Feb. 1, 2013
“SOU ER CLU”
It’s all that remains on the art deco facade of the boarded up Southern Club — tendrils of glass tubing that once pulsated with neon gas like the club to which it beckoned pulsated inside on lively Saturday nights just outside the Opelousas city limits.
The building is nearly two decades into its life as a “former dancehall,” one of hundreds across South Louisiana that served as Saturday-night community centers where swamp pop and Cajun music mingled with the chatter of friends, neighbors, cousins and awkward, eager paramours.
Like so many dancehalls before it, the Southern Club fell to modernity — to a kazillion things to do on a Saturday night and most certainly and unfortunately to not doing what your grandparents did. A sentinel standing guard at a bygone era.
But run a feather duster around the interior and a broom over the dance floor and the Southern Club is just about ready for action. And thanks to some kind folks with the audacity to respect their grandparents’ ways, the Southern Club might get a second life — if not as a dancehall then as a restored historic structure. A sentry with a spiffy new uniform.
|John "Pudd" Sharp, Robert Votier, Ray Vidrine, Jennifer Ritter Guidry|
“It has a strange feeling like they walked out one day and just locked the door,” says John “Pudd” Sharp, a folklorist and documentary filmmaker at UL Lafayette’s Center for Louisiana Studies. Sharp and a small cadre of dedicated volunteers hope to get the Southern Club on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Parks Service program that helps preserve buildings and other sites of historic importance. Such a designation would make the Southern Club eligible for restoration grants. And that’s the ultimate goal of Save the Southern Club Initiative: restoring and preserving the building and what it represents, and hopefully rechristening it as a dancehall.
“While we here at the center are kind of spearheading this effort, we’re more functioning as facilitators so that this can be as much of a grassroots kinds of communal effort as possible,” says Jennifer Ritter Guidry, a historian at the Center for Louisiana Studies who is helping the effort to save the Southern Club. “The Southern Club meant so many things to so many people in the Opelousas area, so we really want the community to rally for it.”
Saving the Southern Club is part of a documentary film Sharp is working on about dancehalls in South Louisiana, especially dancehalls like the Southern Club that are vacant and dilapidated as well as joints like the famous Jay’s Lounge in Cankton, which no longer physically exist. So far he has gleaned information — film footage, vintage photographs, recollections of former patrons — on more than 600 dancehalls from East Texas to southeast Louisiana that have given up the ghost.
While his research for the documentary began on dancehalls still open and in operation, places like La Poussiere in Breaux Bridge, the victim of a recent tornado, his interest quickly turned to those that are shuttered or have been razed.
“[Dancehalls are] one of these pieces of the [cultural] puzzle that’s passing with people — as people die it’s information that’s being lost,” Sharp says.
“We had a meeting in Opelousas at the end of November, and we had a ton of people show up for it,” recalls Guidry. “The overwhelming response when we asked, ‘What do you want to see happen with the Southern Club, if we save the building? What do you want to do with it?’ was, ‘Open it back up!’”
Swamp pop icon Rod Bernard, now 72, was fresh off a string of national and regional hits led by his classic “This Should Go on Forever” when he formed The Shondells with Warren Storm and Skip Stewart and got a regular Saturday-night gig at The Southern Club — a gig that stretched through most of the 1960s. Back then the Southern Club was the place to be on a Saturday night.
“It was some of the best years of my life, needless to say,” recalls Bernard, an Opelousas native and friend of the late Chick Vidrine, the Southern Club’s affable, generous owner. “A lot of people today, I’ll meet up with them and they’ll tell me that those were great years for them and that they met their wives or husbands at the Southern Club. It brought a lot of couples together.”
Bernard jokingly adds that the Southern Club and its parking lot made a lot of babies.
Sharp has shot about 40 hours of video and counting for his upcoming documentary, which he says will be complete this year. “As far as helping with the dancehall research, we are looking for photographs, video, film — anything that would let us know more. And we’re also in the process of collecting personal stories,” he adds.
Save the Southern Club Initiative recently brought on board Lafayette architect Allen Bacque to assist with the process of getting the building on the National Register.
As for the personal stories, recollections like Rod Bernard’s are indispensable in preserving not just the memory of these lost places but the characters who populated them.
“I would never ask Chick [Vidrine] about money,” Bernard recalls of his days performing at the Southern Club. “He always paid us more than what we’d get anyway if we’d asked him for a dollar figure.”
Chick Vidrine’s generosity, say Sharp and Guidry, is one of the most common memories associated with the Southern Club: “There’s a lot of people who talk about coming back from the war and being able to get a job there just by walking in,” says Guidry.
“If you speak to owners of dancehalls they will quickly point out that no one has ever gotten rich doing this,” Sharp adds. “People own dancehalls because they love it.”
Vidrine ran the place with his two brothers, one of whom, 71-year-old Ray Vidrine, is still very much alive and stands at the front of the line among people wanting to see the old dancehall given new life. “I’m doing this in Chick’s memory; he was a good guy,” Ray says. “I worked for Chick for 25 years at the club, and there’s a lot of me still in that place. I’d like to see it brought back.”
According to Gov. Bobby Jindal, President Barack Obama needs to stop talking about “justice” and start murdering people, even if we have to go alone.
A nationwide search is under way to fill the vacancy of Lafayette Regional Airport Director Greg Roberts following his resignation over an incident in which he allegedly pointed a fake gun at an engineer during a meeting in June, and a replacement is expected by January.
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Halliburton says it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a substantial portion of plaintiff claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The Houston firm said Friday in its weekly report that 1,575 rigs were exploring for oil and 338 for gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,776 active rigs.
A crew began erecting the 25-foot mini-wheel late morning Friday in anticipation of the evening’s Hottest Night of the Year party at the park.
Frances Boothe of Nunez, who also happens to be filmmaker Stephen Meaux’s grandmother, prepares a cool-weather fave.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
New Iberia colonial or Broussard traditional home
The LPSB is poised and ready to move forward with the termination of Pat Cooper following a discussion Thursday with the attorney hired for the investigation of the superintendent, but a decision of this magnitude should be left up to the new board seated in January, especially with three pro-investigation board members bailing out come the new year.
Fiery style for game day
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
Three bedroom Port Barre cottage or three bedroom historic district Opelousas home
No laboring for shoppers this holiday
It will be next month before Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely get a chance to change the membership of a South Louisiana flood board that is suing dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.