Singing a new tune

307 Jazz & Blues Club's ambitious plans include a name change and expansion.

When co-owners Robert Guercio and Michael Delcambre opened 307 Jazz & Blues Club in February 2003, they had no experience running a nightclub or booking bands. This month, they're celebrating a recent addition to the lounge area, adding gourmet coffees and appetizers to the bar menu and dropping "Jazz & Blues" from the club's name. It's all part of an ambitious expansion plan that shows that the entrepreneurs have quickly learned the ropes of the club business.

"That's why we're having the grand re-opening, because we're doing a lot of things," says the 33-year-old Guercio. "We call it the new face of 307. We're going to 307 as a moniker, because we're trying to get people used to the idea of seeing and doing more than listening to live music here."

Grand re-opening plans include diversifying the club's entertainment offerings. 307 will be pushing its Tuesday comedy night and adding more headliners to the lineup, pairing up with Zeus Café to offer an international music night on Thursdays to complement its popular Latin night on Saturday, and holding an all-star musicians jam once a month to benefit Healthcare for Musicians. (The comedy aspect is unique, because Lafayette has no other stand-up comedy venue. Maximillian's in the Hilton recently discontinued its comedy nights.)

At the time of 307's opening, The Sound Factory and Root Hogs were the only businesses open at night in the 300 block of Jefferson Street. 307 now shares its nightlife with Guamas, Rain, New Orleans Daiquiris and Froggy's.

Buildings on either side of the club, at 305 and 309 Jefferson St., were also available for lease, so not long after leasing 307, the owners leased the other two buildings, with expansion plans in place before the business even opened.

Guercio and Delcambre, 31, met at UL Lafayette as industrial design students and started a design business together after graduation. When Delcambre noticed 307's building up for lease, he approached Guercio about opening a club together, and the two were drawn to the building. They were then introduced to Dr. Darrell Henderson, a partner in The Surgery Center and Plastic Surgery Associates; Henderson became a financial backer and co-owner and allowed Guercio and Delcambre to design the space and oversee construction. (The three partners declined to give figures on their expansion costs, but have already invested more than $200,000 in the property.)

"I love new projects," says Henderson. "There hadn't been a jazz and blues club in Lafayette." The club booked local and New Orleans jazz bands nightly in its early days, and Lafayette blues legend Carol Fran was a regular act during the club's first year, as was Harry Hypolite and Henry Gray.

New Orleans jazz band Astral Project has played the club both before and after its expansion. "It's a beautiful place," says drummer Johnny Vidacovich. "It's got a great sound, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. It's a collective atmosphere for musicians and people." Even though Astral Project has been playing Lafayette since the 1970s, Vidacovich says the club gave the band a new venue with some newer, younger faces in the crowd.

Henderson, a former musician, played a big part in the acoustics of the club. His son William plays keyboard and saxophone in Spontaneous Comphunksion and several other local bands, and Henderson wanted a place where his son could hear great music, learn to do sound and play occasionally.

In the beginning, Delcambre and Guercio booked music blindly, with mixed results. "We've come to the conclusion that we don't have to have live music every single day," says Guercio. "We had no idea it was so difficult. We thought that if you book great music, people will come. People can get live music in a lot of places in Lafayette, so we've gone to focusing on bigger shows, bigger acts, instead of more acts." Cajun and zydeco music were incorporated into the repertoire last year, and the club branched out to offer theater, cabaret performances, poetry readings and comedy.

The 309 expansion will give the club additional space for private parties and nonprofit events. "In the back of the building, there's just a slab, but we want to add a banquet hall facility on the outside with a raised roof and exposed beam ceiling that would also serve as an expansion to the lounge, so we could do bigger shows," says Guercio. He would also like more room in the bar so the club could offer a lunch menu. "We're going to be serving snacks and appetizers eventually," he says, "but we can't do lunch with three tables."

The adjacent 309 expansion is dependent upon the bar moratorium currently in effect for downtown. Formerly Smokin' Joe's and Goodfellas, 309 was opened as a restaurant, so a bar can't open in its space. Guercio says they are waiting for the review of the ordinance in June and hopes to be granted permission to open 309 as a bar. "We feel like our place is good for downtown, something that Lafayette can be proud of, and we're hoping to be able to utilize that space," he says.

"307's always been very supportive of downtown, and we're excited about the expansion and support,' says David D'Aquin, newly hired marketing director for Downtown Development Authority. "They helped revitalize their block, and their façade improvements really helped improve the look of that block."

Guercio, Delcambre and Henderson signed a 20-year lease on all three of the buildings, so the entrepreneurs plan on being around for a long time.