For one week in late October, the Outer Banks will become Cajun and Creole Country, courtesy of a signature musician and a small army of local support.
Grammy award-winning zydeco master Terrance Simien and his band, the Zydeco Experience, are scheduled to bounce all over Dare County Tuesday-Saturday, Oct. 23-27, culminating with a performance headlining the Dare County Arts Council’s primary annual fundraiser.
“For us, it’s the most ambitious project we’ve done in a long time,” says DCAC Executive Director Chris Sawin. “The idea that we would bring in a Grammy award-winning musical artist and educator, at a time when the media arts are one of the real growth areas for employment for young people, is significant. To have a celebrated music educator, who’s internationally recognized, to come in and talk about his career in music and the importance to culture, it is important. I feel like it’s part of our mission.”
Simien brings his groundbreaking musical and cultural outreach program, Creole For Kidz, to five local schools for discussions, workshops and performances Oct. 23-26. He and his band headline the DCAC’s Bayou Ball on Saturday, Oct. 27, which will be held at the pavilion at Pirate’s Cove in Manteo.
“We’re truly honored to be performing at Dare County Arts Council’s Bayou Ball, and we’re really looking forward to reconnecting with the righteous community in the Outer Banks,” Simien says in a press release.
Indeed, Simien’s upcoming appearance is a reunion of sorts. He founded the Creole For Kidz program in 2000, and the Outer Banks was one of his early stops, in March 2001. Since then, the program, which he works into his regular touring schedule, has reached a half-million students and teachers all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as Australia, Russia, the Ukraine, Mali, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic.
In the interim, Simien, 53, won Grammy awards in 2008 and 2014. He collaborated with Randy Newman for the soundtrack to Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009. An eighth-generation Creole from Mallet, Louisiana, he is one of the renowned performers of zydeco music, an infectious, danceable stew that features button accordion and frottoir – a corrugated metal vest rubboard.
Simien and his people maintained contact with those on the Outer Banks, Sawin says, hoping to schedule a return visit. It became viable after the arts council paid down debt in the wake of Hurricane Irene damage. Dare County school administration, led by new superintendent John Farrelly, was sold on the program. A handful of local and regional non-profits and business interests signed on, among them Towne Bank, Outer Banks Hospital, South Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Don and Catherine Bryan Cultural Series and the Outer Banks Community Foundation. Local residents and Realtors donated homes for Simien and his band and entourage to stay while they’re here.
“The arts council is doing well, but we could not afford to do this on our own,” says Marsha Griffith, arts council treasurer and chairperson of the Bayou Ball. “It speaks to the support of the community.”
The DCAC’s big annual event funds most of its other programs and defrays costs throughout the year. But Griffith and others point to the cultural and educational components of Simien’s program as vital.
“I think it’s extremely important for our children to be exposed to as many different ideas and cultures as possible,” Griffith said. “All of the children of Dare County will have the opportunity, not only to hear him, but interact with him.”
Simien’s schedule includes stops at First Flight and Manteo high schools and Cape Hatteras Secondary School, and Kitty Hawk and Nags Head elementary schools. Elementary and middle school students from nearby schools will be bused to several of his workshops and performances. Student musicians will perform with Simien and his band at several appearances.
The Bayou Ball will be less formal than many DCAC fundraisers, with Cajun-themed décor and food. Individual tickets are $125, with opportunities for sponsorship and further donations.
For tickets, visit darearts.org/bayouball or call (252) 473-5558.