St. Charles Herald-Guide

Bingo Hall brings out hundreds with Swamp Pop dances

By Kyle Barnett - June 15, 2013

Itís a Sunday afternoon in Boutte and the traffic on Highway 90 is virtually nonexistent.

Not many parish residents can be seen out and about, but coming upon the Boutte Bingo Hall cars have filled the parking lot to near capacity.

With a mirrored film on the windows of the building it is hard to see from the outside what is going on, but as people file in the door a current of Swamp Pop is carried outside.

Once inside the lights are turned down except for splashes of pink, purple and orange washing over todayís featured act, Junior Lacrosse, who is center stage standing at a keyboard behind a microphone. He is putting as much passion as he can muster into a song as groups of dancers pair off and twirl and swing on the dance floor in front of him.

This has been the scene every Sunday at the bingo hall for the past two and half years, where owner John Landry has held a weekly dance.

"It started a little slow, but itís gradually gotten better and better," Landry said.

Although in the beginning the bingo hall dance only brought in 50 to 60 people, the following has quickly grown to over 200 attendees per week.

"Itís good because the community has somewhere to go during the day on Sundays," Landry said. "People come here from LaPlace, Reserve, I draw from Slidell, Lafitte, Houma. And itís been a good thing for the business itself because you know I struggled a few years since Katrina and it has been helping me keep afloat."

By featuring Swamp Pop artists from around the region, Landry targets a specific crowd.

Thelma Leehans, a 74-year-old Bayou Gauche native, said she comes every chance she gets.

"This is more of a senior citizen thing. We do have a few young ones that are having a good time, but it is all people who love to dance and they play all the music from our age group. We love it," she said. "Itís Swamp Pop dance music that we grew up with in the 50s, 60s and 70s."

Leehans points around the room.

"If you look around probably the youngest one in here is 55 to 60 years old and they love it. If you notice it is all people who used to dance and then stopped and then it all started again when John opened it," she said.

While most of the crowd is made up of seniors, Landry has begun to notice more and more young people attending.

"We opened and it starts filling up with some of the younger people too who are 30 to 40 years old. Not a lot, but a few. It depends on the band too," Landry said.

Although Marrero-based singer Duane Shurb does not dance anymore, he comes every Sunday and often joins whatever band is on stage for a song or two.

"I love to dance but I canít anymore because Iíve got COPD and all of that," he said. "I sing a little bit and I used to have a band. I gave up the band business, but I just like to do this kind of stuff. "

Shurb said if nothing else the dances are a good thing for the St. Charles Parish community as a whole.

"Itís gotta help. He built it up from maybe 60 people to what you see here today. This is every weekend now," he said.

Houma resident Dale Guidry stands next to Shurb. He is the owner of Louisiana Cajun Stuff in Houma and sees the dance night as a way to hold onto Cajun culture.

"My whole store is pertaining to Louisiana and Cajun culture. I sell these guyís CDs and we promote everybody that we can," he said.

Guidry said he also comes every weekend.

"I love it. I meet a lot of people and have a good time," he said. "I dance every chance I get. "

Thomas Bartholomew twirls his wife Paula and then brings her in close. The two come in from Plaquemines Parish when they can, but it all depends on Thomasí work.

"I was born and raised on the bayou. I shrimp, fish and crab," he said. "The shrimping season is over now. We took off maybe a month and then we came today."

He said the two of them love to dance.

"Wherever they have good music, that Swamp Pop," he said. "We listen to it all of the time."

Landry looks out over the crowd, satisfied with the turnout. He remembers just about a year ago when his mother was still alive.

"She would come dancing here and then she got sick. She had quit coming, but on Motherís Day a year ago my wife went out and picked her up and said, ĎMa you come on out and enjoy your Motherís Day with your son,í" he said. "She danced with her walker right here and four weeks later she passed away."

Now, in memory of his mother, Landry does a special dance every Sunday.

"I do it around 7 p.m. with all of the ladies who want to dance. We do a big circle and they all dance with me and then they take a picture," he said.

In his office a pile of photos is strewn across his desk showing him dancing with a different woman in each one. Flipping through the photos Landry feels a sense of pride about what he has been able to accomplish in only a few years.

"A lot of my friends in the beginning told me they didnít think it would work because Sunday afternoon was not a good time, especially when the Saints play and stuff like that, but it has been working," he said.

He said as the dance night has taken off, more of the people who come out also have begun coming to the bingo nights held throughout the week.

"Itís been a good thing," he said. "Today business is a tough deal and Iíve had my highs and lows over 25 years and this has been good for me. Itís been fun, the people are happy and they are pleasant to deal with. I am just glad to be able to do it."

The Boutte Bingo Hall, located at 13145 Hwy. 90, holds the dances every Sunday. Doors open at 3 p.m. and the band plays from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.

The cover charge is $5 and concessions and alcoholic beverages are for sale on the premises.

Junior Lacrosse brings couples out onto the dance floor.
Junior Lacrosse brings couples out onto the dance floor.