My Failed Zydeco Career

by Stephanie

Let’s imagine a completely hypothetical scenario wherein I dream of becoming the next great Rock ‘n Roll guitarist, like Slash from Guns & Roses (my love for that man has no limits). In this scenario, I buy myself a cheap guitar and start plucking away, trying to teach myself to play anything that remotely sounds like Sweet Child O’Mine. While I’m doing this, a friend of mine, a singer, starts raving about this Zydeco class he took. Zydeco, you ask? Yes, Zydeco, a small genre of music known for its Cajun roots and frequent use of the accordion.

“Steph, you HAVE to sign up for this Zydeco class. It’s amazing. It’s made me such a better singer!”

“Really, but I have no desire to play Zydeco.”

“Me neither, but trust me, you’ll get a lot out of it.”

Now this wasn’t just any regular Zydeco school. This school was started years ago by Zydeco legend Rockin Dopsie and it was known for launching countless successful Zydeco careers. Slightly hesitant, I sign up for Zydeco 101, and much to my surprise, I LOVED it! Not only did my guitar playing improve, but I found this new found love of performance that was completely unexpected. I immediately signed up for Zydeco 201, and started networking in the small underground community of Zydeco enthusiasts. Soon, relationships started building, and I decided to put together my very own practice band.  Out of this, The Pleathers was born.

After a few rehearsals, our chemistry was obvious, so I suggested that perhaps The Pleathers should consider taking our show out of the garage and in to the tiny underground Zydeco scene. Slowly but surely, we booked a few small gigs and started gaining momentum. The great thing about The Pleathers was that our chemistry worked so well on stage because it also worked well off-stage.  We were band-mates, but we were also good friends.  Two years went by, and a few of our founding members departed to pursue other ventures.  Meanwhile, most of the original members progressed through the higher levels of Zydeco classes with their heart set on super-stardom. For me, while Zydeco classes were fun, they were expensive, and only one piece of my artistic puzzle. Sure this formula worked great for Rockin’ Dopsie, and a handful of other performers, but Zydeco isn’t exactly a paint-by-numbers situation. A + B doesn’t necessarily equal platinum records (as if there was such a thing as a platinum selling Zydeco album).  We brought on a few new band members, and I could sense the dynamic was shifting. The Pleathers became focused strictly on climbing the ladder at Zydeco school, and that fact that I could not afford advanced courses and wasn’t convinced that I needed to enroll in class to be successful became a bigger point of contention. While I started considering that maybe I would be happier going back to my first love, Rock and Roll, I was highly invested in the success of The Pleathers and decided to stick around. Then came the email—The Pleathers secretly gathered together, decided that my lack of commitment to Zydeco school was too big of a hurdle, and voted me out. I had been Van Hagar’d out of my very own band. Yes, in my fantasy world, the only way I could cope with this massive rejection was to imagine that I was David Lee Roth in this scenario. I’m not sure what was worse in this situation—that I had been dumped, or that I had been dumped via email.

To say this was a huge blow to my heart and ego would be an understatement. Everything I had worked on for the past two years was obliterated with a single email. I was back at square one, and it took me months to learn the lessons I was meant to learn. Lessons including, but not limited to the following;

  1. I should never allow a group of people to determine my value as an artist or as a person. I should never allow my unique voice as an artist to be diminished.
  2. Supporting a team or group can be good and beneficial, but not if it begins to interfere in my individual personal and artistic development.
  3. Rejection is never the end. In fact, it’s usually just the beginning.

These are hard, painful lessons to learn. You see, after two years, I completely lost my voice as an artist. I certainly don’t regret my time as a member of The Pleathers, and I still very much love Zydeco, but I don’t think I would have been happy or fulfilled had I continued to climb someone else’s ladder. I’ve also realized how important it is to be truly supportive of each other in this community. For artists, we’re all in this crazy mixed-up game together, and there is room in it for all of us. I am so thankful for every friend who has come to one of my shows (especially the truly awful ones), or took the time to read a blog, or gave me a late-night pep talk. After a brief hiatus from all kinds of performance, I have recently stepped out trying my hand at solo performance. I am certainly no Slash, but I am 100% artistically myself, and I can’t ask for much more at the moment.

A month or so ago, I came across this blog from a local zydeco Improv coach, Kirk Damato, and it was like reading a hug (seriously, all you Zydeco nerds should be reading this if you aren’t already). After facing his own setbacks and rejection in the community, he realized how lucky and grateful he was to have the support of his friends and colleagues.  And then he posted this video, which I will leave with you today.