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February 27, 2014

Grounded in tradition

Bands from Louisiana, Ireland to perform in Belleville series

Authentic music to celebrate Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day is on tap for the Belleville Roots Music Concert Series this week and next.

Tomorrow night, Grammy Award winner Steve Riley and his band, the Mamou Playboys, will return to the Belleville Church in Newburyport, where they first played to a sold-out crowd two years ago.

“We’re a band that covers a lot of musical ground, most of it Cajun and Creole,” Riley said. “It’s going to be a time for people to get out, get up and get down.”

Riley has lived in Louisiana his whole life, and the band’s music draws from the rich musical traditions of southwest Louisiana.

Nominated for four Grammy Awards, the group celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and has put out 13 albums, including several on the Rounder Records label.

Ken Irwin of Newburyport is the co-founder of Rounder Records and a member of the Belleville Roots Music Committee. He signed the band after seeing Riley play at the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette, La., which is “sort of the home base for Cajun music,” Irwin said.

“I went down there, and Steve was, I think, 16 at the time,” Irwin said. “He was playing with Dewey Balfa.”

Balfa was a Cajun fiddler and singer from Louisiana who is often credited with helping revive the popularity of Cajun music, particularly after his 1964 performance at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

“Steve was very, very traditional at the time and just soaking up everything he could from Dewey,” Irwin said.

“I learned a lot just about the history of the music, all the trials that he went through,” said Riley, who plays the Cajun accordion, also known as a squeezebox.

Over the years, Riley and his band have experimented with the traditional Cajun French music, adding other elements such as rock and three-part harmonies.

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