Winona Arts Center - 2023-2024 Concert Series

Concerts are presented at the Winona Arts Center, 228 East 5th Street, Winona, MN.

Tickets are available in advance at Eventbrite and at Music Mart (Formerly Hardt's Music) or at the door. Coffeehouse and gallery are open 1 hour prior to concerts.

Swamp Poppas

The Swamp Poppas

Saturday / April 27, 2024 / 7:00pm
Tickets $20 in advance at Music Mart (formerly Hardt’s Music) until April 26 at 5:00pm or Eventbrite until April 27 at 3:00pm or $25 at the door
Coffeehouse & gallery open at 6:00pm
Buy Tickets Online

Wine, Beer and Cajun treats will be available for your enjoyment at this event. Let the good times roll!

The Swamp Poppas play Swamp Pop music.

It all started in the 1950’s in Southwest Louisiana. Young folks grew up hearing and playing traditional Cajun and Zydeco music in their families and local venues. Starting with that base, they added the sounds they were hearing on the radio and jukeboxes in the region to those traditional sources and Swamp Pop was born.

Many early Swamp Pop hits were ballads, featuring highly emotional lyrics, tripleting piano, prominent bass lines, large horn sections and a strong rhythm and blues backbeat. Examples of these are Cookie and the Cupcakes song “Mathilda”, Dale and Graces’s “I’m Leaving It All Up to You”, Rod Bernard’s “This Should Go on Forever”, and Phil Phillip’s “Sea of Love” (later covered by Robert Plant of Led Zepplin fame).

There were also rockers, such as Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise”, Bobby Charles’ “See You Later Alligator” and Randy and the Rocket’s “Let’s Do the Cajun Twist”. And a swamp popper might even bring in a Cajun accordion for a solo on Johnnie Allan’s cover of a Chuck Berry song, “The Promised Land”.

The new genre absorbed other regional styles such Tex Mex, Tejano, and Norteno from East Texas. Freddy Fender had a Swamp Pop hit with “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”. Los Lobos has covered the Swamp Pop hit “I Got Loaded”, originally by Lil’ Bob and the Lollipops.

A lot of influences came from nearby New Orleans. The city is known for its classic R & B and early Rock’n’roll along with Second Line marching bands and Dixieland. The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas, had Swamp Pop hits with “It’s Raining” and “Time Is on My Side”.

Swamp Pop music has evolved over the years. New styles appear and hit the airwaves. Then Swamp Pop absorbs them into the catalog. Country and Western star, Johnny Horton has a hit with “North to Alaska”, Johnnie Allan answers with “South to Louisiana. An old hillbilly song, “The Prisoner’s Song” from the 1920’s was turned into a hit by Warren Storm in 1958. Psychedelic music becomes popular and John Fred and the Playboy Band have a hit with “Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)”. Mix Swamp Pop and Hip Hop and you get Cypress City’s “Cajun Rap Song” and “Hot Boudin”.

Karl Smelker, the founder of the Swamp Poppas, shared a Louisiana music show on the local community radio station, KFAI. While the show mainly featured Cajun and Zydeco, Karl started playing Swamp Pop records he had picked up on his travels south. He found several of the other DJs on the station also were Swamp Pop fans. They got together and would do an annual 4-to-5-hour radio show called the Swamp Pop Extravaganza. As the annual show grew in popularity Karl also found a bunch of musicians from Twin Cities bands who also loved Swamp Pop. While they loved the music, they felt there might not be a large audience for a Louisiana music sub-genre here in the Frozen North.

Eventually they threw caution to the wind held a benefit for the Second Harvest food shelf. In 2007 the first Swamp Pop Extravaganza Show raised a bunch of cash and food for Second Harvest. It also gathered musicians from several bands; the Rockin’ Pinecones, the Swamp Sextet and Jumbo Ya Ya to form a core band. The band played Swamp Pop tunes and provided backing for several guest artists like Becky Thompson, Tom Lieberman, Lucinda Plaisance, Jon Rodine, and Bill Batson.

The Swamp Pop Extravaganzas continued raising money and food for Second Harvest over the years. Covid put the full extravaganza on hiatus. But the core musicians found an audience in Minnesota and have been playing Swamp Pop ever since as the Swamp Poppas.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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