Chubby Carrier calls zydeco music “the blues sped up.”

So it makes sense that Carrier and his Bayou Swamp Band, with their infectious brand of foot-stomping, body-shaking Louisiana music, are among the headliners at this year’s 19th North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland.

The others include blues guitarist Tab Benoit, another Louisiana native of French heritage but more in line with traditional blues music, and British blues legend John Mayall.

Mayall is the man whose band, The Bluesbreakers, at times featured Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones and three founding members of Fleetwood Mac. So the fact that he’s essentially the third highest-billed performer (according to the schedule, anyway) says a great deal about the festival’s power to attract major blues musicians.

“I had played in Maine before, but I’ve always wanted to play the festival,” said Carrier, 45, who is based in Lafayette, La. “I’ve toured and recorded with Tab before, so this will be like a reunion.”

One of the festival’s longtime organizers, Jamie Isaacson, thinks the festival has endured for 19 years in large part due to its location. Maine is known for having appreciative blues audiences, and the festival is known among musicians as a very cool gig to get in the summer.

“Maine has a strong committed audience (for blues music) that has been growing for decades. The artists who play the festival always comment that Maine has the best audience,” said Isaacson. “We have no problem getting blues musicians to Maine. The musicians love coming to Maine — plus, we feed them lobster.”

And, Isaacson said, the festival is helped by having an “intimate setting” where there is no large barrier between stage and audience. He said artists are always available for handshakes and autographs.

The festival includes performances on the main stage all day Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, downtown Rockland venues will host blues shows all night. On Saturday night, Main Street will be closed to vehicles so a “club crawl” consisting of some 20 venues can host regional and local blues acts. The club crawl is free to people with a festival wristband.

Besides the three headliners performing this year, other big-name blues artists who have played the festival in the past include Robert Cray, Shemekia Copeland, Keb’ Mo’, Otis Rush, James Cotton, Elvin Bishop, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Little Milton and Bo Diddley.

Carrier, who plays a 37-pound accordion (and needs to go to a chiropractor weekly) grew up in a zydeco family that includes several professional musicians. He played zydeco professionally as a teen in Terrance Siemien’s band before forming his own band in 1989.

Zydeco has the same basic musical structure as the blues, Carrier says, and like the blues, it comes out the American South. But although he plays a lot of blues festivals, he admits that zydeco is unique and distinctive from other forms of blues, just as you might categorize modern blues or traditional blues or electric blues.

In fact, Carrier is a big believer that zydeco should have its own category at the Grammys. It did, for about four years, and Carrier and his band were the last recipients of the award for best zydeco album, in 2011. After that, the Grammy folks cut down the number of categories.

“Zydeco music has been around longer than the Grammys, and it’s a real American form of music. It’s playing instruments from your heart and soul; it’s passing down a music from generation to generation,” said Carrier. “I play it, my daddy did, and my granddaddy did.”

Though Carrier is proud of zydeco traditions, his albums are by no means filled with zydeco standards that have been done over and over again. He makes a habit of taking all sorts of songs and putting his own mark on them.

On his 2010 album “Zydeco Junkie,” he and his band did a revved-up zydeco version of “Movin’ On Up” — yes, the theme song of the ’70s sitcom “The Jeffersons.” They also do their own version of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”

Benoit, 44, grew up in Houma, a Louisiana town known as a center of the oil rig business. Like Carrier, he played zydeco and Cajun music growing up, but being a guitarist, he gravitated to the blues.

“In zydeco, the guitar is a rhythm instrument, but in blues, it’s the lead. I’m a guitar player, so of course I want to be the lead,” said Benoit.

But like Carrier, Benoit thinks that the blues is a very American institution. Even though it seems to go up and down in terms of popularity, Benoit thinks the blues in all its forms will be celebrated long after many of today’s biggest radio hits are forgotten.

“It’s one thing that doesn’t go away, in good times and bad times,” said Benoit. “People forget that we’ve only been recording music since the 1920s — and that wasn’t to make money, that was to preserve American music for the Library of Congress. And all that music they recorded was blues.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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