He specializes in playing music that will get you moving, including Creole, Cajun, zydeco, Texas swing and everything in between. Mark -- who when not spinning records on the radio, works for the U.S. Postal Service -- has been a proponent of Cajun, Creole and zydeco music in St. Louis for about as long as anyone can remember. He spreads this musical gospel wherever he goes. Some people appreciate music from the areas surrounding and including Lafayette, La. Mark truly loves it, and every week on KDHX he delivers a diverse sampling of the best the region has to offer.
Jared Corgan: When I think of music from Louisiana the first thing that comes to my mind is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band -- sousaphones, a snare drum and funeral marches. Where does Louisiana Stomp fall in the mix?
Mark Silverstein: New Orleans is blues, jazz, and like you mentioned, brass bands. But when you go out west it's Cajun. Cajun is more than just music; it's a culture, a lifestyle. They're out there in houseboats with a whole other way of life including their Cajun language, Cajun food and Cajun music. New Orleans captures the big city lifestyle while incorporating the Cajun food, Cajun music and zydeco.
Cajun music grew up, like porch music where people would get together and just jam and dance, whereas New Orleans music was more likely to be rehearsed and performed as entertainment. For example, there are quite a few recordings of the early New Orleans jazz musicians, while some of the best early Cajun musicians were never recorded. Cajun country is in and around Lafayette, which is an hour or so west of New Orleans. It's where Cajun and zydeco music are found and can also be found typically to the west as far as the radio signal could have reached. That's the music I focus on.
What is the difference between Howzit Bayou and your show?
Louisiana Stomp is primarily Cajun and zydeco music. Howzit Bayou is New Orleans and Cajun and zydeco music. I typically will not play jazz, Louis Armstrong, brass band music, Mardi Gras Indian music, etc…
How would you describe yourself outside of the role of a DJ?
I would describe myself on the music scene as a non-celebrity. I've been dancing since around 1985 and I'm a music aficionado from way back when.
What do you want your audience to take away or get from your shows?
I would like them to gain an appreciation of the diversity of Cajun, zydeco, and swamp pop. I want to help them to be able to recognize the differences and similarities between all the types of music that are played on my show.
How did you come up with the format for your show?
I just wanted to fit in as much music as I could, so it just evolved this way. The format was initially to just play dance hall music while mixing it up to avoid being repetitious.
Do you have a background in music?
I have no background in music really, other than a college course and some dabbling in trying to play the fiddle.
When and how did your interest in this music begin?
I first loved hearing Doug Kershaw and watching Doug on TV. I once had an opportunity to see him live in California in '76, but the show was cancelled. I finally caught up with him about 30 years later at Jazz Fest and he did not disappoint. From about 1991 on I attended Jazz Fest and found myself at the Fais Do Do stage where Cajun and zydeco music were most prevalent. One thing led to another and I found out about the Festival Acadiens in Lafayette, at which only Cajun music was performed at that time. However, in the evenings zydeco could be found in the clubs and I could not get enough of either the Cajun or zydeco. The festival has since expanded to add Cajun, zydeco and creole.
How do you find the music you play?
I rarely peruse record stores for new music. Most often I find out about new groups at festivals. I have bought many CDs from musicians toting them to a festival or other event in their backpacks. Zydeco Joe on Swallow label is a great example of an artist's CD I picked up this way. Louisiana Record Factory and Floyd's Records are great sources for Cajun and zydeco music. I look for record labels like Swallow Records and others who usually tend to have good artists. I often try to find them via the artist's website also. I like to buy directly from the artist when I can. I think supporting the artist directly is best when possible.
Why do you do all the work and put in the time to be a volunteer DJ?
I can't say I know why. I suppose I feel that by giving a voice to Cajun and zydeco music it would help bring attention to it in St Louis, and subsequently bring more bands to St Louis and appreciation for the music.
What musical artist or band has left the most lasting impression throughout your experience as a music lover and listener?
That's a tough question. The most moving concerts I can recall are definitely Bruce Springsteen at Jazz Fest 2006 with the Seeger Sessions Band, Ike and Tina back in the day when they played a room about the size of a storefront, David Bowie doing his greatest hits tour, Graceland with Paul Simon, and seeing Van Cliburn -- and then realizing of why he was considered the best -- and Clapton's "Nothing But the Blues" tour. For Cajun it would be pretty much a time with Balfa Toujours at Whiskey River. They had two fiddles going,and I just had to stop dancing and watch. I was in awe.
How do you choose the music you play?
I try to play music that people will like and play one or two that have some value historically or in some other regard. Usually it's music people want to dance to.
Do you see yourself more as a preservationist or a conduit?
There is only so many notes a musician can play. Before long someone is going to play some notes that somebody else played and probably get sued for it. I am all for more progressiveness, but we don't want to leave anything behind. You want to bring it along and be able to appreciate it. It's like that with any kind of music.
Accordion or washboard?