Here we are hanging out in the Bird. You can see it in our eyes – we are dreaming up fun ways for folks to help us keep it all going. Staggering medical bills the last few years has been slowing us down and we don’t like it one bit. FYI, we’re still paying for having the building magically returned to us and we need some help. We got this idea of a Whirlybird Fan Club from friends – a Fan Club with membership that is specifically geared to support our creative efforts with The Whirlybird – read all about it. . . and join us.
Here we are above in The Whirlybird, Christy and Jim. We fell in love with Acadiana’s culture and bought an old “camp” – a weekend place with a cabin – just outside Opelousas. When our friends wanted to know what the two of us were going to do with that place, they laughed when we pledged, “We’re gonna put a dancehall in the yard.” Then, we did.
A local friend found an old tin-sided rail-yard freight depot we could afford to purchase and move to our camp. (Yes, these things happen in Louisiana.) With the help of many friends, while we were traveling back and forth between California and Louisiana, we created a “cultural house of fun” bigger than anything we ever imagined or planned.
In late August 2005, the night before Hurricane Katrina hit the coastline, having finally finished major construction and having most of our early renovations done, we had a party. But, everyone left early to prepare for the hurricane. Our friend, John Vidrine, said, “Take this one seriously.” We all did.
Since Katrina, using mostly recycled materials, we installed a dance floor and a bandstand, a small kitchen and an ornate, salvaged bar. We added 2 bathrooms with hot showers along with two “very cool” private bedrooms we call the Kingdom of Zydeco and the Esquire Ballroom. There’s a story behind each name. We occasionally rent the bedrooms through online travel clubs as vacation rentals to help us pay for the building and utilities, however, it has been a bit slow, considering we are reluctant to advertise. We want to keep The Whirlybird intimate, non-commercial. We want to continue maintaining The Whirlybird as an expression of our love for fun through folk art, music, dancing, cooking and eating, drinking, hugging, laughter, and storytelling.
Once our talented musician and artist friends in Louisiana discovered The Whirlybird, they told their friends and families, and after Katrina, The Whirlybird became a local vehicle for hurricane recovery. It became a handy form of cultural, emotional and spiritual medicine. Fun goes a long way. One of our mottos was – “Come get you some.”
Soon the “the ‘Bird” rocked with parties and cooking, creative and collaborative projects among artists, dancing and live music, and movie nights and stage plays and storytelling. After the Cajun Americana band the Red Stick Ramblers shot their first music video there, fans around the world marveled at this honky tonk rooted in another era. The Ramblers’ label, Sugar Hill Records of Nashville, called it “Opelousas, Louisiana’s premier underground nite spot.” Christy told me Sam Broussard, 2008 Grammy Nominee for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album, told her, “I believe we’re looking at the inside of Jim Phillips’ head”.
Since the beginning, Christy and I have worked hard and have sacrificed to ensure it’s more like an underground “family rec-room gone wild” instead of just another public venue driven by watered-down pop culture and the dollar. The music and fun haven’t stopped. Since we moved full time to Louisiana in 2006, surprisingly, the Whirlybird has moved, too – that is, between its location at the camp to our permanent residence.
There’s a magical story about that move. During the Global financial crisis, starting 2007-08, we had no choice but to sell our beloved camp, and unfortunately, The Whirlybird building had to be sold – and left behind. But miraculously the ‘Bird came back to us, thanks to a local fan, friend and our house mover, Philip Devillier. Knowing its history and cultural value, and having an opportunity to continue the cultural phenomena, the Whirlybird dream of Christy and Jim, Philip kept the building from destruction and sold it back to us and moved it to our permanent residence 10 miles away.
The ‘Bird has inspired songs by International artists, and, hosted the making of documentary films and International television programs and music videos, and it has hosted music artist’s CD recordings and release parties. The ‘Bird created a special place for people to have cherished spiritual experiences through art by talented artists, to fall in love and change their lives forever, to have intimate weddings and anniversary parties, to enjoy crawfish boils and poetry readings – and, of course, to have wonderful house concert and dance adventures like no other. Last but not least, there have been epic Thanksgiving potluck celebrations every year, sometimes with honky tonk dances, jam sessions and bonfires. The ‘Bird is where many international visitors, brought by friends, have savored their first American and unique Southwest Louisiana-style cultural experiences.
Here’s what formidable Southern Living Magazine had to say about our folk art/cultural project: “Some of the biggest names in Cajun music and beyond “pass a good time” there.”
In Country Roads Magazine, this is how Lucie Monk Carter described us: “The two are both educators, notably having founded the Steampunk and Makers Fair in Lafayette; the instinct to guide a group through cultural awakening shows in the mere existence of The Whirlybird as well as the strictures that make pure joy possible within.”
The Whirlybird is bigger than us – Christy and Jim, that is. But, The Whirlybird is us – it is our artistic and cultural expression – it represents us, the 2 artists that created it and continue to make it fly. Most our fans know it takes a lot of sweat equity to keep The Whirlybird generating that joy it represents. We have to say it – it also takes money. It takes money to pay off the re-purchased building, to maintain the 80 ft. long building and adjacent grounds, pay for utilities, and to sustain a lively calendar of activities.
In the beginning we did not charge admissions, but acquiesced when the tip jars didn’t produce enough money for the collaborative artists and expenses. Today, we are finding that raising enough money through admissions and the online vacation rentals of the Whirlybird bedrooms is still not enough to consistently pay collaborating artists a fair stipend or to just keep up with basic expenses related to activities. We were never “in the black” but keeping up and staying “close to the line” is made more and more difficult, considering we have an aversion to publicize. We simply want to keep the special intimate atmosphere alive and going forward. We also would like to pay off the balance due on the building, which would release a bit of the financial pressure each month, and square us with our generous friend who made the return possible.
That’s where our shared plan idea – for a “Whirlybird Society and Fan Club” with different levels of sponsorship, and, for communicating directly to the membership through emails and a blog – comes in. Consulting with friends, we are convinced there is a “flight” of Whirlybird fans who understand the unique value the ‘Bird offers them personally and to our community at large. We believe there are enough fans and friends who like that idea that The Whirlybird exists in the world, fans and friends who do not like the idea that Whirlybird activities may be curtailed or limited, and, fans and friends who want The Whirlybird to be sustainable. Christy and I hope you will support the idea of a membership style club that financially supports us as the creative artists and the “little engine that could” keep the ‘Bird aloft and flying high.
We learned about this sponsorship/fan membership idea from other artist friends who are doing this through various online programs. This concept of person to person communal support and patronage is the new way in the digital world to directly support artists and projects you particularly love. With so many “cut-backs” to art, culture and artists, this is a natural path for creatives all over the world to find their fans.
Please check out our membership “tiers” and join The Whirlybird Society and Fan Club with a monthly contribution that works for you. You can support our creative efforts for as little as a $1 per month. In return, we will provide EXCLUSIVE perks just for you as a member of the Whirlybird Society and Fan Club, such as,
- Whirlybird swag (koozies and stickers, t-shirts and hats, cushions/cups/mugs)
- Admission wristbands to events
- Staying overnight in The Whirlybird or in The Folk Art Barn or at Stonewood Plantation
- Behind the scenes content with stories, photos and videos about Whirlybird history, activities, structure, folk culture accoutrements
- Exclusive content about our own – Christy’s and Jim’s – individual creative projects . More about what we do in our everyday lives, such as, our projects in theatre, writing, construction, education, Stonewood Plantation, gardening and landscaping.
- Our creative lives is the fuel that feeds the creative engine that generates the power to drive the pistons and turn the gears and rotate the rotors that delivers the lift and causes The Whirlybird to fly.
Don’t forget to tell friends who have the inclination and wherewithal to contribute to the arts and two of your favorite artists.