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Free at the fair Thursday and Friday: Geno Delafose, with Boyz II Men as a Friday night bonus

Throughout this year’s Minnesota State Fair, I’ll be providing tips on which acts at the free stages dotted around the grounds are worth taking time away from the usual rides, animals, artwork and consumer goods (the food, of course, is portable). There will be no recommendations for Saturday and Sunday, which, given the guarantee of large crowds anyway, are not coincidentally the weakest free-stage offerings.

The offspring of zydeco pioneers have a tendency to carry on the family musical tradition, but the results of this second generation legacy-building are rarely as rewarding as what accordionist Geno Delafose provides with his aptly-named band, French Rockin’ Boogie. The son of John Delafose, the 38-year-old Geno infuses the swampy lilt of zydeco with dance rhythms that range from Texas swing to the pop-rock inflections of modern country music.

Less a mash-up than a well-seasoned gumbo, the music of French Rockin’ Boogie reflects Delafose’s love of driving rhythms (he was a drummer and a rub-board player in his dad’s band before assuming primacy on the squeeze-box) and non-threatening hedonism. The group has released just five records since 1994, the latest in 2007, but as much or more than any other genre, zydeco is best experienced and appreciated live, where its inimitable clack and sway more tangibly evokes the distinctive geography and Creole culture of rural Louisiana.

Here is the group performing live this year at the Long Beach Mardi Gras Festival in June and back home at the Crawfish Festival. Their back-to-back afternoon concerts at the Leinie Lodge are reason alone to show up early today and tomorrow.

It is something of a shock to see the most commercially successful r&b group in musical history (according to record sales certified by RIAA) also playing the free stage at the Leinie Lodge this Friday night. I can recall thousands of paying customers, dressed to the nines, filling the Target Center for a Boyz II Men concert back in 1995 (I reviewed the show for the Strib).

Now, sans one of their four vocalists, the masters of vocal harmonies soldier on, their last few albums a mixture of thematically oriented cover tunes, their producer Randy Jackson instead of Babyface. But if you can’t get goosebumps during the crescendos for such exalted romantic hits as “The End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You,” your heart has been clogged by too many Pronto Pups.

While the Boyz won’t be able to stage a show with the precision and spectacle of their arena-tour prime, rest assured that their vocal pipes are still clean as a whistle and their harmonies remain as decadently creamy as a chocolate éclair. The relative obscurity of the group over the past decade has more to do with changing fashion than declining talent. That the likes of Boyz II Men can be gleaned for the cost of a general admission State Fair ticket is the weekend’s best bargain.

Here is the group covering the old classic, “Money,” earlier this year.

Here is “End of the Road” in concert, circa 1992.

Geno Delafose and Boyz II Men on the free stages at the Minnesota State Fair.   Delafose will be at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell today and tomorrow at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.; Boyz II Men will also play the Leinie Lodge Bandshell at 8:30 p.m. on Friday. Shows require only a general admission ticket to the fairgrounds.

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