We were all sweaty and giddy, collapsing our elbows onto the bar’s edge, seriously in need of a cool drink to keep up with the dance mix that begged our quick return to the floor.
“Man, I love this music!” hollered a guy named Jeff as the saxophone and drum beats of Bill Haley’s “Shake Rattle and Roll” thrummed in the background. “I know! I know!” my friend Leslie and I called back. “We should do this every week!”
It didn’t take long for the crowd to hop to their feet after the sun went down on this particular evening in late June at The Melody Inn. The newest theme night at The Mel, Souldies, is unique in its strict featuring of Soul and Oldies tunes, mostly from the 1960s. Souldies is thoroughly vintage and all-vinyl every last Thursday of the month. Retro fiends don’t have long to wait now since today is the last of the month. Souldies lives again!
I discovered the amazingness that is Souldies while cruising The Mel’s website calendar in early June, seeing what bands were on deck for the summer. I’d only been to The Mel a few times before, but it seemed like the perfect venue for a small-ish scene of like-minded folks who would gather not just to flop around as at any old club, but to really dance.
Souldies creator and Mel bartender Kelzey Riggs explained her idea is not as novel as some might think, as retro-themed dance nights are commonplace in many cities around the country. But for Indianapolis, Souldies is one-of-a-kind and a concept born out of Riggs’ upbringing surrounded by the likes of Chubby Checker and Lee Dorsey.
“I grew up with this because my parents grew up with it and listened to it. They remember when The Twist came out and was popular,” said Riggs, who gives credit to her mom for teaching her how to do the twist. “It’s just good music.”
Riggs has pulled in a dynamic lineup of DJs who make sure to keep the hits a’comin including DJ Action Jackson and Jeb Lambert. The evening is advertised to start up at 9 p.m.; however, the actual Souldies didn’t kick on until about 10 p.m. when we were there with a version of “As Time Goes By” from Billie Holiday – my very favorite female vocalist. From there, things ramped up pretty quickly with familiar hits such as Bobby Rydell’s “I Dig Girls,” “The Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and The Starliters and “Fever” by The McCoys.
If Riggs’ vision for Souldies plays out, the dance night could prove to have some real staying power, inspiring the vintage scene that’s spreading across the Circle City. According to Riggs, the added inspiration for pushing to make Souldies a dream realized came one night at Broad Ripple’s Alley Cat Lounge when somebody played “Runaround Sue” on the jukebox. “The entire bar was up dancing and singing,” said Riggs with delight. “I thought, ‘I’m not alone!’”
That sentiment was evidenced during my time at Souldies last month. Once my friend Leslie and I made our way to the dance floor we hardly left, giving our twirling skirts a break only to cool down as needed and engage in the regular discussion of guys, job searches and summer goings-on . As I watched all the dancers’ hip twisting, finger snapping and shoulder rolling during one of those much-needed breaks, I thought of my mom and the stories she tells of her younger years when dancing was everything and everyone danced – back when pretty much everyone listened to the same music. Like Riggs, much of this music was the stuff I grew up with, too.
As the souldies washed over us, I looked around the darkened room at all the happy faces of people I didn’t know. I wondered what they would be doing tomorrow, when this time traveling experience had ended. Whatever it was, it hopefully didn’t require too much energy or sleep. But it did occur to me that these types of nights must’ve been what my mom was talking about, how it was for her and her friends in the late 1960’s. What a joy to lose myself in that moment, that energy.
By 11:30 the dance floor was packed and everything from The Jackson Five and the Beach Boys to Smokey Robinson and The Troggs had us spinning, losing track of the time. I reluctantly pulled myself away from the fun around 1 a.m. as my summer job and 8:15 a.m. start time were calling…but not before James Brown sent me home with “Get Up.”
For the oldies music fan and anyone who’s looking for a blast of a night out, Souldies is the way to go this summer. It is great music, and coupled with The Mel’s relaxed and carefree setting you’re in for a treat. If you happen to be tuned into the retro/vintage scene you’ll find yourself even more at home. As I drove home with the windows down, hot and humid night air met my sweaty skin. My ears took a few minutes adjusting to the quieter sounds of wind whipping by the car’s metal frame. I dared to flip on the radio. Pearl Jam? Not bad. But give me The Kingsmen any day!