Psycho Zydeco on the rise of zydeco and their role in bringing the Louisianan genre Down Under

Psycho Zydeco on the rise of zydeco and their role in bringing the Louisianan genre Down Under
Words by Tammy Walters

The Yarra Valley is getting a whole lot spicier this March as the Herb and Chilli Festival hits the city of Wandin.

Returning for its ninth year, following a huge 2019 that saw over 7,000 attendees test their taste buds, the Herb and Chilli Festival has risen to Carolina Reaper heat levels with their 2020 program.

Festival favourite Hot Sauce Alley is on the menu again with a wide variety of new tantalising sauces, spices and rubs while the popular Stinger Wing Challenge awaits eager heat gladiators.

Corridors of food stalls will line the festival for onsite enjoyment, or you can take home your own selection of over 40 varieties of chillis and herbs to make your own irresistible recipes. But this year it’s the Cajun swampland zing that offers the real kick to the festival and it comes in the form of food for your ears.

Sydney-based, Louisiana-inspired band Psycho Zydeco, or The Psychos as their fan club dubs them, join the Herb and Chilli Festival to continue introducing audiences to their colourful sound of zydeco.

If you’re not familiar with zydeco, it’s a genre that was birthed from the Louisiana Creoles, which combines blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, rock and Cajun fusions and incorporates everything from accordions, fiddles, vest frottoirs to washboards, triangles, drums, bass and guitar. Psycho Zydeco have been cooking up this noise banquet since the early ‘90s.

“In 1990, Buckwheat Zydeco who was a big zydeco star at the time, he came to Sydney to open Darling Harbour, and our accordion player [Stefan Sernek] saw him on TV and was like, ‘Accordion. Blues. Rock’n’roll. Where has all this been?’.

“Sernek had been playing German oompah music forever, and we all knew each other and it all started from there,” explains band all-rounder Gregg Hatton.

“We came at a good time in Australia, there was a Melbourne band at the time doing it, but we sort of became the number one guys. We had this niche thing – zydeco does have a lot of different influences but we were able to manipulate it into a lot of different festivals. We were able to play a blues festival, a jazz festival, a folk festival, world music, country, rock.

“There was no band that worked as hard as us. We were flying everywhere and we worked out what an audience needed and it was just to push them into a frenzy and make them dance and have a great time. That’s how our version of zydeco came about.”

That festival frenzy has not stopped. Psycho Zydeco have been waving their zydeco flag at Thredbo Blues Festival, Newcastle Jazz Festival, Sydney Blues and Roots Festival, Cobargo Folk Festival and even Woodford Folk Festival. Now heating up for Herb and Chilli Festival, the band promises good times all round and even some crowd participation.

“You never see the one thing. One minute there’s a song that has a lot of sax with no guitar, the next song will be guitar and washboard, the next will be sax and guitar – there’s a lot of variation with that and it’s a very quirky thing. We get people up to play the washboard which is really quite funny and people really get into that. Some people don’t want to go near it and others can’t wait to give it a go.”

If you’re not game enough to take on the Stinger Wing Challenge or the Hot Sauce Alley, perhaps the Psycho Zydeco washboard is right up your alley.

Herb and Chilli Festival takes place in Wandin in the Yarra Valley from Saturday March 14 to Sunday March 15. Grab your tickets via Free entry for children under 14 years.