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Big Chief Pony Dancer is bellowing into his microphone like a man possessed. He's quite a sight on this Saturday night: a burly, curly-haired prankster decked out in a rainbow coalition of beads. To make room for a pair of headphones, he's removed the oversize and remarkably ornate party hat he was wearing. As soon as the live segment of his broadcast is over and the funky music is once again blaring across the airwaves, he will reach for the outlandish hat and set it back on his head like a crown.
At the moment, however, he's preaching his own version of the Gospel of Mardi Gras: "I feel it! It's Mardi Gras Time! It's the big buildup to Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day!"
Next to this expansive personality sits the bespectacled Steve Apple, dressed in a comparatively tame Rebirth Brass Band T-shirt and a single strand of colorful beads. Apple has refused to wear a silly hat for this broadcast, arguing that the radio audience can't see him anyway. Yet his eyes go wild as he shakes a rattle and babbles in his own peculiar hipster jive. He's on a roll.
"We've got a lotta music here for you tonight, folks," Apple says. "We've got zydeco, we've got brass bands, we've got Mardi Gras Indians, we've got it all. Turn the radio up real, real loud! Have a party!"
"Crank it up," Pony Dancer cajoles. "It's a special show, we've got a little taste of Louisiana comin' atcha. It's Mardi Gras season!"
At 11 p.m. every Saturday night, the Crescent City Music Show feeds the culture-starved airwaves of South Florida a spicy musical gumbo, N'awlins-style. For one hour, WAXY-AM (790) forgoes its standard easy-listening fare for healthy helpings of zydeco, R&B, brass bands, Dixieland jazz, bluesy swamp boogie, and classic soul. Tonight's listeners are being treated to some of the most blistering grooves America has ever produced: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band's "Mardi Gras in New Orleans," The Wild Magnolias' "Shoo Fly," and Benny Grunch & The Bunch's "Ain't No Place to Pee (On Mardi Gras Day)."
With more than 4000 CDs in their personal collections, Pony Dancer and Apple possess an encyclopedic knowledge of Southern regional music. From the WAXY studio in northern Miami-Dade, the pair's show beams across Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties. "We're the unofficial ambassadors of Louisiana music in South Florida," boasts Pony Dancer, a.k.a. Joe Perez.
And unlikely ambassadors they are. Perez is a Cuban-American photographer; Apple is a mild-mannered video production whiz. Yet once a week, their Bacchanalian side comes out with a vengeance. "It's the music, man," they explain in unison.
Apple took his first trip to New Orleans in 1989, when a friend convinced him to check out the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. "As I walked into the fairgrounds, I could hear the Mardi Gras Indians," he recalls, as if the group's highly percussive tribal music were audible even now. "It was mass, organized chaos. Once I got there, it hooked me. Now I've been there for the last nine jazz fests in a row."
Perez first came across New Orleans during a cross-country drive. A one-night stop in the Big Easy turned into two nights and then three as he fell under the city's spell. He quickly became a regular at Pat O'Brien's, a well-known bar in the infamous Bourbon Street area.
"That time we pretty much did the French Quarter scene, as novices always do," Perez remembers. "We heard great music. We had great food. We had po-boys. We had a pile of shrimp" -- he raises his hand to his forehead -- "that was about this high, man. It was huge. Anyways, we got lost there for three days, until they finally kicked us out of Pat O'Brien's." Though Perez has been back to New Orleans well over a dozen times, he still tends to rhapsodize about the city. "There was obviously some sort of magic in the air," he says.
Coming from South Florida, where dance clubs dominate the music scene, Apple and Perez find themselves awed by the number of live music venues in New Orleans.
"There's 9000 disco clubs in South Florida and a handful of live music venues," Perez complains. "In New Orleans, though, there's 9000 live music venues, and two discos. There's obviously something wrong here. What's wrong with the music scene down here? As a music lover, I want the realness."
Eventually Perez and Apple discovered other like-minded individuals residing in South Florida. "We kept seeing the same faces year after year at great shows," Perez explains. "If Dr. John was playing in town, you know I was gonna be there, and Steve was gonna be there, and concert after concert we kept running into the same people. We were just bound to become friends."
"That's how we formed the Pet de Kat Krewe," Apple says proudly.
The Pet de Kat Krewe began as a loose affiliation of music lovers who kept each other abreast of upcoming shows and events. Like Deadheads the Krewe consists of amateur musicians, computer technicians, lawyers, and people from all walks of life who find a common bond in music. In honor of the official krewes (a mock-medieval spelling of "crews") that march in the Mardi Gras parades along New Orleans' French Quarter, the Pet de Kat Krewe moniker was chosen. In 1993 a few members printed up T-shirts as a way to find each other in the huge crowds at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Mardi Gras.