The Final Chapter of the History of NOMAD

Each successive year brought new challenges, often unanticipated – from finding the lower gym full of school supplies on the opening night of the festival to complying with abrupt changes in the fire regulations. One notable challenge was being notified just two weeks before the 1994 festival that the main gym would be closed to install a new floor. Each time the NOMAD volunteers pulled through. In that last instance, the program committee adjusted the dance schedule to various large hallways around the school, and the dances were saved.

During our time in Newtown High School, the festival date was always subject to the school’s football schedule, so we landed on a different weekend each year.

Early on, NOMAD was mostly dance and its related music. That changed one summer when Fran’s husband Chip was hired to play a wedding. During the break, Chip and Fran spent time with Sandy and Caroline Paton, traditional singers and owners of the Folk-Legacy record company, who were also performing there. After hearing the concept of NOMAD, the Patons attended the next festival. They were so pleased that they shared their performer mailing list with the program committee, and in 1992 the “right hand side of the grid” was born. At this point, we were running eight rooms for programs.

In 1993 we started the “red hot” Friday evening dance for early festival attendees. The Friday evening event has continued to this day and has expanded to include song sessions as well.

Ed Potter, John Foley and Fran developed a set of by-laws, and we were accepted under the umbrella of the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) as a 501(c)(3) non-profit group.

Chip was the silent partner, supporting us in so many ways ranging from organizational skills to developing the festival booklet and giving us valuable ideas from his years of experience with major dance festivals and desktop publishing. In January 1997, Chip suffered a major stroke. It was just after the 9th NOMAD Festival, and Fran and Chip left NOMAD to deal with his catastrophic illness. The faithful volunteers – committee heads and others – pulled together to see that the 10th anniversary of NOMAD was a success. This festival moved to Newtown Middle School due to major reconstruction at the high school.

When we returned to the high school two years later, we found that the floor-plan was not as user-friendly to our events as it had been, and eventually the committee planned to move the festival.

A great deal of searching for just the right school brought us temporarily to the Hill Career Regional High School in New Haven, and the next year to New Haven’s Wilbur Cross High School. We’d had our eyes on Wilbur Cross for some time, but were unable to move there previously because the school was undergoing extensive renovations. Now we are settled comfortably in a festival-friendly facility in a fabulous neighborhood.

The final chapter of the History of NOMAD has not yet been written, and we expect that it will not be for a long time. We are still tinkering with the layout of the festival in our new home, trying to make NOMAD even friendlier and more accommodating to our performers, volunteers, vendors, and all of our loyal NOMAD attendees, so many of whom return year after year.

History of NOMAD

In the summer of 1986, the idea of the NOMAD Festival was just a spark in the mind of its creator, Fran Hendrickson. Based on fond memories of growing up in the Boston area, dancing the various styles that abound there, and becoming a faithful NEFFA (New England Folk Festival) goer, Fran decided that it was time to create a fun, family-oriented participation festival in Connecticut. It was in the wee hours of a May morning that the set of eleven purposes for this festival fell out of her heart onto paper. The next day, it still looked like a good thing, and a possibility. Almost immediately, Fran sent this set of purposes, along with an introductory letter to several long-time dancer, musician, and caller friends who had also expressed an interest in starting a new dance festival.

The first meeting was held at Fran’s home on April 13, 1987. The invited attendees at that meeting included Fran, John & Louise Foley, Ed & Marj Potter, Pat & Dick Wexelblat, and Doris & Warren Pemburn. Crowded around the table in the tiny dining room, they hashed out ideas. The name came from Dick Wexelblat. We decided we were more than Connecticut, more than New England – we were Northeast Music and Dance. NEMAD didn’t sound very inspiring so we used the first two letters of NOrtheast as capitals and the name became NOMAD. Later the “A” came to represent the Art incorporated within the creations at the festival.

Using the video prepared by NEFFA explaining the nature of their festival, Fran was able to “sell” the NOMAD concept to the principal of the Newtown, Connecticut, high school and then to the superintendent of the Newtown schools.

In the year and a half before the doors opened on the first NOMAD festival, the committee worked hard researching and developing plans. Dance groups were surveyed to encourage them to support such a festival. Procedures from other festivals and events were scrutinized. Rules were secured from the Newtown police and fire departments. Insurance was purchased. Volunteers signed up. The first festival was scheduled for October 15-16, 1988.

With only our own funds, a small loan from NEFFA, and a great deal of faith that “if we build it – they will come,” we launched NOMAD with great hope and enthusiasm. It began as a full Saturday day and evening and Sunday event. We were very brave! Miraculously, things went smoothly. Crafters moved in, food vendors set up, dancers arrived, leaders came for their 50-minute time slots, musicians jammed in the hallways; hugs were seen at every turn. All ages laughed together and enjoyed each other’s company whether dancing, performing or watching a performance or concert.

It was over before we knew it. As everyone packed up, bathed in the glow of success and a beautiful sunset washing through the picture windows of the NHS cafeteria, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. One committee member had brought a bottle of champagne (non-alcoholic, of course). We toasted each other, the performers, the volunteers and the attendees. Then the inevitable question was asked – should we do this again? A resounding “Yes” went up from the group.

Members of NOMAD’s first board of directors were Terry Brettman, John & Louise Foley, Jim Gregory, Fran Hendrickson, Maria Kruelski, Greg Luckman, Ed & Marj Potter, and Pat & Dick Wexelblat.

Additional committee heads for the first festival were Rachael Gordon Lambertson (Artwork), Geraldine Parent (Children’s Programs), Evelyn Cirillo (Hospitality), Katheryn Veszi (Lost & Found), Paul Kerlee (Morris & Sword with Carol Mazza), Nelson & Gail Beers (Parking), Warren & Doris Pemburn (Security), Tom Halmose (Indoor Signs), Amy Cann (Outdoor Signs), Andy Woodruff (Sound), Eric Hollman (Stage Manager), and Cheryll Compton (Volunteer Coordinator). The board members divided up the balance of the committee head jobs.