The Assumption Catholic Church Hall is shown
to the right of the church.
Pictured under the photograph of Assumption Catholic Church are shots of Geno Delafose and French Rockin Boogie, the dance floor with the ceiling fans whirling above, one couple who burned up the floor when Geno played "Bernadette," Leo "the Bull" Thomas smashing down with those drum sticks, and at left, Horace Trahan.
|The Assumption Catholic Church, located
about a 2 blocks north of Highway 190 in Basile a few miles west of Eunice, has a long
tradition of hosting zydeco dance fundraisers on Sunday nights. The dances are held in the
church hall, a frame tin-roofed building that, like the church, rests on piers.
One Sunday night in mid-January 2000, the Knights of St. Peter Claver at the church put on a dance featuring Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie. Geno had played at the church before, where his father, the late John Delafose, also used to play benefit dances. When the hall is used for dances, the bands set up in a corner by the front door. One of the Knights of St. Peter Claver stands behind a table at the door collecting the $5 admission.. At the other end of the hall, beer and cold drinks are sold from behind a counter.
The dance begins some time after 6 p.m., and by 7 the hall is already packed with people who range in age from infants to senior citizens in their eighties. Some, like Todd Ortego and Joe Burge, who for many years hosted "Front Porch Zydeco" on a Eunice radio station, are attending especially to see Geno perform. Many sit behind tables that line the walls, but the dance floor is also full. As usual, Geno sings in both French and English. Taking a request, he runs through a spirited zydeco interpretation of D.L. Menard's "La porte d'en arrière."
The weather is comparatively warm for January in South Louisiana, about 65 degrees. As the crowd grows even larger, the window air conditioning units mounted in the walls are turned up while the ceiling fans whirl overhead.
About 7:45, Geno launches into "Bernadette," and the floor fills quickly, everyone moving to the rapid zydeco beat. As dancers bounce to the quick rhythm, the wooden floor supported by piers dances along. In fact, the entire building dances as Geno's accordion sounds out "Bern-a-dette." One man, who dances with fast, high steps as he spins his partner around, seems to gain even more energy as Geno improvises new variations on the accordion. Then Geno sings once again "Bernadette. Ça me fait du mal. Comment je va's faire moi tout seul?" The song goes on for about twice as long as the version on Geno's CD "La Chanson Perdue." A small crowd begins to gather in front of the spinning couple. Will they last until the end of the song? They do, and, after the song ends amid applause, Geno compliments them on the way they "burned up" the floor.
Some time after 8 p.m., Geno invites his uncle, Leo "the Bull" Thomas, to play. Anyone who has only heard recordings of Thomas but has never seen him live is missing a unique experience. Nothing other than actually being there standing near the bandstand can duplicate the physical sensation of having Thomas' incredibly hard, precise drumbeats reverberate through your body. Dressed immaculately in an olive suit with a red handkerchief and red shoes, Thomas starts his set by describing his career in music stretching back more than 40 years. Then, his head rolling back and forth, he sings some of his favorite songs like "Why You Want to Make Me Cry?", all the while clobbering the drums with very hard but exactly controlled strokes that resonate with the lyrics.
Next, Horace Trahan and his zydeco band play a couple a numbers, and one young accordionist performs before Geno returns to the bandstand to finish out the night.
Although Geno Delafose plays at clubs and festivals all around the nation, when he returns to Louisiana he also returns to the roots of zydeco in the community, where decades ago church halls like the one in Basile were one of the places where zydeco became established.
All photographs and text by David Simpson.