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.”
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
C & C Technologies, HIT Fitness, R3 Sciences, the Acadiana Symphony Association and the United Way of Acadiana recognized for innovation.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra has decided to end its traditional Independence Day spectacular known as Red White & Boom.
Under the deal, Teche shareholders would get 1.162 shares of IberiaBank for each share of Teche stock.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, April 17, 2014:
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
The must have pieces this season
Dave Perkins, LCG Comp Plan honored along with local architects and designers at the 2014 INDesign Awards
Greg Manuel’s Lafayette-based residential development company is taking advantage of exponential industrial growth in Lake Charles.
Longtime Lafayette retailer ventures online.
It’s not how aggressive or conservative you are — it’s planning for risk that matters most.
Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, more and more consumers are banking on ATMs and mobile phones.
Regional bank bids farewell to Downtown May 30
ABiz takes a look back at the most noteworthy moments for the local banking industry over the last year.
Most experts say short-term interest rates will be unchanged through 2014, but long-term rates are inching up.
Largest recruitment event in Acadiana returns May 21 to the Cajundome Convention Center
A lawyer’s ad should only be a starting point, as there is much more to consider when seeking quality representation.
Thanks to the inaugural 2012 INNOV8, a design for lifting heavy objects was brought to market.
The annual juried competition recognizes excellence in architecture, interior design and historic preservation in Lafayette and the five surrounding parishes.
Cypress Bayou GM hosts open house.
New hires, promotions, transfers in Acadiana business
The scion of a landmark Four Corners restaurant climbs back into Lafayette’s culinary scene as franchisee for a popular burger chain.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.