Taking in ‘swamp music’ at the fish camp is a nice diversion

OOKEECHOBEE COUNTY — Listening to music along the waterfront while moored at a fish-camp island on Lake Okeechobee’s Rim Canal, or sitting at a picnic table on the island at an acceptable physical distance … what could be better on a bright spring afternoon during a national health emergency while seemingly the whole world is shut down?

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — The band was Johnny Debt on a recent Sunday as Back to Butch’s Bar owner Jeffrey Kennedy teamed up with the new manager of Butch’s Fish Camp to provide some weekend musical entertainment. Camp residents, a few visitors, passing boaters who stopped (seen taking pictures with the sign at right), and invited friends enjoyed Mr. Debt’s “swamp music” for hours. They’re hosting a musical act every weekend on the Rim Canal waterfront just this side of the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The Back to Butch’s Bar owner for the next few Saturdays will be hosting musical acts on the property, co-hosted by new property manager Lance Jensen at Butch’s Fish Camp, who’s working with Jeffrey Kennedy to give camp residents, boaters, fishermen and displaced bar regulars a little diversion from a coronavirus-gripped society.

The camp, at 4870 U.S. 441 S.E., is right across the canal from the new S-268 culvert, which the Army Corps of Engineers finished rebuilding just a few years ago. They plan to provide some weekend “swamp music” entertainment for the residents there, walk-up and boat-up visitors as well as invited friends and guests.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, that aforesaid musical style, which Mr. Kennedy explained is sort of unique to this area, was being played as perfected by local singer Johnny Debt.

“He’s been playing here since I opened, pretty much,” Mr. Kennedy said. Last weekend, on Saturday, the entertainer was Johnny’s brother Junior. When the bar is open, Back to Butch’s hosts sometimes four to six different musical acts all weekend, just about every weekend; however, it’s been closed since March 17 when the governor ordered such service establishments shuttered statewide.

“I’ve got a new landlord now, who wants to see me succeed, where the old one wanted to see me fail; she went through everything she could do to try to make me fail, and I’m still here. I lease the bar from the fish camp, but I have access to all the common areas, which includes the boat slips, hanging out on the dock, and the back island here is also the fish camp property.

“We’ve got a fire pit out back here, which people get going when they want to have a fire and stuff. And we’ve got tiki torches, too.”

Mr. Kennedy said several of his customers have built him an attractive new Tiki Bar pontoon boat, and he plans to give free rides out on the Rim Canal in his new private vessel on Saturday, April 25, and Saturday, May 2.

“And as I said, now I have a new landlord, and he seems to care and wants to get along. Lance is out there cutting grass right now.” He said the former manager had let the property deteriorate severely but Mr. Jensen seems to be reversing that.

Only package sales are available from the bar, and no alcoholic beverages can be opened or consumed inside the building or on its covered patio at present; people must take and consume it only on their boats or at the tables or docks.

Once Butch’s the bar is allowed to reopen, which Mr. Kennedy said he was guessing would be within just weeks, he has some big plans for a large reopening party featuring the acts Redneck Crazy, Wild Fire, Timmy Bass and the Debt Brothers.

The Taylor Creek lock is a little ways north on the Rim Canal, and it’s open on weekends now as long as Lake Okeechobee’s level stays above 11 feet, but boat traffic has increased anyway on the canal, and he’s seeing quite a few people stopping to enjoy the music and ambiance.

He also has plans for a wonderful new feature at the bar once it reopens but isn’t ready to announce it yet; stay tuned.

Email okeenews@newszap.com if you know of other local businesses that have had to pivot during the COVID-19 crisis in order to stay afloat.

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