Leroy Thomas and his Zydeco Road Runners bring the sounds of rural Louisiana to Richmond. 

Mardi Gras Music

Just when you thought Mardi Gras celebrations ended at the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday, Leroy Thomas and his Zydeco Road Runners hit town to keep the party going for two shows Wednesday, Feb. 28, and Thursday, March 1. Granted, it may be cheating a bit to push the traditional pre-Lenten party into Ash Wednesday and beyond, but Thomas says he'll be ready to rock at the Capital Club Mardi Gras event and Boulevard Deli CreoleArts dance this week. "We give 'em a taste of how we used to do it," he says. Thomas and his neighbors used to do Mardi Gras right when he was growing up in Louisiana zydeco country northeast of Lake Charles. He recalls that everyone in his hometown of Elton looked forward to the celebration as a high point of the year. Mardi Gras party events were even announced in church. When Fat Tuesday finally arrived, locals would rise at 6:30 a.m. to begin a day of serious partying. Dressed in oversized boots and baggy clothes, some folks climbed aboard a flatbed trailer for an eight-hour journey through the surrounding countryside, while some made the journey on foot. Thomas and a makeshift band would ride in another truck supplying the music, and the revelers would wend their way to nearby homes where friends donated chickens. When the trip ended late in the day, locals from here and beyond met for a big communal get-together at the town's Catholic hall. Women used the chickens to make enough gumbo to feed everyone, and folks danced to zydeco music into the night. Because his music now takes him on the road, and because he moved to Houston a few years back, Thomas admits he has not been a part of the rural Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras celebration for some years now. But this doesn't mean the band leader and his musicians are cheated out of a party. In fact, every night is a party on the bandstand, Thomas says. Thomas, 35, grew up with music in his veins. His dad, Leo, had a band, and relatives on both sides of the family also have zydeco careers. As a teen, Thomas first learned drums and occasionally sat in with his father when he played the clubs around Lawtell and Opelousas, La. Influenced by zydeco godfather Clifton Chenier, Thomas eventually learned the accordion. Today, he plays both the traditional Creole/Cajun single-note accordion and the more dynamic piano-note version of the instrument. Music changed from a weekend pastime to a full-time endeavor for Thomas two years ago, and he's finding audiences from Chicago to New York to Philadelphia. What sets him apart from some other bands, he contends, is the energy level of the music. Though rooted in older zydeco forms, Thomas injects his performances with a high-octane stage presence that causes dancers to stop and watch. Thomas promises that his band kicks the music into high gear, Mardi Gras party or not. "It's pretty traditional, but I rock it up also," he says. "When I'm playing, I put all my effort in."

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