Keenan Report on the Cajun Dance scene in Denver, CO

by Linda Keenen, October, 1995

Luck was with me -- I just happened to be in Denver on the night of the monthly Cajun dance party hosted by the Swallow Hill Music Association (like the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, except that they sponsor music lessons). The dance was held at the Temple Center Ballroom, "the best dance floor in the state of Colorado," boasting the largest wooden dance floor in Denver (it's about twice the size of the floor at Cherry Hill Park). The ballroom is a historic building with a high ceiling, raised stage and a lot of Linda Keenen, October, 1995

The Swallow Hill Music Association has hosted monthly Cajun dances for about two years, at the instigation of the Colorado Cajun Dance Band, founded by Hugh Robertson. Hugh plays excellent fiddle, and the band is very good, especially the accordion and vocals.

Hugh and others told me it's taken a long time to build up an audience for Cajun and zydeco music, and the size of the turnout (a little over 100 people) was more evidence that they have a ways to go. Nevertheless, they've started bringing up bands from Louisiana: Balfa Toujours and the Savoys will be playing there later this fall.

Nearly all the dancers that night had taken the lesson, so there were a lot of beginners (and guess what, more women than men). I danced with one fellow who was very good, but much shorter than me, so when we spun around, I was afraid he was going to spin out into the asteroid belt. I danced with another guy who was really good, and during one energetic number, our feet started dancing zydeco. A look of relief must have swept over our faces at the same time, because both of us burst out laughing. I said, "Hot dog! I don't have to go the whole weekend without zydeco!" The depths of my zydecodependency know no bounds.

Of course, this man was not from Denver, he was from Berkeley! (And he knows Dulcie and Frisco Freddie.) He was building a house for his brother up in the mountains, and was starved for dancing. When Eric and I danced zydeco, people around us stopped and stared. It's only a matter of time before zydecodependency infects Denver.

After dancing with Eric, another guy came over to me and told me that a zydeco band from Louisiana had come up and that the men danced during the break like Eric and I had. He asked me to show him a little zydeco, and we got to talking. Turns out Steve has his own zydeco band called the Zukes of Zydeco, which he described as playing music from Steve Riley to Beau Jocques to norteno. Yow!!! Throw in some Keith Frank and Sharon Shannon and I'll invite the band to relocate to Washington, D.C!

Steve Burnside has been on the music scene for a long time (he knows our own Jumal of Annapolis) and plays half a dozen instruments in five bands. In addition to playing music, he also brings in other bands for dances: he's hosting a "Dance-a-Billy Extravaganza" with Washington's own Bill Kirchen on September 29.

The Zukes of Zydeco features a musician or two from Louisiana (Blake Castille, son of Hadley Castille, just left the band to move back to Opelousas), but their new bass player is David Foret of Thibodeaux, LA. The Zukes have gigs several times PER WEEK! They have fifteen dates alone in the month of September. Steve told me their Labor Day dance attracted 400 people.

The Zukes played while I was in Denver, but unfortunately, work prevented me from catching them. Work also prevented me from viewing the "Who Killed Montgomery Burns" episode of the Simpsons, but that's another story. As Sean Connery said, being a professional is doing your job when you don't feel like it.

For those of you visiting Denver, here's the scoop:

Zukes of Zydeco
Steve Burnside
Swallow Hill Music Association
1905 S. Pearl St.
Denver, CO