Mary Beth DeLuca draped her arms around her dance partner’s neck and cried out for another song. The lead singer of the band flashed her a big smile and stepped off the stage to give her a hug. She was his kind of audience.
He stepped back on the platform set up inside a corner of the Villa Tuscan Grille and tuned his guitar.
“Any country fans? Did I already ask that?” he boomed into a microphone.
The crowd inside this family-owned Italian restaurant, located along Duanesburg Road in Rotterdam, began to whistle and holler and clap. The answer was loud and clear, so the lead singer of the Best Bet Band broke into a twangy tune by the Zac Brown Band.
DeLuca, 70, of Amsterdam, twirled under lights with her husband, laughing and singing along.
“Oh, of course I dance,” she said later, her face glistening.
She loves to dance. She loves to hike and bike and move. And she’s one of dozens, if not hundreds, of area residents over the age of 50 who have recently begun spending their Friday and Saturday nights out dancing at the Villa — a trend that took restaurant owner Peter Guidarelli by complete surprise.
Up until January, Guidarelli ran his restaurant like most restaurateurs. He served food, and would occasionally bring in entertainment on special occasions. The latest that families and couples and friends would show up for dinner was around 7 or 7:30. And every Thanksgiving eve, he brought in local band Grand Central Station for a night of music and dancing.
But last Thanksgiving, a few of his friends in their 60s asked him why he didn’t bring in local bands more often. They knew a few bands that played some good generational music — Huey Lewis and the News, Hall & Oates, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Elvis and more.
So in January, he began offering a “DJ and karaoke night” at the Villa every Friday night and music and dancing most Saturday nights. By March, he had hosted three local bands — Best Bet Band, Wild Adriatic and Working Class — at the restaurant a half dozen Saturday nights.
“It’s funny, because I asked one of the bands how many tables I should clear out for the dance floor and they said, 'Well, not too many because our people like to sit down and rest a little bit after they dance,’ ” recalled Guidarelli. “Which is pretty telling of the crowd. And they do. They sit. They rest. They get up and they’ll be dancing 'til 1 o’clock in the morning.”
It caught on quickly. Older residents around town would book dinner for 8 p.m., and stay long enough to enjoy the bands afterward. On a recent March night, tables were full of raucous diners and the bar was lined with older men and women chatting and flirting over beer and whiskey. In the front room, a few tables lined the walls for people to sit and relax, while the floor space around the band stage was packed with a few dozen people dancing.
“I date the drummer,” said Karen Bonventre, 43, of Rotterdam. “They have a really big following just through word of mouth. Since they started coming here, they’ve gotten a bigger and bigger room each time.”
While Elvis might not be to her liking, Bonventre prefers 80s music to modern day pop and rock.
Guidarelli said that while most of the new crowd has been men and women in their 60s and 70s, having entertainment of any kind has also drawn people of all ages who wouldn’t have come in otherwise.
“We’ve seen 200 or 300 different faces coming through the doors,” he said. “We had the Schalmont High School band Crush and we absolutely packed the place. All the parents came. And now they’ve started coming back for these older bands. We had a feeling there was a niche to be filled. These were people just looking to go out and have a good time and dance and have some fun with friends that they’ve known for years and stay close to home.
Keeping the lights on
Guidarelli can hardly believe he hadn’t done this sooner. His Friday and Saturday nights usually ended with lights out at 10 p.m.
Now, he doesn’t get home until 3 or 4 in the morning. And he doesn’t mind one bit.
“It’s been neat,” he said. “You can see it’s not too rowdy. It’s a respectful, enjoyable crowd.”