By Anna Purdy • Photos by Robin May
|Bob Robira, left, and Bernard Pearce take a break from
Squint closely at 106 N. Grant St. for its secret: the ghost of a naked woman slaps up a dozen feet across its doors bidding entry into an old feed store.
Broussard’s Feed & Seed Store opened 100 years ago in prime Lafayette real estate — trains could pull up and dump thousands of pounds of culled grain for the farmers to pick up. Agriculture was the name of the game at the time. The oil industry was barely a drip, and cars were still a marvel that popped eyes on the street. For three generations of the Broussard family, it stayed this way.
When the movie Shy People was filmed in Acadiana in the mid-1980s the store, still family-owned, was temporarily changed into a facade for a strip club called Mike’s Pussycat Lounge. Lafayette muralist Robert Dafford was hired to paint it. “The stripper had red pussycat ears and red nipple pasties and red high heels and her skin was a fleshy pink color,” Dafford recalls. “And then it said Mike’s Pussycat Lounge.”
She lay on top of the entrance. While the interior scenes were shot back in Los Angeles, the building needed the sort of Louisiana dive exterior that cannot be replicated. “It looked like a talented painter owed a strip club a lot of money and did that as payment,” says Dafford.
After the movie the building returned to its respectable feed store self, but by the ’90s was abandoned. That’s when musician/impresario Bernard Pearce took over and used the space for a venue called The Pussycat Shack. By this time the paint Dafford was hired to put back over the stripper had faded away to reveal a Hollywood-inspired painted ghost.
After starting both the Shack and Rinky Dink Dancehall a few blocks away, Pearce left Lafayette for about a decade. In 2005 the building where the Pussycat shook was up for sale. Lafayette blues musician Andy Cornett snapped it up on the spot.
Cornett went in with a vision: a nightclub built by and for musicians. By bits and bites the location kept being revamped for the type of venue Cornett wanted to play himself. Cornett is a longtime harmonica player, bassist and singer, traveling the world with legendary blues pianist Henry Gray and functioning as manager and producer.
“I met Andy in 1995 while I was the production manager of the Metropolis music venue,” Pearce says. “I was the first person to book Henry Gray in Lafayette. We developed a close friendship over the next 17 years. When the building became available, Andy called me and we discussed ideas for its potential.”
Unfortunately, the building’s structural problems were many. A location built to house grain needs to be brought up to code for concerts. Bathrooms and a back deck were added along with a green room for bands. There is no bar — The Feed & Seed is an entertainment and arts venue and as such hosts all-ages shows, so no booze for sale unless a catering company is hired for the night.
Through it all Cornett has been living the professional musician’s life: Pack your grip and hit the road when needed, feeling a coin in your pocket when you could and none when the work runs dry. But he never gave up on his dream, despite a series of setbacks that goes far beyond the usual perils of opening a business.
A few years ago he was working on the place when a group of ruffians savagely mugged him. In 2010 he had open heart surgery, and most recently he has been recuperating from an as-yet undiagnosed illness. Despite it all, Cornett was able to start booking shows toward the end of 2011 and now, seven years after the cloudy dream began, The Feed & Seed is celebrating its grand opening beginning with an Eric Lindell-headlined concert Thursday, Feb. 2.
But The Feed & Seed’s mission extends beyond live music.
“We have an abundance of great arts organizations and facilities in the Acadiana area,” Pearce says. “What we really don’t have is a place that can operate on a next-to-nothing budget and accommodate projects that are in need of development, experimentation and ‘woodshedding.’ The Feed & Seed is that facility.”
The mission is for the venue to become a feeder for other larger arts organizations in town, including UL’s arts programs. “Opportunities are often lost or never explored due to budget restraints and necessary bureaucracy,” Pearce adds. “At Feed & Seed we are able to minimize the red tape that may sometime stifle ideas and projects.”
This is certainly welcome news for a downtown that has seen its live music venues dwindle.
“We are a place,” Pearce stresses, “where artists can find themselves and take chances before they are ready for ‘primetime.’ We are also a place that will present stellar visual and musical artists to the community.”
ON THE BILL
The Feed & Seed doors and box office open at 8 p.m. with shows starting one hour later. Grand opening events will feature refreshments and live music Feb. 2-4.