Musical gumbo: Big Mamou keeps Mardi Gras going
Mardi Gras Forever, Let the Good Times Roll
Big Mamou, Opening for Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez
Saturday, Feb. 17, 8 p.m.
Outpost in the Burbs
The Guild Room, First Congregational Church
40 S. Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
Mardi Gras is Tuesday, Feb. 12, but is also celebrated the weekend before and the weekend after — at least, said Julianne Fenhagen, one of the vocalists in the Montclair-based Zydeco-Cajun-country-R&B band Big Mamou.
So Big Mamou is playing the Outpost in the Burbs on Saturday, Feb. 17, opening for Christine Ohlman, longtime vocalist with NBC’s Saturday Night Live Band, and Rebel Montez, in a concert titled “Let the Good Times Roll.”
Big Mamou was formed in Montclair in 2002, when married couple Jim and Julianne Fenhagen met accordion player John Sherman.
“Our kids all went to the Montclair Cooperative School,” Julianne said. At a picnic, Sherman was on the grounds, and hearing his style of music, Julianne said, “That’s something we could work for.”
The Fenhagens had recently moved to Montclair from Brooklyn, where they had played country rock music together. Big Mamou came together quickly: Jim plays upright bass, Sherman plays accordion and sings, Julianne sings, Fred Parcells plays trombone, Mike Levine plays pedal steel and electric guitar and Billy Loos plays drums. They are working on their second album, which will be released in the spring.
The name “Big Mamou” refers to a town, Mamou, in southern Louisiana, that was supposedly the birthplace of Cajun music, Jim said.
Nobody in the band is from Louisiana. Jim, an Emmy Award-winning set designer (he and Julianne recently designed the set for Montclair Film’s benefit with Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee), had spent time in New Orleans working on a set for the Republican Convention. While there, he fell in love with the music.
“The rhythm of it is incredibly appealing,” Jim said. “I like to dance. The Cajun two-step is the most fun dance.” One day he went to a fais do-do, or Cajun dance party, at Tiapatina’s, a music club in New Orleans.
Grandparents and kids were there. “They taught me how to do the Cajun two-step,” Jim said. “It was so much fun. It’s similar to the country two-step, too.
“The music has a lot of connections to country music. It’s an American music that came about from a mix of cultures down in the South. It just picks me up every time I hear it.”
Big Mamou plays original songs, too, and along with Zydeco, also plays R&B and country.
“It’s a musical gumbo,” Julianne said. She also enjoys singing in French. Mardi Gras week is a big week for the band. “It’s a chance for us to play the style of music we play at the time of year when it’s most appropriate,” she said. “Laissez les bon temps roulez.” On Mardi Gras night itself, they play Hat City in Orange. On Friday night, they play the West End Lounge in New York City. Julianne said, adding, “It’s just keeping the party going.”
This is the first time Big Mamou has played the Outpost’s concert series, though they have performed some special events with the Outpost.
“It’s our hometown thing,” Jim said. “We’re super happy.”
The concert will take place in the Guild room, and they hope people will dance.
“When I was being taught how to dance, I was told, ‘Pretend somebody dropped a rock on your left foot and you have a limp,’” Jim said.
“It explained so much.