Only 3 or 4 years old at the time, Thierry remembers "the energy was crazy — in a good way. It was just like a big house party, with a lot of French-speaking people and in the '60s and '70s there would be the hippie crowd in there, too."

He was immediately drawn to the accordion "because the keys were flapping and stuff and it was kind of mesmerizing. I just wanted to know how to do that."

By 9, Thierry was pumping his own squeezebox and by 13 he'd put together his own zydeco band.

"It's happy music. It's drama-free," he says. "So people — the rest of their lives they have all this kind of drama and they can let it all go when they come to hear zydeco. It's this mixture of every other kind of music — jazz, blues, R&B, country. It has all of that and you can put anything into it."

Over the years, he's played "weddings, festivals, carnivals, fairs, birthday parties, bar mitzahs, beach parties — you name it."

But there's no mistaking that time of year when Mardi Gras comes around — the culmination of the carnival season before Ash Wednesday and Lent kick in the next day, all leading to Easter.

"It's that big last hurrah before people have to chill out for 40 days," he says. "You gotta get it all out because after that you can't do nothing."

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@beckmediaproductions.com and follow on Twitter @becksay.