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Thibodeaux gets yuks at Oktoberfest

COTTAGE GROVE – The German beer was flowing, people were mingling and dancing, and everybody was chuckling as Kelly Thibodeaux played “Ain’t No Crocodile” during Saturday’s annual Oktoberfest celebration co-hosted by the Axe & Fiddle and the Brewstation. 

“A lot of people come up and ask, ‘Do you really have a lot of crocodiles down in Louisiana?’” said Thibodeaux, who was born in New Orleans and also lived in Mississippi before moving to the Great Northwest 37 years ago. “I say they’re not crocodiles, they’re alligators. So that inspired me to write the song, so they’d know the difference between the two.”

Splicing a little Louisiana flavor into the traditional German fare was a winning idea – judging by the crowd’s applause after each song by Thibodeaux and his group, the Etouffee Band. Thibodeaux now lives in Oakridge while his bandmates live in Eugene. 

“What we play is what I like to call swamp rock,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s a blend of Southern rock, rhythm & blues, and Cajun music. Kind of a mix of Doug Kershaw and Little Feat.”

The nice, laid-back outdoor setting was a hit with some customers. 

 “‘I came to the produce market and they stayed open later today,” said Randall Cook, a support worker for Lane Mental Health who lives just north of Cottage Grove. “It was a really nice feeling today, it gave people a chance to walk the streets and feel comfortable walking the streets.

“Opening up everything made for a very nice ambiance and people felt more liberty because I have friends who have had problems being in some businesses but this opening up of things made it like a new beginning so they could go where they otherwise wouldn’t feel welcome.

… Also, there were a lot of children here having a lot of fun, so it was a great family atmosphere, so it’s been really hard to pull myself away from visiting friends.”

“This is so wonderful, we should do this every Saturday,” Erika Hessling of Cottage Grove said, only half-jokingly. “We need more events like this for people, young and old.” 

When it comes to giving back to the community, Thibodeaux doesn’t play second fiddle to anybody.

“I’ve been playing down here in Cottage Grove for years, and I’ve taught fiddle in the schools. I have 60 fiddles that fit in my car,” he said. “I teach all over the state and I’m scheduled to be back here in February. 

“I teach the whole elementary school, 350 kids. I’ve taught thousands of kids through the years.” 

Probably teaches them about crocodiles, too.