Keenan Report on the Cajun Dance scene in Las Vegas, NV

Warning: the following contains no vital or time-sensitive information.

Flashing lights, tacky decor, Mardi Gras beads and a zydeco band.

Buckwheat on Bourbon Street? No, Thomas "Big Hat" Fields in Las Vegas! Until now, with the exception of Buckwheat or C.J. Chenier, zydeco in Las Vegas has been as rare as finding a nun in Storyville. I was thrilled that my business trip to Las Vegas coincided with Thomas Fields playing at the new Orleans Hotel. The hotel just opened in December and began to book Cajun and zydeco bands in January (thus far, mostly from California). The Thomas Fields band was the first zydeco band to play at the Orleans Hotel.

When they first started playing on Wednesday night, the dance floor was empty. But soon, several older women got up and danced. Girlfriends were steppin'! But not zydeco steps, they were doing pattern dances. I talked to one of them, who told me they were part of a seniors group that went around to the casinos and danced to the bands.

Friends, we'll have a part-time job in our retirement! Maybe the riverboats in New Orleans will have zydeco bands and we can go from one to the other. Hopefully some of you men will be around...I asked the woman why there were no men in their group, and she told me that the husbands had died or others had knee problems or didn't like to dance....

After sitting through a few numbers, I could stand it no longer and got up and danced by myself in the corner. Thomas called out, "Hey, where you from?" Then the woman I had spoken with asked me to show her "that zydeco dance." Her accent sounded familiar. I asked her where she was from, and she replied, "Lake Charles, Louisiana." She said she had never done zydeco dancing but that her daughter did.

And she told me that a few days before, a Cajun guy had won $52,000 at Keno at the casino!

After listening to the band and wishing there were someone to dance with, I went back to my room and flipped on the TV. The show I stumbled upon, "FX," features incredibly glib people who dress up in costumes and disguises and use a lot of fancy electronics, in order to nab criminals. That particular episode's villain du jour was a character known as Sid Thibodeaux from down in da bayou. Intermittent accordion music (not really recognizable as Cajun or zydeco) and such inane lines as "They should have never let you Cajuns out of the swamp," and "I got the best memory in all of Mamou," helped the show sink in its own idiocy.

The next morning I opened the paper to read about Beau Arceneaux of New Iberia, LA, who was recently reunited with his birth mother via the Internet.

Yes, Louisiana is taking over the world!

I took off for a few days of exploring Death Valley National Park, where I encountered no Cajuns or Creoles, but where my rental car DIED. Kind of a problem in a park that is twice the size of Delaware. But I managed to return to Las Vegas in time for Thomas Fields' Saturday night gig, which held a few surprises for me.

The first delightful surprise was the sight of the band members dressed in cute Mardi Gras costumes designed and created by Geneva Fields. I hope they wear them for their Smithsonian gigs this week! The next surprise happened when the band started up. A couple rose from the other side of the lounge and when they started dancing, I could see they were Jim Phillips (Mr. Crazygator) and Christy Leichty from San Francisco! They saw me and looked just as surprised! And then during the band's next set, another couple from San Francisco, Linda Castle and Ed (last name?) arrived. They had all decided to spend the weekend in Vegas because Thomas Fields was there.

So I had a few dances after all!

By the way, Jim, Christy, Linda and Ed are fabulous dancers, and the good news is that Linda will be in Baltimore Sun-Wed Feb. 9-12, so some of you guys will get to dance with her at the Cat's Eye or maybe at Wolf Trap on Tuesday if we can get her a ride and a ticket.

Thomas, Geneva, James (guitar), James (alternates rubboard and bass with Geneva), and Martin were really excited to get the Las Vegas gig. I think that their music was well received by the audience, some of whom purchased CDs and cassettes. I think they got some enjoyment out of the dance moves of some of the lounge's patrons (I know I did. There were a couple of guys out there who made Gumby look like he's made out of iron. *Extremely* entertaining :-) .

Discretion being the better part of valor, I cannot report on how we all did at the tables or slots, but I will say that some people won enough to pay for their costs in Las Vegas or their next trip to Louisiana (but none of those people were me :-(

Thomas and his band are really honored to be performing at the Smithsonian this week. I'm sorry we couldn't get any gigs for them (but hopefully they'll come out to a Creole Junction gig and dance with us!). They said say hello to Jeremy and Bob, so hello J&B!!

Orleans Hotel and Casino
Bourbon Street Lounge
4500 W. Tropicana Ave. (about 3 miles from the Strip)
Thomas Fields played three sets per night and alternated with another band.

I ate at the hotel's restaurant, Canal Street Grille. I didn't think much of the food (or the service). If you've got a big wallet, you'll probably do better at:

Emeril's New Orleans Fish House
MGM Grand (New York New York)

- Linda Keenen, May, 1997