Want a definition of a down home roadhouse dance hall? The Grant Street Dance Hall in Lafayette, Louisiana is on the ballot. Three steps inside the door, the faintly sweet smell of stale beer rising from the hard as nails black stained plank floor is a prime indicator. But, when the humidity is just right, you just might pick up the scent of Louisiana grown Satsuma or Washington navel oranges, lemons, grapefruit, or kumquats that used to be stored here in Grant Street’s pre-1980 incarnation as a fruit warehouse.
More prominent at the moment, every piece of wood in the place – cedar rafters, joists, roof planks – have absorbed enough cigarette smoke to startle the Surgeon General. A chestnut brown thirty-seat bar runs down one side, the bandstand is on the other. High cocktail tables with stools are situated around the dance floor… a prairie sized dance hall big enough to double as a touch football field.
Southwest Louisiana is a magnet for talent. Roadhouses from Mamou to Opelousas have pedigrees. Albert King, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Los Lobos, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Irma Thomas have played at Grant Street.
9 PM The sound check Horace Trahan puts his band through might have loosened the nails from the roof shingles.
The volcanic rumble of the bass transmits from my butt on the wooden stool all the way through my torso and makes my teeth buzz. Talking is out of the question. The regulars drift in, wave to each other, hug, and begin to chat, mouths close to the ears of the other.
10 PM The Ossun Express’s guitar, rub board, and drums settle on stage with Horace and his accordion in the middle alongside his sax/flute player and bass player.
Horace hits the first song and 30 dancers make a beeline for the dance floor.
Horace sings most of the songs on his latest album, “Keep Walking.” It’s a rare night in Lafayette that dancers have room to really strut their stuff. Tomorrow night will be a different story.
Horace Trahan,accordion, vocals
Daniel Sanda, guitar
Phil Slim Washingon, guitar
James Prejean, bass
Doug Garb, saxophone, flute, harmonica
Rodney Bernard, scrub board