The Big Zephyr breezes in for Florence July 4 celebration

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FLORENCE — A musician with decades of experience, Bill Babin knows exactly what kind of show to play for a heat-stressed but motivated-to-party family audience at Florence’s July 4th Freedom Fest.

“We’re going to play a great mix of old and new country music, with a few special patriotic songs mixed in. And maybe a little bit of classic rock in there as well,” according to Babin, who is drummer, owner and producer of The Big Zephyr.

The band will play 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Tuesday’s celebration at Heritage Park.

“We’re what you might call senior musicians; we’ve all been playing a long, long time. All the people in the band have been members of other bands over the last 40 years,” Babin said in a phone interview. Most of the band members have classic rock roots, but the female lead singer has a country music background.

Babin formed the group in 2005 in Phoenix. Although there have been a few membership changes along the way, “we still produce the exact same kind of product,” which emphasizes vocals and vocal harmonies, Babin said. All the band members sing.

The Big Zephyr started off playing classic rock, but found audiences in Arizona, especially in the 55-and-over resorts, wanted to hear country. Today the band plays three main styles – classic rock, country, “and the latest thing we’re doing is a completely different format based around old school r&b, soul and Motown music, with a band that has eight members and three horns. … We customize each show for each audience.”

With a wide-ranging repertoire that runs the gamut from Patsy Cline to Gwen Stefani, the group knows quite a few songs. When asked how many, Babin laughed. “Oftentimes, my musicians have been known to complain, but it’s around 170.”

The name of the band evokes a favorite childhood and family memory for Babin, who was born and raised in New Orleans. There was a wonderful regional amusement park, Pontchartrain Beach, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

“They had a classic wooden roller coaster which was called The Zephyr. Zephyr really is another word for wind, big wind. And you often find the name associated with ships or trains, especially in the era of great train transportation in the early-to-mid 20th century. You find trains being called zephyrs.

“So this was a rollercoaster. And when you lived in New Orleans and went to the amusement park, the big rite of passage was when you got to be old enough to ride on that rollercoaster. … then you had really grown up. That was something my dad did for us every summer, many times, was take us to that amusement park.”

Babin said his wife had the idea when he was forming the band in 2005. “Out of nowhere she said, ‘Why don’t you call it The Big Zephyr?’”

The Big Zephyr doesn’t play New Orleans music – no zydeco or brass band tunes – but it’s still a good name for what they do, Babin said.

“It’s the love of music that is found in musicians from New Orleans, and their passion for performance, that you find in the culture of New Orleans. People’s enjoyment of the party atmosphere that exists there. That’s what the name brings to what we’re doing in the 21st century.”

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