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Winklepicker Festival heats things up in Ashfield with tastes and sounds of New Orleans

  • PHOTO BY LIZ LINDER<br/>Eilen Jewell

    PHOTO BY LIZ LINDER
    Eilen Jewell

  • The Primate Fiasco

    The Primate Fiasco

  • The Salvation Alley String Band

    The Salvation Alley String Band

  • PHOTO BY GABRIELLE SAVOY<br/> Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

    PHOTO BY GABRIELLE SAVOY
    Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

  • PHOTO BY LIZ LINDER<br/>Eilen Jewell
  • The Primate Fiasco
  • The Salvation Alley String Band
  • PHOTO BY GABRIELLE SAVOY<br/> Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

Last year, in the cozy New England town of Ashfield, three people discovered a cure for the dead-of-winter blues: Winklepicker —a Mardi Gras-themed, three-day festival that celebrates the food and music of New Orleans.

The second annual Winklepicker festival will be held this weekend, and will feature concerts by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys and American roots musician Eilen Jewell, a dinner and a cooking class with New Orleans chef Carlos Neville, and music and stories with Neville’s father, musician Charles Neville, who will talk about life growing up in southern Louisiana. Both Nevilles grew up in New Orleans, but now live in western Massachusetts.

“The whole weekend is about decadence, warmth and fun, and music and dance,” said Nan Parati, who founded the festival with Carol Young and Jim Olsen. Their goal: to bring warmth and soul into the cold of February in western Massachusetts.

The weekend begins Friday with a dinner prepared by Chef Neville at Elmer’s Store, and concludes Sunday with a concert by Jewell at the Ashfield Town Hall.

“From what I can tell this festival is going to have something for everyone,” Jewell said in a phone interview last week. “We’re gonna perform some songs that might have been originally performed by people wearing winklepickers.”

Winklepicker is a style of shoe that was popular with British rock ‘n’ rollers in the 1960s. They were named for the tools used to scrape periwinkle snails, a popular English snack, from their shells.

Feels like home

Winklepicker’s Mardi Gras theme is near-and-dear to Parati, who lived for several years in New Orleans, where she worked for Festival Productions Inc., a company that produces entertainment-based events, including the city’s annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. It was through FPI that she met Winklepicker co-founder Young, who works in concert production and music management. Young already knew the other co-founder, Olsen, through that work; she has managed musicians who are signed with his record label, Signature Sounds, based in Northampton.

Parati was vacationing in western Massachusetts in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home in New Orleans, and she decided to move permanently to Ashfield.

Here’s the festival lineup:

On Friday, chef Neville’s dinner will be held at 5 p.m. at Elmer’s Store. On the menu will be Anna Baguette with Goat Rising Chevre, fig compote, salad, braised spare ribs and vegetarian enchiladas.

That will be followed by “A Night of Love and Chocolate” at the Inn at Norton Hill, with chef Alan Crofut of Unbridled Chocolates in Marlborough, N.H.

“Chocolate, that’s all he does,” Parati said of Crofut. “He has eight or nine forms of chocolate: chocolate cheesecake, chocolate candies, chocolate everything.”

On Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Elmer’s Store, Neville will present “Cooking New Orleans,” a class in New Orleans-style cooking.

“He will be teaching how to cook everything from what he learned in his grandma’s kitchen when he was a little boy to what he learned cooking with Susan Spicer,” Parati said. Spicer runs Bayona, a New Orleans restaurant. Attendees will learn to cook shrimp creole and chicken sausage gumbo.

Also on Saturday, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Ashfield Town Hall, the Primate Fiasco will provide music for a Family Mardi Gras Ball. The Northampton band is known for its Dixie-jazz-meets-modern-funk-style music. There will also be face painting and mask-making activities.

A Mardi Gras Ball for adults will be held at the Town Hall, beginning at 8 p.m. Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, a traditional Cajun band from Louisiana, will perform.

“If you love to dance it doesn’t matter if you can’t dance the two-step,” Parati said. “Just come ... it is so much fun, the music just makes you want to jump around.”

On Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall, Charles Neville will share music and stories about his life growing up in a segregated Louisiana.

“It’s going to be really fascinating because people around here don’t have any idea what that life is like,” Parati said. “He went on to become a musical legend, but he had to overcome mountains.”

The final act of the festival, Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Town Hall, will be the performance by Jewell.

Jewell has “a great soulful, bluesy sound,” Parati said. “Even though she’s not from New Orleans, she’s a great addition to what we’re doing at Winklepicker. The first time I heard her ... I was blown away.”

Jewell and her husband, Jason Beek, the drummer for her band, will travel from their home in Idaho for the festival. They met Parati a few years ago when they performed in Ashfield.

“We really like working with Nan, so when she asked us to participate we didn’t even hesitate… we said, ‘Heck yeah,’ ” Jewell said.

Jewell will play songs from her albums, as well as new tunes; she recently began working on her next album.

“What my band and I are going to bring to the table is a very eclectic mix of different genres of music,” Jewell said. “I think the festival itself is going to be a very entertaining mix of different, cool things, so I think we’re a good fit.”

The Salvation Alley String Band from Northampton will open the show.

Parati, who continues to work each year on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, says she has been able to draw on her experiences in the New Orleans music scene to help create an authentic Mardi Gras experience at Winklepicker.

“They’ll come here to ‘pass a great time,’ as they say in Louisiana,” Parati said.

For a full list of events and ticket information, visit winklepickerfest.com or signaturesounds.com, or call Elmer’s Store at 628-4003.

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