First there’s distant thunder. Then the wind picks up. Then, with the darkening clouds, the humidity begins to climb. Soon crackles of lightning begin charging the air. And then, Cajun fiddler Lisa Haley and her Zydekats arrive with the force of a major weather front. Storm advisories are necessary here for any who might not be comfortable losing inhibitions and dancing with abandon to Haley’s celebratory and infectious Louisiana delta music. Like Cajun cooking, this spicy musical confection may be too rich if your system can only tolerate delicate fare. Lisa and her Kats don’t do “delicate.”
Zydeco and Cajun music, like the Louisiana delta from which they grew, is combustible, capricious, lit by lightning flashes, rich and earthy, and dangerously intoxicating. Haley warns that even a brief exposure to her music can produce “zydecosis,” a chronic malady characterized by hyperkinetic activity, a need to dance, and a predisposition to grin and laugh frequently. Once zydecosis is contracted it is hard to shake. Once the zydeco storm is unleashed, it is hard to contain.
Haley said she is excited about returning to the Idyllwild Arts (IA) campus, even though this is her first time playing at Jazz in the Pines. “My folks ate beans so that I could attend ISOMATA [Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts] summer camp for my four high school summers,” she related. “I remember [fellow student] Buzz Holmes [now a member of the Idyllwild Arts Board of Governors] being the biggest troublemaker during the summers. I’m going to remind him when I see him.”
Haley played viola each of her four ISOMATA summers, which, with its emphasis on counterpoint and rhythm, proved solid training for her fiddling. “I have really great memories of being there during those summers,” she said, “that natural beauty, really amazing teachers and really challenging music.” Her younger brother also attended as a trombone player. Although classically trained in viola and piano, Haley recognized that Cajun music was her professional calling.
Haley and the Kats have been highly popular regulars at Ken Dahleen’s Idyllwild Summer Concert Series. Haley said she is looking forward to playing as part of the jazz festival and has already received tweets from local fans who are looking forward to her return to Idyllwild. “We should have a good turnout,” said Haley.
Haley’s Acadian delta roots are deep, even though, for reasons of her mother’s health, the family moved to Southern California when Lisa was a child. “When we went outside [our house], it was Southern California, but inside it was Louisiana, with all the music that is part of our culture,” she said. Haley is a fourth-generation fiddler who has played with Cajun musical royalty — Queen Ida, Joe Simien, Al Rapone, Rockin’ Sydney, and studied with Cajun fiddle master Canray Fontenot.
Haley’s 2008 post-Katrina CD “King Cake,” dedicated to New Orlean’s rebirth, was Grammy nominated. She and the Kats tour the U.S. and internationally, and win national and international accolades. With Haley at Jazz in the Pines are Gigi “Gee” Rabe on accordion and vocals; Chuck Alvarez (also with Idyllwild roots) on guitar and vocals; Andy Anders on bass and vocals; and Maria Martinez on drums and percussion.