Peter Eshelman says he lives by a simple motto for playing music: “Laissez les bons temps rouler”. It’s French for “let the good times roll”, a commonly-used mantra for the culture of New Orleans. Eshelman borrows from that sentiment as the accordion player and frontman for the band Zydeco-A-Go-Go, which plays a festive flavor of big easy style, accordion-driven blues. Eshelman and his band are playing at Gorgas Park tonight at 7 p.m.
“It’s infectious. It’s upbeat music,” says Eshelman, 59, of Elkins Park, who goes by the nickname “Gumbo”.
Eshelman’s infatuation with the Zydeco, a hybrid of Cajun and Creole blues, rock and roll and two-step, began in 1987 when he saw a music festival in New Orleans. There, he saw Clifton Chenier, one of the originators of modern Zydeco playing accordion live, and it inspired Eshelman to pick up the instrument and learn it.
“That first planted the idea,” he says.
In 1992, a friend of Eshelman asked if he knew of any Zydeco bands to play a wedding. Eshelman did not, but he had learned to play accordion by this time. And he knew plenty of musicians from playing in music projects like Jamaican deejay Big Youth, afro-pop act the Lijadu Sisters and Bo Diddley. So he formed a band, and thus marked the beginning of Zydeco-A-Go-Go.
“It just took off,” says Eshelman. “We started playing weddings and parties, and now we have our own following who come out to see us.
Along with Eshelman helming the accordion, vocals and piano parts, his band owes its two-stepping, rhythm to the vest frottoir – a rub board played by scratching spoons across its metal grates.
Although Philadelphia is a long way from Louisiana, Eshelman says the city has one of the largest communities of zydeco dancers on the east coast. And most of these aficionados come out to see his band play to grab a partner and shuffle around in a sort of tipsy waltz. So dancing shoes at Gorgas Park tonight may be a wise choice.