s not to showcase our artistic virtuosity (although we all work to be great musicians) as much as it is to set up the party and keep the party going.”

Even if you’re not in Buffalo for Mardi Gras, you can enjoy the sounds of Black Rock Zydeco. They’re working on their first album, which should be released by June. Composed of eight original songs — seven written by Mr. Kowalewski and one written by Ms. Koch — and two traditional songs (“Let’s Go” by Nathan Williams and “I Got Loaded”), the band is recording right on Amherst Street in the heart of Black Rock at Sessions Studio. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign which ended yesterday, the album reached and exceeded its goal.

To see Black Rock Zydeco perform in Buffalo on Mardi Gras, head over to Sportsmen’s Tavern in the city of Buffalo and later Dick and Jenny’s on Grand Island. The band recommends Dick and Jenny’s for authentic Louisiana cuisine: its owners originally had a restaurant in New Orleans. For other live shows around the State, check out Black Rock Zydeco’s Facebook events.