Sounds Local

Sounds Local: WinklePicker Festival

As we battled storm Nemo last weekend, in New Orleans they were in the midst of Mardi Gras celebrations. Since most of us wish that we were there, enjoying all that great food and music, the organizers of the WinklePicker Festival will offer the next best thing when they bring a touch of Mardi Gras to Ashfield this weekend.

The WinklePicker Festival, now in second year, is a three-day celebration — Friday, Feb. 15, through Sunday, Feb. 17 — of New Orleans-style food, music and culture. The festival’s slogan is “When New Englanders go Barnyard Crazy.” If there was ever a winter when most of us are ready to go barnyard crazy, it’s this one. The festival will feature a New Orleans dinner, cooking class and music by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Eilen Jewell, Charles Neville, The Primate Fiasco and the Salvation Alley String Band.

The festival is the brainchild of Nan Parati, a native of New Orleans and owner of Elmer’s store; Jim Olsen, the president of Signature Sounds Recordings; and Carol Young of Young/Hunter artist management. The three felt that New Englanders need some kind of midwinter celebration to help cope with the winter doldrums so they came up with the idea for the WinklePicker (a type of shoe that British rock ’n’ rollers wore in the 1950s) Festival.

Last year’s festival was a huge success, culminating with a sold-out Buckwheat Zydeco Mardi Gras Ball, so WinklePicker is now back and better than ever.

The festivities begin on Friday, Feb. 15, with a traditional New Orleans dinner cooked by chef Carlos Neville at Elmer’s Store, 396 Main St., Ashfield. He will also offer a cooking class on Saturday morning beginning at 10:30 a.m. at Elmer’s. Reservations are required for both events: call 413-628-4003.

The music kicks off Saturday with the Family Mardi Gras Ball at the Ashfield Town Hall, 412 Main St., from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The music will be provided by the Primate Fiasco of Northampton, a kind of New Orleans Dixieland jazz band gone wild. The band members have established themselves as a great party band at festivals, parties and parades.

“Our family show will be different from a regular Primate show because we will be playing songs from our kids album “wheels on the bus,” said Dave DelloRusso. “We will also play some of our “big kid” stuff, too, as long as it’s family friendly. Kids and adults aren’t all that different when it comes to having a good time.”

On Saturday night at 8 p.m., it’s the Adult Mardi Gras Ball at the Ashfield Town Hall. The Primate Fiasco will open for headliners Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. The 2013 Grammy-winning band is coming all the way from Louisiana to serve up some authentic French Cajun music. Riley, who is a master of the button box accordion, plays a zesty brand of music that is guaranteed to have the crowd up and dancing the two step. Costumes and masks are welcome! And for those who need to keep on dancin’ well into the night, there will be an after party with The Primate Fiasco at Elmer’s.

“Last year, we played the after party at Elmer’s store We didn’t get to see the earlier part of the festival but we know that everyone showed up in a really good mood, so it must have been a great time,” said DelloRusso. “People spent the rest of their energy on our dance floor that night. It’s a great time. Ashfield is a special scene.”

On Sunday, Feb. 17, the musical mood shifts a bit with less emphasis on dancing and more on listening. Festival attendees are in for a very different kind of event when Charles Neville takes the stage at the Ashfield Town Hall for a Sunday afternoon conversation/concert that begins at 2:30 p.m.

Neville, a saxophone player who lives in Huntington, has led a fascinating life. He grew up in New Orleans, has worked with a variety of music legends, did a stint in prison and then achieved worldwide fame with the Neville brothers. Neville will share stories of his life and also play some music in this one-of-a-kind event.

The festival will conclude Sunday night with Eilen Jewell and her top-notch band, who start playing at 8 p.m. This will be a seated show, but for those of you who might want to dance, there will be space to do so. Jewel has broadened her country influence sound in recent years to include torchy ballads and retro rock tunes. And do get there in time to catch the opening act: The Salvation Alley String Band, an excellent country band from Northampton.

“We are very excited to be opening for Eilen Jewell at the WinklePicker Festival. We’re all big fans of Eilen’s singing and songwriting, as well as her band, who are incredible players,” said Ryan Quinn of the Salvation Alley String Band. “I am looking forward to watching her guitarist, Jerry Miller, whose playing amazes me every time I catch their show. We were honored to be asked to be a part of such a fun event with a great lineup!”

Tickets for the Friday cooking class with Carlos Neville cost $65. The adult Mardi Gras Ball with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys on Saturday costs $25 in advance and $30 on the day of the ball. The Sunday conversation/concert with Charles Neville costs $25 in advance and $30 on the day of the event. The Sunday night concert featuring Eilen Jewell and her band costs $20 in advance and $25 the day of the concert. Advance tickets can be purchased at Elmer’s Store, 396 Main St., Ashfield, or online at until Friday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m.

Tickets for the Family Mardi Gras Ball will be sold at the door only and are $5 per child, $10 for an adult or $20 for a family four pack.

Doors open for all events one half-hour in advance.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at

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