The first time you take a Sunday drive to a dance in Henderson, you may wonder what youve gotten yourself into. A long ride south down Henderson Levee Road leads to a wooden sign emblazoned with a red, white, and blue accordion. It beckons you up and over the levee, revealing the Atchafalaya Basin. Local and visitors alike pause to take in the sight of the largest swamp and wetland in the United States, dotted with houseboats, cypress trees, and birds on the wing. At the foot of the levee sits Angelles Whiskey River Landing, affectionately known to locals as simply Whiskey River. Although Whiskey River seems as if it has been there forever, the dancehall portion of the building was built somewhat recently. Originally a boat launch that added a shaded back porch for fishing contest weigh-ins, the back porch dancehall area was framed in and the space began hosting an occasional dance. After the addition of large fans, the dances became more popular until the growth of the dance crowds demanded that air conditioning be added. Now the hall is comfortable no matter the weather. Some of the most popular Cajun and zydeco bands play at Whiskey River regularly, which can bring large crowds. Because it can sometimes take a while to negotiate the throng and get a round of drinks, the bar came up with a great solutiona bucket of ice containing six beers. A bucket of beers is cheaper than buying them individually, saves you time spent in line, and even provides a way to keep your beer cold while you dance. Although Whiskey River doesnt sell food, often a truck selling sausage poboys and hamburgers is parked right outside the front door (ask for the Jack Millers BBQ sauce)helping dancers to keep their energy up and for others, something to soak up excess alcohol. On, or near, water seems an ideal location for dancehalls and bars, and Whiskey River is no exception. Over the years, numerous popular halls such as the Lake Shore Club on Lake Arthur in Jefferson Davis Parish, the Rainbow Inn on Pierre Pass in Pierre Part, and the Club Sho Boat on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia have drawn on the allure of nearby water as an added attraction. It isnt uncommon to see a group arrive by boat, often with fishing poles stowed and beer in hand. On one occasion, I saw a fisherman in overalls and white shrimp boots two-step with an imaginary partner all the way to the launch as his partner guided the boat to the dock. As the afternoon light begins to fade, the sky takes on muted tones of pink, orange, and blue, creating a picturesque backdrop for the band, which plays in front of a large picture window looking out over the Basin. As daylight dissolves, the band announces it is about to begin the last song of the night. In keeping with Whiskey River tradition, patrons, mostly women, begin to climb up on the back bar for one final dance. The whole room, band included, watchestheir eyes gluedas the dancers enjoy the brief attention on the elevated pedestal. The regulars all say their good-byesknowing they will see each other next weeksame time, same place. The dance over, cars begin to climb the levee and head home. A Sunday dance at Whiskey River definitely starts the week on the right foot.
John Sharp, a documentary filmmaker and folklorist, is the Assistant Director for Research at the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His 2011 film, Water on Road, deals with the natural and man-made issues facing the Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. His current research and film project is Dancehalls of South Louisiana, for which he won the 2012 Louisiana Filmmaker award from Louisiana Economic Development. For more information on Sharp'scurrent project like him on Facebook or visit LouisianaDancehalls.com.
Posted: December 10, 2014 by John Sharp