Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys need a really good reason to not perform at Strawberry Park's annual Blast From the Bayou Cajun and Zydeco Music Festival. They've played the fest almost every year since its inception in 1996 and, when they missed last year, it was because they'd been booked in England at the wedding of pop star Lily Allen.
"It's great. It's really laid back, you know? That part of the country, I find, is a really relaxing place to be in. It's a perfect combination," Riley said, by phone from Louisiana. "A place like that, out in the country, with a bunch of groups who come from a part of the country that's really rural and others from south Louisiana - it's great."
Riley's band has been together for 25 years and now averages at least two tours in the Northeast annually.
He is particularly excited about performing at Strawberry Park. The festival started Thursday and continues through Sunday, and Riley and the Playboys perform at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
"It's getting hot down here. It's a good time of year to leave Louisiana," he said.
Cooler weather isn't the only thing that's sparking excitement in the Cajun rock performer. The ability to play with other musicians in the Cajun and zydeco world is an enticing thing for fans and artists alike. Eleven artists are scheduled to perform at the festival, including popular names such as Geno Delafose, Keith Frank, The Pine Leaf Boys, Lil Wayne & Same Ol' 2 Step, Ryan Brunet and Jesse Lege.
"They all have great energy in their own way. Some of our favorites are Keith Frank and the Pine Leaf Boys," Riley said. "Me, Geno and Keith all started playing music around the same time, about 30 years ago. We all live in Louisiana, but because we're always touring, we don't get to cross paths too often."
Those who are fans of Riley and the festival can expect his usual performance but can also anticipate a little something new. David Greely, fiddle player and one of the founding members of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, has left the band for health reasons. Since then, the group has picked up a new fiddler, Kevin Wimmer, a man that Riley has been playing music with since he was 15 years old. Riley is excited about the new sounds that Wimmer is bringing to the Mamou Playboys.
"He's great," he said. "There are some different things the band is doing. He brings more Creole bluesy sounds to the group. ... He also brings an element of jam band to the group, which is pretty cool. He and I play off each other in a way that is kind of new to this band."
When asked what else fans should look forward to about the Cajun and Zydeco Music Festival, Riley simply laughed and said, "It's my bass player's and my birthday, so tell them to bring presents."