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Bailing out the Bayou

Selling out to save a club


If you've always thought of yourself as enough of a character to be in a book but were unable to do it yourself, now's your chance for immortality. Durham author David Terrenoire will put you in his next novel--for a price: a $100 donation to Hillsborough's Blue Bayou club.

"It's my neighborhood bar--it's just not in my neighborhood," says Terrenoire, a Durham-based harp player/novelist/copywriter who is a regular at the Bayou's Monday night jams. When the club's owner, Gary Lee, said that he was having financial difficulties, Terrenoire wanted to help. He was sitting in with locals Mighty Lester when they offered to donate all the proceeds from their CD and T- shirt sales that night to the bar. "So in the throes of generosity and alcohol, I came up with the idea," he says.

Terrenoire's first novel, Beneath a Panamanian Moon, written in a style akin to Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, has just been published to critical acclaim.

Terrenoire has a second novel outlined, with a working title of Blues In C Minor. It's set in Washington, D.C., in 1941, and the characters are for sale. "It's kind of like casting extras in a movie," says the author, who hopes to meet with donors to get a feel for what they'd have liked to be in 1941. "It's a big book and it encompasses a lot of different worlds--the black entertainment world of Washington in 1941, the swing era, the beginnings of be-bop."

In addition to Terrenoire's effort, several local bands have played for the Bayou for gas money to help. "I told 'em we were having a hard time and needed a bit of financial support right now, and also some emotional support, and the bands responded immediately," Lee says.

Once he got the bands lined up, he put the word out to people on the club's e-mail list and Web site. "We're not sure if the club is important to you, but if it is, we need to know about it and we need any kind of help you can provide, whether it's bringing people out or coming up with some idea about how we can increase attendance or things we can do better or even monetary support."

The club has been open about two and a half years, and Lee says they've yet to break even. "I've always had to subsidize it personally. I've always had a day job." When it came time for the club to renew its lease, Lee wanted to know if the club was as important to people as he thought it was, given the weekly feedback he got from patrons. "Rather than just close it, we'll tell folks that things are not great, and we really need to know if it means anything to you, and if it does, we need some support; we need for people to put some positive energy back into it."

He got such an overwhelming response that he's going to continue for the time being, implementing some new ideas including more national bands, expanding the number of bands in rotation, and having non-smoking nights. Lee plans a steering committee meeting in August open to the public for people who are interested and want to be involved.

He's considered physical expansion, but finds that size is a problem: "We're too small to get a national band to pay off, but then we're too big if we don't get much of a turnout on weeknights."

The club, Lee says, will continue for at least another year. "If we can get some of these changes in place and encourage people to come out and bring friends, we'll have to re-evaluate it when it comes time to renew again next year and just see how it's going."

Those interested in helping out with ideas or expertise, contact Gary Lee at Contact author Terrenoire at to see if he has any more room left for characters.

Or just visit the Bayou for upcoming shows including Rev. Billy C. Wirtz on Aug. 13, Rosie Ledet on Sept. 17, and Johnny Neel and Cyril Lance on Sept. 18. There are many shows in between; visit for complete listings.

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