Houston blues lovers showed up in throngs Friday night as Upper Kirby blues dive The Big Easy celebrated its 20th anniversary under the direction of Tom McLendon. One more person and the Fire Marshal couldn't have squeezed in to shut the place down if he had to.
Over two decades McLendon has kept his formula simple, the main pillar being to have great bands on Friday and Saturday night but never charge more than a $5 cover. If it's not danceable, McLendon doesn't book it, and if your band can't make it on that cover, book yourself somewhere else.
This past Friday, with veteran blues-boogie man Tommy Dardar laying in the funky grooves, the dance floor got a real workout. Dardar left no doubt he came to boogie, rocking hard into Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and then dropping the classic "Mardi Gras Mambo."
A native of Houma, Louisiana, Dardar gets the swamp-pop groove like a Cajun gets gumbo, and his skin-tight band could roll with it all night long.
The other secret that the club has going for it is an atmosphere where, according to McLendon, it's as much about community as it is about commerce.
"If money was the main thing, I'd be doing something else," he told us. "I've been at this 20 years now and obviously I'm not rich yet."
As far as community goes, Friday certainly witnessed a diverse cast of party animals, from the trio of ladies who marched straight to the pool tables and held sway there most of the night to English people who "just like blues music." They found the club just after arriving in Houston to be teachers at a school for English children.
But mostly it was a night for regulars like Jomonica Phoenix, a former Houston Blues Society officer and KPFT board member who has probably been to the Big Easy as many times as anyone in 20 years. Skater Cliff Jacobs held forth much of the evening in the middle of the dance floor, doing moves on his roller skates that many guys could never approximate.
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The line at Adam Fisher's barbecue stand was substantial as folks moved outside to get a break from the writhing throng.
The Nikki Hill show at the Continental drew some people away who would normally have attended, but the joint was so packed they literally were not missed, as this party roared on and on.
Personal Bias: Best blues jukebox ever. Muddy Waters to Bob Wills.
The Crowd: Very diverse.
Overheard in the Crowd: "How did those douchebags find this place?"
Random Notebook Dump: McLendon persuaded Rocks Off to take a tequila shot with him, our first shot in more than ten years. It won't happen again.
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