Pure and simple – 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 bringing loads of folk art with us, 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. Our Irish friend, Tony Davoren, described it as a “bar wetting” party. But, most everyone left early to prepare for the hurricane. As our friend, John Vidrine, a safety engineer 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 wood 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, libations, 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.” And, we all have.
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”.