"It's too hot in there!"
That's not a comment that was made outside too many buildings in the county during the not-quite-spring night this past Friday. And it's not that the Women's Club of Orange is a cramped or cloistered place; the airy high-ceilinged hall has a plenitude of huge windows, and all of them along with the doors were wide open Friday.
The temperature was due to the hall being filled with Cajun music and with people dancing to it like antic molecules. Just as adding Tabasco certainly ups the BTU rating of any food, the great musical export of Louisiana's bayous seems to bring its own steamy atmosphere along with it.
Friday's performance of the Brand-New Old-Time Cajun Band inaugurated the Women's Club hall as the latest home for folk-oriented shows in the county. The room is delightfully suited for such shows, hearkening to the great school auditoriums of yesteryear.
The acoustics are only fair, but it was hard to judge that amid the resounding stamp of feet on the hardwood floor, which may spell out the potential of the hall better than any sonic appraisal. It's a place where it's easy for people to feel good.
Longtime folk-show organizer Carolyn Russell--who also plays guitar and bass with the Cajun band--has some experience with offering people-friendly locales. For years she put on folk music shows and dances at her Garden Grove home, until city officials realized citizens were having unlicensed fun and shut her down.
She next found a home for the music at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, until officials decided that demolishing that wonderful old hall was in the public interest.
One can only hope such closures aren't indicative of a trend, because shows like Friday night's can be among the most heartwarming, community-binding events one could hope to find in these chillingly divisive times. The hall was packed to its 280 capacity with people of all ages, races and strata, all dancing together and enjoying the music.
Of the people who weren't dancing, as many had their chairs facing the dance floor as were facing the stage. As it often is in Louisiana, the music provided by the players was functional rather than show music, and that function was to supply the mood and the rhythm to a party. As regularly as a heartbeat Friday, the band alternated between pumping up-tempo reels and slower waltzes to let the dancers catch their breath.
Though not given to flashy virtuosity, there was no mistaking the intense musicianship of the Brand-New Old-Time Cajun Band. The group is a mix of old hands on the Southland scene and some remarkable newcomers.
Russell and fiddle player Tom Sauber (who also hosts a folk-based radio program) had played with accordion great Wilfred Latour (whose age prevents his full-time involvement in a band any longer) and also with accordionist Joe Simien, with whom they still play some Los Angeles shows.
Though not born to the music, both are expert at it, with Russell content to hold down the rhythm, while Sauber held his own beside accordionist Charles Boulet, occasionally trading solos, but most often sinking into the entrancingly repetitious grooves of the songs.
The rhythm section was rounded out by Sauber's 10-year-old son Patrick on triangle and accordion, and by drummer Charles Givens, who played with just the right amount of backbeat and flourish.
While Russell and Sauber's past squeeze-box associates have long histories in the music, Boulet is a relative newcomer. He was introduced to Cajun music in his hometown of Sulpher, La., but spent most of his life in Bakersfield. He took up playing the accordion at age 40, and says he only went at it intently after he retired from his day job a year ago. Russell has said that on a recent occasion visiting her, Boulet played his accordion for nearly 12 hours straight.
He seemed capable of that endurance Friday, never flagging during the finger-blurring upbeat numbers, and even accelerating already wildly speeding tunes such as the "Amade Two-Step." Watching Boulet made for a curious contrast: He looked as stern as if he were gutting a fish, while squeezing saturated pleasure out of the diatonic button accordion bouncing on his left knee.
The group was completed by Boulet's wife, Terry, on vocals. Despite occasional reliance on a lyric sheet, she sang the French language songs with conviction and high spirits.
The songs included "The Waltz on the Mulberry Limb," "Church Point Two-Step," D.L. Menard's "The Back Door," "Cherokee Waltz," "Hick's Wagon Wheel Special" and others, all blending into a thick, dance-impelling mash.
The band will return to the Women's Club on April 23. Like Friday's show, their appearance will be preceded by free dance lessons.