BRANNAN ISLAND -- Louisiana culture beckoned on Saturday as visitors began trickling onto this Delta island, where vendors were preparing the first servings of crawdads while a blues band warmed up onstage.

"I'm sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away ...." crooned the nattily dressed singer, the twang of bass guitars wafting across rows of tents on a warm morning breeze.

"What else are you going to do on a Saturday?" laughed Folsom resident Tim Gorton, a first-timer to the Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival who was taking it all in with his wife and daughter from the front row of the audience that was gathering.

Among the first to show up for the two-day event was Ryan Bay, who had come from Sacramento to savor the Bayou State's trademark cuisine and entertainment.

"I love the music and crawdads," Bay said, whose daughter, Amanda, had bought him a ticket as an early Father's Day gift.

She wasn't as enthralled with the idea of eating crustaceans ("I hate seafood -- it's so gross!"), but planned to taste-test some wild game, nodding toward a sign advertising an array of jerky products from buffalo, elk and wild boar to yak.

Amid the usual booths hawking henna tattoos, toe rings and exotic oils, Clinton Pearson and his staff were breading frog legs and alligator tails in seasoned cornmeal under a banner that declared "Tastes so good, make you wanna slap yo' mama."


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A good number of his customers have Southern roots and miss that style of cooking, Pearson said.

Fond memories are what lured David Gardere to the festival. With family ties to New Orleans, the Hayward resident remembers as a boy helping his uncle cook crawdads, which he would grab -- trying to avoid the pincers -- and toss into a pot of boiling water.

His daughter, Lisa Hopewell, drove up from San Jose for the beignets -- deep-fried squares of dough sprinkled with powdered sugar and served hot -- as well as the zydeco music, which her great-grandmother from Texas used to play at family gatherings.

Zydeco was what it was all about for Lisa Mitchell, too.

The dance floor in front of the bandstand was calling out to the Hayward resident, whose black cowboy boots were itching to do the two-step.

"I heard it for the first time in 2000 and I was hooked," Mitchell said of the fast-tempo, bouncy music.

Saturday's merrymaking marked her third stop this year on a Cajun culture festival circuit that Mitchell travels with a circle of friends who are also zydeco zealots.

She visited Louisiana's Festival International in April and San Diego's Gator by the Bay last month; next up is a celebration of Cajun and zydeco music in Fremont followed by the same in Sebastopol in September.

"I tell people it's my drug of choice," Mitchell said.

A few yards away Sacramento resident Daniel King was picking dispiritedly at the pile of crawdads before him.

"It don't have no seasonin'," said the Louisiana native, who has been pining for the hot-seasoned "mudbugs" he'd grown up on since moving to California three months ago.

"I'm definitely gonna miss the seafood," he said.

But Griff and Chris Brown weren't complaining.

The father and son had made the nearly three-hour drive from Carmel Valley for a taste of Louisiana, where Griff lived for more than a decade and Chris was born.

"For crawfish we would have come further," said Chris as he licked remnants of meat off his fingers.

By 11 a.m., the 25-year-old already had polished off two pounds of the fish.

Californians aren't as familiar with this hallmark of Southern cooking, Chris Brown observed, noting that many have never tried it.

"They don't know what they're missing," he said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Reach her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.

If you go
What: Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Brannan Island; the only available parking -- it's free -- is at 17201 Jackson Slough Road, where shuttles will take visitors the rest of the way at no cost.
Tickets: $25. Children younger than 12 are free.
Information: 916-777-4800 or visit http://isletoncajunfestival.net