We fell in love with the culture of Acadiana and bought an old “camp” – a weekend place with a cabin – just outside Opelousas. When our friends asked what we were going to do with the place, they laughed when we said, “We’re gonna put a dancehall in the yard.” But that’s exactly what we did.
A local friend found an old tin-sided rail-yard freight depot that we could afford to purchase and move to our camp. With the help of many friends, we created a “cultural house of fun” bigger than anything we ever imagined or planned, while traveling back and forth between California and Louisiana, bringing loads of folk art with us.
In late August 2005, the night before Hurricane Katrina hit the coastline, we had a party, having finally finished major construction and having most of our early renovations done. Our Irish friend, Tony Davoren, described it as a “bar wetting” party, but most everyone left early to prepare for the hurricane. 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. We occasionally rent the bedrooms through online travel clubs as vacation rentals to help us pay for the building and utilities, but we want to keep The Whirlybird intimate and 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 shared it with their friends and families, and after Hurricane Katrina, The Whirlybird became a local tool for recovery. It served as a form of cultural, emotional, and spiritual medicine, as fun can go a long way. One of our mottos was “Come get you some,” and we all have.
The Whirlybird became a place for cross-generational talent to be shared. It soon became a hub of activity, with parties and cooking, creative and collaborative projects among artists, dancing and live music, movie nights, 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.” Some years later, The Red Stick Ramblers had their Grammy send-off party at The Whirlybird. On another occasion, Christy told me Sam Broussard, 2008 Grammy Nominee for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album, said, “I believe we’re looking at the inside of Jim Phillips’ head.”