Wild Asparagus, Crowfoot, Phantom Power, and Magic Foot

I spent Labor Day weekend contra dancing to great music by no less than four bands (who all happen to have interesting names, as you can see in the title of this post). My friend and I started out on Saturday dancing to Wild Asparagus in Greenfield, MA, stayed with my friend’s cousin in Northampton that night, and drove to Brattleboro, VT on Sunday for an event called the Dawn Dance where the three other bands were playing.

During the dance in Greenfield, Wild Asparagus kept churning out impressive and energizing songs (along with some relaxing ones) while the dancers whirled, swung, and do si doed in bliss. Then, if you got too tired to dance, you could sit and enjoy the concert before jumping back in there (because you can really only rest your feet for a couple of dances until, as tired as you may be, you feel compelled to be on them again). Even a short lack of amplification during one of Wild Asparagus’ tunes couldn’t stop the devoted crowd who kept dancing all the same, and when the speakers started working again a few seconds later they hollered with an excitement that they never seem to lose. At one point, I forgot I was dancing and my partner had to good-naturedly remind me, I was too caught up in the music! But hey, given the band was Wild Asparagus it could have happened to anybody, a fact my partner understood.

After spending the night in Northampton, my friend and I headed to Brattleboro for the Dawn Dance, which is a contra dance held every Labor Day and Memorial Day weekend in Brattleboro, VT. The event is called the Dawn Dance because from 8pm Sunday to 7am Monday  is non-stop contra (there’s also an English Country dance from 2:30pm to 5:30 pm on Sunday). It’s surreal to be dancing when you’d usually be sleeping, and to watch the dawn erupt before your eyes outside the windows. The ride to Brattleboro was very nice, watching trees pass by while listening to an assortment of CD’s that made us tap our feet (not the one on the gas pedal, naturally) and nod our heads.

I walked into the hall at the Gibson-Aiken Center where the dance was being held and excitedly sat down to wait for it to start. Some people sat on the floor, some practiced dips with their partners, and everywhere you looked were bright colors and smiling faces, all joined for a common love: contra dancing. Eleven hours of it. The murmuring crowd hushed immediately as the caller took her place on the stage, and kicking off the festivities (for that’s exactly what they were) was Crowfoot, who is, in my humble — yet trust me on this — opinion, the most fun to dance to. The band is a trio of Adam Broome on guitar,  Jaige Trudel on fiddle, and Nicholas Williams on flute and accordion. I love their CD’s, but the energy they give in their live performances is truly extraordinary, not to mention a whole lot of fun to witness. To say the music they played was electrifying would be an understatement.

The next band to take the stage was Phantom Power, with Lissa Schneckenburger on fiddle, Mark Roberts on banjo, flute, and whistle, Bruce Rosen on guitar and piano, and Stefan Amidon on percussion. They had a full drum set which added great rhythms, something the audience responded to with extra stomps and claps, creating a unified force of energy and enthusiasm. After enjoying dancing to the band for a while however, my energy began to taper, and at 2am I decided I needed to sleep. I hated to leave the dance, but my joints were aching and fatigue was setting in. Luckily, even my nap in the car was enjoyable, because the music spilled out into the parking lot. After two hours, I was surprisingly refreshed and ready for another round of dancing.

Adding the beat to the last band, Magic Foot, was Bodhrán and feet. Magic Foot is Colin Lindsay on fiddle, Chris Stevens on button accordion, Brendan Taaffe guitar and feet, and Stefan Amidon on percussion. They had the 3:30 – 7am time slot, and when they took a short break around 6am (at which time volunteers for the Dawn Dance quickly swept the floor, as they had been doing during all the bands breaks), most people used the time to get bagels and coffee from the food room. Only a short break was needed before everyone jumped back into the swing of things — literally. The first song Magic Foot came back with was a red hot Louisiana two-step, an unexpected and nice surprise, and they went on to play more contras from there. When it was finally light enough outside to dance without fluorescents the lights in the room were turned off one at a time, and when the final switch was flicked the dancers marked the thrilling moment with an uproar. For the last contra of the morning, and this years Labor Day Dawn Dance, Magic Foot gave a super-charged performance, followed by two waltzes.

Dawn Dance was one of the coolest things I’ve ever participated in, and I’m happy to report that the only thing suffered on my part was bloodshot eyes. Overall I’d say my first experience was a great one, and I hope to have more in the future. Maybe someday I’ll attempt to earn the title of Iron Dancer: if you dance four nights in a row on a Brattleboro Dawn Dance weekend, including at the Dawn Dance itself, and on the fifth night go to the Monday night dance in Nelson, NH, you get an award and a certificate!

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