Ann Arbor hosts a diverse range of musical acts, but Cajun music is rare here–or anywhere in the Midwest. Manchester-based bandleader Mark Palms is on a noble and thoroughly enjoyable mission to change that with his band Creole du Nord. The group beautifully re-creates the irresistibly lively sound of Cajun folk music with a mix of musical history, fine musicianship, and pure dance-floor joy.
Palms’ fascination with Cajun and Creole music sprang from research into his ancestry. Palms’ great-great-grandmother was Cajun, and his great-grandfather was born in New Orleans. As he tracked down his relatives and met cousins who still live in Louisiana, Palms says he “fell in love with the energy” of their music.
With Creole du Nord, Palms channels that love and energy. Frequently singing in Creole, Palms is also a versatile instrumentalist, occasionally picking up a fiddle in between laying down the hip-swinging accordion lines that are the hallmark of the Cajun sound. Providing the unique backbone of that same sound is Michael Zivsak’s washboard. Zivsak is an entertainingly cheery presence onstage and deft in deploying his instrument’s sly, low-key rhythms. Pete Siers and Carol Palms round out the lineup on drums and electric stand-up bass. But the standout musical talent is guitarist Randy Markey. He supports the rest with bright, chunky rhythm chords as needed, but proves himself a true jaw-dropper when cutting loose with a solo. There’s plenty of old-school rock ‘n’ roll to Markey’s style, and he pulls the band a bit towards traditional rhythm and blues when he gets a moment in the spotlight.
Palms’ dedication to musical history shows in the diverse set list. Along with the quintessential New Orleans tune “Iko Iko” “Jolie Blonde,” and many lesser-known staples of Cajun music, Creole du Nord works in some traditional Appalachian numbers like “Cluck Old Hen.”
Cajun music almost demands dancing, and audiences generally respond. The band regularly participates in events for the Ann Arbor Community for Traditional Music and Dance and will teach basic Cajun steps. But audience members of all skill levels get in on the groove, from experienced Cajun dancers to older folks shuffling cheek-to-cheek and small children hopping along to the rhythm. It’s a pleasure to see such a delightful American musical tradition reproduced, and responded to, with such enthusiasm.
Creole du Nord performs at the Chelsea Sounds & Sights festival June 15.