Miller's Zydeco Hall of Fame in Lawtell, Louisiana burned down Tuesday night. It was one of the last extant zydeco roadhouses.
The world of zydeco music lost one of its seminal clubs to a mysterious fire on Tuesday night, in a small town just outside of Opelousas, the self-described zydeco capital of the world.
Current owner Dustin Miller called the club "Miller’s Zydeco Hall of Fame,”
but acolytes knew the Lawtell dance hall as zydeco’s Grand Ol’ Opry. Opened in 1947, Richard’s occupied a must-stop address on the famed "chitlin circuit." Both B.B. King and John Lee Hooker played there, expanding the club's legacy beyond zydeco.
The destruction of the dance hall, which was known for most of the 20th century as Richard’s, could bury for good the go-to stage for zydeco luminaries like Boozoo Chavis, Clifton Chenier and Terrance Simien. Zydeco pioneer John Delafose, who graced the Richard’s stage countless times, died of a heart attack shortly after a performance there in 1994.
“The building was built with good, old sturdy wood,” says dance hall researcher John Sharp, who visited the site on Wednesday. “Once a little bit of it caught fire, that’s a lot of fuel. Now, it’s a gutted big black hole.”
Perhaps only a few other clubs, Sharp says, claim the singularly cathedral air boasted by Richard’s — The Offshore Lounge (nee the Gin Side Inn) in Lawtell, Dauphine’s in Parks, Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas, and Hamilton’s in Lafayette, all of which are closed. Richard’s was the last of that vintage of country Creole dance halls.
An album recorded at Richard's in Lawtell, Louisiana. The dance club, known more recently as the Zydeco Hall of Fame, burned down earlier this week.
Venues like Richard’s provided more than a platform for zydeco — they operated as de facto marketplaces for all kinds of social and commercial activity, according to Sharp. Some included horse tracks or ice cream parlors; others sold liquor by the bottle.
The building is said to be a “total loss” either from direct char or heat damage.
Today, Miller walked back an earlier statement to The Daily Advertiser
that he would not reopen the club, saying the magnitude of that decision has begun to weigh on him. He bought the club to continue a tradition he grew up in, one that’s he’d be reluctant to see die in Lawtell. “You didn’t grow up in this town without going there,” he says. “I’ve been going there since I was young, even before I was supposed to be in there.”
St. Landry Parish fire department officials say the blaze began sometime Tuesday night in around 11 p.m., not long after a local band finished a rehearsal around 10 p.m. Firefighters returned Wednesday to tackle a re-sparked attic fire.
Richard’s continued its own community center legacy into its latter years, opening on an infrequent basis for the stray zydeco show or community event.
Sharp says contemporary stars returned to Richard's to partake of tradition, and bask in the hallowed glory of a sweat-packed Saturday show.
“If there was one place that was the history of zydeco in a handful,” Sharp says, “it was that place.”