Wrap-Up Report, NOMAD 2000

Here’s John Mazza’s wrap-up report for the 2000 NOMAD Festival, which was November 10-12, 2000, at the Newtown High School, Newtown, CT.

The festival got off to a roaring start on Friday night, as it has for the past few years, with a well attended contra dance party. Steve Holland and Debbie Munson called some excellent dances, and the band, Hot Under the Caller, provided their usual mix of innovative and extremely danceable music.

Dance: The participatory dance sessions provided just too many choices. The old festival dilemma of inability to be in two or three places at once showed up again this year. On the English program we were treated to sessions by Fried deMetz Herman, Peggy Vermilya, Mary Jones, Robin Hayden, Marj Potter and others. Bill Olson called a truly great Saturday night session, and it was contra throughout the weekend with such talented callers as Sue Elberger, David Smukler, Ridge Kennedy, Ed Potter and others. International and other dance forms ran the gamut from Polish (Regina Laskowski) to Italian (Paolina Kavanagh) to French (Jonathan Young) to Israeli/Klezmer (Nefesh) and many, many others. The Scottish Country Dancers were kept stepping by Brian Haeckler, Priscilla Adams and Barbara Austen. Jim Christensen returned with his Cajun dance workshop and party. Eric Hollman did the same for Swing. Special recognition is due to all those wonderful musicians who provide the melodies and rhythms we all enjoy: The Fiddleheads, Rambling Pitchfork, Cal Howard, Leah Barkan & Garden Variety, Illegal Contraband, International Folk Sounds, Zdravets, A Different Village, Izgori, The Wingnuts, the Jackson Pike Skifflers, Zornitsa, and many others have become perennial favorites at NOMAD.

Music: Although scheduling conflicts with the Newtown High School’s Drama Department again precluded our use of the auditorium, we made good use of the Lecture Hall and Music Room to provide an incredibly diverse program of folk music from just about everywhere. Sea songs and shanties were again a major part of the offerings. The two-hour Saturday night Shanty Blast was repeated this year, and it was bigger and better than last year. Shipping News, our own local sea-shanty group, debuted their brand-new, hot-off-the presses CD, “Wives Tales and Songs of the Sea,” with a concert session of the same name. Other NOMAD performers who performed material from their recent CD releases were Jerry Bryant, Judy Cook, the Johnson Girls and Mike Kachuba.

Performances: The Greater Hartford Scottish Country Dancers and Reel Nutmeg (English) gave their usual superb performances. The Duffy Academy of Irish Dance gave us a vigorous display of Irish Step Dancing, and the Chinese Ribbon Dancers gave a brief, but extremely colorful and eye-catching display of their art.

We’re hoping that all of the performers, dance leaders and musicians mentioned, as well as the others too numerous to name, will return in 2001 to provide the same active, fun-filled weekend that we enjoyed in 2000.

Wrap-Up Report, NOMAD 1999

Here’s John Mazza’s wrap-up report for the 1999 NOMAD Festival, which was November 5-7, 1999, at the Newtown High School, Newtown, CT.

In 1999, NOMAD again expanded its variety of offerings in both dance and music. For both dancers and music-lovers, it seemed there were just too many interesting and enjoyable things going on all at the same time. Ah, life — always full of hard choices.

On Friday night, Bill Olson, ably assisted by Pam Weeks and Jim Joseph, got things off to a roaring start at the Grand Festival Opening Contradance.

Dance: We increased the international offerings again this year. The two-hour Saturday night International Folk Dance Party featuring A Different Village was festive, almost too well attended, and probably not long enough. English Country Dancers were in their own heaven dancing to Fried DeMetz Herman, Beverly Francis, Gary Roodman and others too numerous to name. The Ted’s Triplets Contra Dance session with Ed Potter was a blast. Stacy Phillips’ talented young fiddle group, the Bethwood Fiddlers, performed and must be seen (and heard) to be believed. Jim Christensen brought Cajun back to NOMAD with with the upbeat rhythms of the Mudpuppies Cajun Dance Band.

Music: A highlight was the two-hour Shanty Blast on Saturday night. New York Packet, the Johnson Girls, Connecticut’s own Shipping News, Lynn Noel, and David Diamond treated us to a rollicking program of shanties, singalongs, and other songs about life on the water. Then, there was the infamous Broken Token workshop. Mike Agranoff performed what surely must be the definitive version of the much parodied story about Johnny’s reunion with his true love (who despite her passionate love somehow fails to recognize him after seven long years). Mike introduced a whole platoon of characters — all played by himself. He identified which characters were singing by donning hats (some borrowed from the audience or workshp participants) associated with the characters. The sight of Mike wearing Caroline Paton’s purple and aqua chapeau… well, you had to be there. On a more serious note, the Spiritual Freedom and Traditional African Songs by Nzinga’s Daughters were awe-inspiring.

There is not enough space here to name all of the hundreds of talented and enthusiastic musicians, dance leaders, and singers who made NOMAD ’99 such an exhilirating experience. We’re gearing up to do it again. November 10 is not that far off!

Wrap-Up Report, NOMAD 1997

Here’s John Mazza’s wrap-up report for the 1997 NOMAD Festival, which was held November 6-8, 1997, at the Newtown High School, Newtown, CT.

NOMAD ’97 was a smashing success. Attendance was up sharply from 1996, resulting in a high energy level and a strong sense of community among the participants. We estimate that the total number of attendees was well over a thousand, excluding performers and vendors. We had sixteen craft/folk bazaar vendors and about 150 performing acts, performers, and dance leaders. Including all members of performing groups and vendors’ staffs, this works out to over 500 additional participants.

It rained off-and-on all day Saturday and Sunday at intensities ranging from mist to torrential downpour. We don’t know whether the rain reduced attendance, or increased it by limiting people’s choices of other activities (leaf-raking or other outdoor events). Alas, the ones who suffered most were the Morris and Sword dancers, who had to abandon their plans to dance on the front lawn and settle instead for a narrow sheltered entrance sidewalk.

We feel that we had more participation from the local community this year, thanks to fairly heavy newspaper and radio publicity and some purchased advertising.

For the local participants, the newly established Family Area was a big hit, with its variety of music, dance, and craft activities for kids and their parents. A particular favorite was Pete Lane aka “Vanilla Swirl the Clown.” Pete not only did a balloon-sculpture workshop and a magic show, but he also spent the rest of the weekend in the hallways making balloon animals by the dozens. The kids were all over the place with those things. It definitely increased the festive atmosphere.

The vendors and many festival attendees expressed pleasure at our decision to eliminate amplified performances from the cafeteria, which made socializing and conversing about merchandise much easier.

The food area worked quite well. There was a greater variety of selections this year, but there were a few instances of some items being sold out. We think that our major vendor, the Newtown High School’s Culinary Arts Program, was not quite prepared for the size of the crowd we drew this year. Also, there were some logistic problems resulting from the fact that the food is actually prepared at the High School’s kitchen, some 2-1/2 miles distant.

We have reviewed the evaluation forms left by attendees, and the comments were overwhelmingly positive, with constructive suggestions. Yes, we will have changing rooms for the performers in ’98! Next year, we are hoping to be back at the High School, and the food glitches will disappear along with the need for shuttle buses and the various other logistic problems. It will be a different place than the one we left two years ago, thanks to the extensive reconstruction and additions that took place during our absence. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.