When accordionist Nathan Williams was a young teen — and before he received the attribute of accordionist — he worked with his brother, guitarist Dennis Paul Williams, at a grocery store in southern Louisiana.
While music had always been a part of both the Williamses’ lives, it wasn’t until Nathan Williams fell ill and spent his recovery practicing the accordion that they seriously considered turning music into a career.
At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21 in the Amphitheater, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas are taking the stage to kick off Week Nine’s theme “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture, and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.” The band brings their folk music, which is defined by the rich southern Louisiana culture where the band was born.
Zydeco music has its roots in southern Louisiana. The genre typically features an accordion and guitar and has combinations of Caribbean and French music. This style of music was first played by Black Creole people in southern Louisiana, whereas Cajun music was played by white Cajun people from the same area.
While this is the official definition of zydeco music, Nathan Williams feels the music is fluid.
“Folk music is mostly unique stuff. It’s in all categories,” he said. “It’s zydeco and blues, it’s all these different categories. What I do — zydeco music — is just its own style.”
Along with being leaders in the zydeco music tradition, the group also has strong roots in the Williams family. The band includes brothers Nathan and Dennis, Nathan’s cousin Allen Williams, and Nathan’s nephew Djuan Francis, and original band member Clifford Alexander.
The newest aspect of the family-oriented band is when they switched to recording through Cha Cha Records, which is where Nathan Williams’ son works. Through Cha Cha Records, Williams gets to work with even more members of his family through his music. His son helps both in the booth and in playing the keyboard for recording purposes.
Williams loves collaborating with him for many reasons, but mainly because it means he gets to spend quality time with his son.
“I love being with my kids,” Williams said. “It’s a blessing.”
Williams approaches his whole career with passion for what he does, and he appreciates everything, from recording with his son to performing in front of audiences.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I love my music. I love what I do. No matter if it’s five or 5,000 people, you’re still being entertained by me. I love what I do.”
With a Massey Memorial Organ Silent Film Concert set for the final Sunday next week, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas will be the last band to play for Chautauqua Institution’s Sunday Afternoon Entertainment in the 2022 season. They plan to make it a memorable performance.
“Bring your dancing shoes,” Williams said. “We gonna rock.”