The population of accordion players in South Florida nearly triples this weekend when the Cajun/Zydeco Crawfish Festival 1999 arrives at the Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Don't be put off by the goofy ads for the event, which focus on the multitude of food and beer vendors, neglecting to mention even one of the topnotch Louisiana outfits appearing. One of the highlights among the 28 bands appearing on three different stages should be Saturday's 7:00 p.m. set from Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys. Born and raised around the legendary Cajun musicians of the small town of Mamou, Louisiana, Riley's approach joyfully reflects a lifetime of learning from the masters. Complete with a sawing fiddle, a supple rhythm section, and Riley's own rich accordion playing and high-lonesome tenor, the band soars through aching ballads and swinging two-steppers. It's no exaggeration to call Riley and the Playboys one of the finest Cajun bands in existence today.

Also carrying on the Big Easy traditions at the festival are Beausoleil, the Magnolia Sisters, and Balfa Toujours. On the zydeco tip with furiously pumping squeezeboxes and spoon-battered metal washboards, are Chubby Carrier and His Bayou Swamp Sound, Boozoo Chavis & the Magic Sound, and Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie.

Occupying their own unique sonic terrain is Donna the Buffalo, which hails from upstate New York, but plays a wonderful blend of roots-driven pop that implies a long familiarity with Acadian grooves. Chicken-scratch guitars twist around folksy beats on their latest CD, Rockin' in the Weary Land (Sugar Hill), which casts a sad nod to our own back yard. On a heartfelt cover of John Anderson's "Seminole Wind," the band mournfully sings, "Progress came and took its toll/And in the name of flood control/They made their plans and drained the land/Now the Glades are going dry/And the last time I walked in the swamp/I sat upon a cypress stump/I listened close and I heard the ghost of Osceola cry."

This onslaught of great roots music does raise the nagging question of why these bands don't tour through Miami more often, but for now, just enjoy a rare bill of quality sounds -- and wear your dancing shoes. For showtimes and festival ticket information call 954-761-5934.

The Miami Art Museum jumps into the murky waters of the music industry with its very own record label and the release of its first CD, Ann Hamilton's Mantle, which documents this performance artist's installation at the museum this past June. Thirteen shortwave receivers were set on a ledge, wired to 30 speakers all buried under more than 60,000 flowers. Whatever Hamilton's desired "point" was, Mantle has a deliciously eerie feel to it.

The sound of so many disembodied radio voices all whooshing around the globe to emerge simultaneously in a room in Miami is initially disorienting, akin to sticking one's head inside the Tower of Babel. Once your mind unfocuses and drifts, however, the buzzing voices, crackles, and strange chirps become hypnotic. As the CD begins, with recordings taped at 7:30 and 9:00 a.m., the effect is almost soothing, the radio signals flowing in a tentative swirl. By noon the sound is driving, creating a wonderful space in which to lose yourself, and a composition worthy of filing alongside fellow aural guerrillas Negativland and the Residents. Mantle is an auspicious debut, and one that augurs a decidedly avant-garde direction for the label. The CD is available at the museum's gift shop or by mail. Call 305-375-1729 for more information.

Few filmmakers have had more ups and downs in their career than Robert Altman. While peers such as Coppola and Scorsese are regularly feted by Hollywood powerbrokers, Altman struggles just to get his films made. Still he's managed to create three decades' worth of masterpieces, from the justly canonized M*A*S*H, Nashville, and Short Cuts, to forgotten gems such as California Split (which, criminally, is still unavailable on video) and The Long Goodbye. One of the odder works in this sprawling oeuvre is 1996's Kansas City, a loving ode to the jazz clubs that Altman haunted as a wide-eyed youth. In a recent interview given to promote his latest movie Cookie's Fortune (yes, it's great), the director seemed unfazed by Kansas City's disastrous box office performance. "I told the story backwards, and you had to see the film twice to get it," he says. "You just can't ask that of an audience, so that hurt it. Plus, the real jazz fanatics didn't give a shit about the story, and to the average audience who goes to the movies, jazz means nothing to them."

Those "jazz fanatics" can get an unadulterated fix at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, May 6, when WLRN-TV (Channel 17) airs Robert Altman's Jazz '34, a film that showcases the ferocious blowing sessions used for the club scenes in Kansas City. Altman assembled some of the finest horn players around for the occasion (from John Carter to Hamiett Bluiett) and the results truly smoke.

-- Brett Sokol

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett_sokol Neither does Boozoo Chavis


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