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.

Wrap-Up Report, NOMAD 2005

Here’s John Mazza’s wrap-up report for the 2005 NOMAD Festival, which was held November 4-6, 2005, at the Hill Regional Career High School, New Haven, CT.

We dedicated NOMAD 2005 to Chip Hendrickson, who passed away in February. Chip was Connecticut’s own Dancing Master. He was a researcher and educator in the fields of Colonial and Native American Dance. He was a good friend of NOMAD and he provided valuable support and assistance to his wife, NOMAD’s founder Fran Hendrickson. In Chip’s honor, we offered sessions in Colonial dances led by Patricia Campbell, Chip’s Contras led by Eric Hollman and Chip’s Squares led by Allen Brozek and Dave Hass. As we expected, all were very well attended.

We continue to be delighted with our new home at Wilbur Cross High School. As we reported previously, it’s a bright, modern facility located between a comfortable suburban neighborhood and a very popular state park. For a better idea of just how pleasant our venue is, please refer to our Directions page for a photograph, and to last year’s wrap-up for a more detailed description.

As in past years, NOMAD 2005 quickly became a place to meet old friends and welcome new ones. On the dance side of the schedule, our core program of Contras, Squares, Scottish, English, and International was complemented by such offerings as Multi-Ethnic Israeli with Danny Pollock, Historical Dance and a Ragtime Dance performance by Terry & Jim, a Croatian Dance Party with Pajdashi, an exceptionally impressive performance of Lithuanian Folk Dances by Vetra, and many other interesting and often unusual sessions.

Our musical offerings also were too numerous and diverse to list. We will mention just a few here. Deb Cowan delighted the children with her Silly Songs and Funney Folk (yes, that’s how it’s spelled). Shoregrass gave us a good sampling of their new CD in a Songs of the Civil War workshop. John Roberts and Pamela Goddard kept the ballad fans enthralled with their Double Ballads session (Pamela also has a new CD “As Time Draws Near” that is getting rave reviews from folk radio hosts all across the country). Other musical delights were the West Gallery Music session led by Bruce Randall and Voyageur and Habitante – Women’s Voices in New France with Diane Taraz and Lynne Noel.

Sandy and Caroline Paton have been making their contributions to NOMAD for so long that we are in danger of taking them for granted. Many, many thanks to Sandy and Caroline for their Folksong Harvest session, for all of their contributions to NOMAD over the years, and for all they have done to promote traditional music with their Folk-Legacy record label. We look forward to seeing them back at NOMAD in 2006.

We expect many of the 2005 group to return in 2006. Since we don’t have room here to  tell you about each of them individually, we are directing you to our Performers List. As we assemble the lineup for the 2006 we will list all of the performers, with links to their web pages when available. We are truly gratified that all of these good folks perform each year without remuneration, satisfied just to share their knowledge and talents with their appreciative friends at NOMAD.

We hope to see you at NOMAD 2006. Please visit our website periodically. We will post updates on NOMAD 2006 as information becomes available.

Wrap-Up Report, NOMAD 2003

Here’s John Mazza’s wrap-up report for the 2003 NOMAD Festival, which was held November 15-16, 2003, at the Hill Regional Career High School, New Haven, CT.

NOMAD ’03 found us in completely new surroundings – a new school in a new and very different environment. We went from mostly rural Newtown to the middle of the bustling university city of New Haven. But, as the local New Haven daily newspaper pointed out, we simply moved from one end of Route 34 to the other.

We found our new digs at Hill Regional Career High School quite comfortable. The school has sufficient rooms of just the kind we need for our variety of participatory dance, dance performances, concerts and music workshops. The large lobby provided sufficient space for our Folk Bazaar and the huge cafeteria provided lots of space for jamming, group singing and socializing, not to mention dining. Our local food vendors included Lalibela’s Ethiopian Restaurant, Judie’s European Bakery and Hamden Plains United Methodist Church. The school’s location in easily accessible downtown New Haven had a positive effect on our attendance.

The move was not without the last-minute glitches that seem to have become routine in NOMAD planning though. We discovered at the last minute (about a week before the festival) that the second floor would be unavailable to us since the rooms there were needed for school activities. No problem – we simply moved our programs to identical rooms on the third floor. We also learned at the last minute that one half of the large parking lot across the street had been rented out and was unavailable to us. Same story as the school rooms – there still was plenty of parking available, but we needed to assemble a small parking crew to direct NOMAD participants to our side of the lot.

The program, as usual, was filled with dance and music from everywhere. Among the newer and notable additions to the dance participation program were Leora Berns’ “Dances For A Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Cliff Rainey’s workshop “Salsa/Merengue Rhythm Revealed” and Terry & Jim’s Mazurka Workshop. We presented a couple of Minuet workshops – Tanya & Sam Rotenberg’s Minuet Step Workshop for beginners and NOMAD founder Fran Hendrickson’s intermediate session – “Figures from Honors to Honors.” The rest of the program was NOMAD’s usual dazzling variety of English, Scottish, Contra, Square and International sessions. The dancing filled four dance venues continuously for the entire weekend with a roster of talented dance callers and musicians too numerous to list individually. Saturday night ended with a three-hour Balkan Blast, and we were pleased to host a CD release party for internationally known English Country Dance expert Fried de Metz Herman.

The music side of the program was also blessed with participation by an internationally known scholar, namely Joe Hickerson. Joe is familiar to students of folk song as the (now retired) Director of the Archive of American Folk Culture at the Library of Congress. Joe, a 1953 graduate of Wilbur Cross High School right here in New Haven, presented a session titled “My 50+ Years of Folksongs from New Haven to the Library of Congress and Back.” Ballad scholar and singer Heather Wood presented a session titled “Ballads – Real History,” examining the historical accuracy – or lack of it – in some of the English and Scottish popular ballads. Speaking of history, we offered two sessions titled “Civil War Songs” one by Allen Hopkins and another by the Connecticut-based bluegrass band Shoregrass. Bruce Randall introduced us to West Gallery Music from 19th-century British churches. Lorraine Hammond conducted an interesting and helpful workshop titled “Singing for the Confidence-Impaired.” Other musical treats included concerts in a wide variety of styles and subjects – hobo songs, Celtic music, Balkan music, gospel, sea music, Scandinavian, blues, cowboy songs, women’s songs, love songs and more. Musical instrument workshops included banjo, bodhran, drum, fiddle, hammered dulcimer, harmonica and ukulele. The always popular Songs for a Sunday Morning song-swap continued in the spacious cafeteria at Hill Career High.

The dance performances in the auditorium featured the Greater Hartford Scottish Country Dancers, the Matachin Dancers with a program of Middle Eastern Dance, the Victorian Ballroom Dancers, the Gay Blades Sword Dancers and the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Yale.

We were pleased to welcome two other groups from Yale – the Yale Women’s Slavic Chorus and the Yale Klezmer Band. We are hopeful that we will have increased participation from Yale cultural groups in the future, now that we have become a New Haven-based event.

Our Family Area offered a nice variety of dance, music and stories for kids and their parents, including a Woody Guthrie Jam Session, Gaelic songs and drumming on the music side and Israeli, Contra, Scottish and Colonial dancing for the more active participants.

We owe a special “thank you” to Walter Wagoner of WPKN – non-profit community radio in Bridgeport. Walter recorded the concerts in our Chorus Room and broadcast significant excerpts of them on WPKN.

The Event Grids will remain on the web site until it’s time to replace them with this year’s grids. Please visit them to see the many NOMAD offerings that simply couldn’t be listed individually here.

Remember that NOMAD is an all-volunteer festival and we always have too few volunteers. If you have some special skill that you feel would be helpful, please contact us. We need help on both the organizing committee and the operational staff. Contact information and links are in the “Contacting NOMAD” section of the main page. Links to the Event Grids will also be found there.

Preliminary information about NOMAD 2004 will be available in late Spring. Please watch for it.

Wrap-Up Report, NOMAD 2002

Here’s John Mazza’s wrap-up report for the 2002 NOMAD Festival, which was held October 25-27, 2002, at the Newtown High School, Newtown, CT.

NOMAD ’02 got off to an impressive start on Friday night. Both the music and dance events were simply spectacular.

Highlighting the evening was a three-hour tribute to Alan Lomax, the world’s pre-eminent folksong collector, who passed away in July at age 87. We were fortunate to have the participation of a number of scholars and singers who actually worked with Lomax during his long career. NOMAD regulars Sandy and Caroline Paton, founders of Folk-Legacy Records, told of meeting Lomax in London in 1957 through the efforts of Shirley Collins and, through Alan Lomax, meeting master Irish piper Seamus Ennis. Jeff and Gerret Warner, new to NOMAD this year, told of Lomax’s influence on their parents Frank and Anne Warner, who went on to collect and publish quite a number of traditional songs from the American South. Jack Langstaff, best known as founder of the popular Christmas Revels programs, made his first appearance at NOMAD. He told of his own early meetings with Lomax and he led the entire group and audience in a truly inspiring singalong of “Walking on the Green Grass.” Our surprise guest, introduced by Jack, was Robin Roberts Howard. She told about travelling around Ireland with Lomax, meeting and recording such folk sources as Seamus Ennis, Mickey Doherty and Elizabeth Cronin. She also recounted stories of her stay with Lomax in New York, meeting Woody Guthrie and helping Lomax with his memorial tribute to Lead Belly at Town Hall. Jerry Epstein, also a NOMAD regular, moderated the proceedings and provided a few anecdotes of his own. Each of the participants sang a number of songs, giving the audience a good sampling of the kind of material collected by Alan Lomax.

Perhaps the most interesting participant in the session was Alan Lomax himself – by way of audio and video recordings. Jack provided a simply wonderful audio tape of Lomax giving a talk to the third annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada in 1987. He described the groundbreaking work of his father, John A. Lomax, in his ultimately successful struggle to get cowboy poetry recognized as serious literature worthy of scholarly study and publication. Robin provided a home video from the mid-90’s of the last time Lomax was recorded before illness curtailed his activities.

Our Welcoming Contra Dance was called by Bill Olson and Christine Hale. They provided an incredibly varied mix of lively and interesting dances. It is always a pleasure to watch talented callers inspire a gym full of enthusiastic dancers. Bill has made the long trek from Maine quite a few years now, and his contributions to NOMAD are appreciated by all. Duffy’s Insurance from New York State provided solid musical accompaniment.

For the rest of the weekend, NOMAD continued its tradition of offering the best in performances, participatory dance, concerts and singalongs. The Saturday performances in the auditorium included Appalachian Clogging by Fiddlekicks, Irish Step Dancing by the Gray School of Irish Dance and a Middle Eastern Bellydance performance by the Matachin Dancers. Once again The Greater Hartford Scottish Country Dancers treated us to a demonstration of the best in Scottish dance. The Monique Legare International Dance Company presented their usual dazzling performances of dance forms from various eastern European countries and Puerto Rico in an array of colorful costumes.

NOMAD again offered enough participation sessions for non-stop dancing throughout the weekend. Our core English, Contra, Square, International and Scottish sessions included such talented callers as Mary Jones, Gary Roodman, Robin Hayden, Donna Hunt, Eric Hollman, Ted Crane, Steve Holland, Ridge Kennedy, Leora Berns, Danny Pollock, Brian Haeckler and many more. Music was provided by The Flying Romanos, Garden Variety, Pleasures of the Town, Hot Under the Caller, The Fiddleheads, Zornitsa, Zdravets, Zima, International Folk Sounds, Cal Howard and a host of others. To all of that we added Bransles with Susan DeGuardiola and Gaile Ivaska, Russian with Murray and Randi Spiegel, Cajun with the Back Porch Rockers, Bulgarian with Divi Zeni, Clogging with Stamp of Approval, Italian with Paolina Kavanagh, Zwiefachers with Sam and Sandy Rotenberg, Harp Waltzes with Ellen Tepper and many, many others. There just isn’t room here to list all of the talented dance leaders and musicians who make the participatory dance program at NOMAD so impressive. Workshops in most of the dance forms were offered to all experience levels, from Beginner to Experienced.

The music program was equally diverse. Performers from the Alan Lomax tribute returned to present their own special programs. Jeff & Gerret Warner presented a program of songs from their parents’ collection. Jerry Epstein and Jack Langstaff gave an interesting and informative presentation of Ritual Songs. NOMAD stalwarts Sandy and Caroline Paton presented selections from their huge repertoire of Songs and Ballads. On top of all that, we had one more delightful surprise. The Bisserov Sisters, an internationally famous troupe of singers and musicians from Bulgaria, happened to be touring the U.S. and made a last-minute decision to stop by at NOMAD. They gave a simply stunning performance of Bulgarian songs, instrumental music and ritual displays to an SRO crowd in the Chorus Room. A big “thank you” to Henry Goldberg for relinquishing his time slot so this performance could go on. Another big “thank you” to Karl Finger for bringing this marvelous group to the U. S. and persuading them to check out NOMAD. The rest of the music programs are too numerous to list here. Sea Songs, Cowboy Songs, Rounds, Shape-Note Singing, a Harp & Kantele concert, workshops in fiddle, banjo, guitar, dulcimers and other instruments were just a few of the dozens of sessions to interest listeners, singers and musicians.

The offerings in NOMAD’s Family Area were no less diverse than the adult sessions. Dance activities included Contra, International, Israeli, Colonial, Klezmer and Scottish. Stories, Ballads, Drumming and Old-Time String Band Music filled out the program.

The Event Grids for NOMAD ’02 will remain on the web site until it’s time to replace them with NOMAD ’03. To get a look at the entire program, just return to the main page and click on the links to the several sections of the grid.

We were able to expand the Folk Bazaar this year. Over 20 booths filled the high school’s spacious front lobby, offering books, recordings, musical instruments, clothing, jewelry, toys and gift items.

As always, the cafeteria was a popular place. The high school’s Culinary Arts Program, the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School and the Scottish Country Dancers provided a considerable variety of meals and snacks. Fruit smoothies from Dancing Smoothies were just the thing to cool down after a few sessions of vigorous dancing. Once again the Scots provided their wonderful Sunday breakfast. The tradition of Saturday and Sunday morning song swaps continued this year, with Liz Lewis leading the session on Saturday and Kathy Westra on Sunday. For the rest of the weekend, a program of jam sessions and singalongs provided a backdrop to the dining and socializing.

NOMAD continues its tradition of being a 100% volunteer festival. Thanks are due to all the volunteer performers and staff who make this remarkable weekend possible.

Please do check out the Event Grids to view our complete program. If you haven’t experienced NOMAD yet, we hope you will be persuaded to give it a try in 2003.

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!