Folknotes: June

oldfolksballBack in the mid 1970’s when I first began playing the piano for contra dances, it was an unwritten rule that the dance would go until midnight. When the Monadnock Folklore Society sponsored its first Saturday night dance series in Nelson, and later in Greenfield, this was not even something that was discussed – of course it would go until midnight. A while later as I began playing further afield I was surprised to find that some dances ended earlier, and of course we would scoff at the softness of those dance communities who did not have the stamina to hold out until the bewitching hour. These days around here it’s rare to see a dance go this late, and even a well-attended high-energy evening scheduled to go until 11:00 or 11:30 tends to fade in the last hour. What has become of us!

I recently attended a lecture by Alan Rumrill, director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, about the Power of Water – specifically the influence of Granite Lake on the settlement and development of Munsonville (which is a suburb of Nelson). The talk took place in the Chapel-by-the-Lake in Munsonville, and a summary and pictures that Alan provided can be seen on the Town of Nelson website.

In his lecture Alan included some discussion of the building we were in, which was originally built to serve as a church. In the mid 1800’s the community apparently found religious solace elsewhere; there were not enough people to sustain the church, so it became a dance hall (much to the consternation of the more pious members of the community). This poster advertising a dance has several interesting components, not the least of which is the bottom line indicating the hours: from 7 until 4. We know from other historical documents that all night dances were not uncommon. It must have been quite magical – the room lit by lamps, folks dressed with some degree of elegance, tasty refreshments no doubt, and no one complaining about the sound system.

Of course, there were not many other diversions in those days – Conan O’Brien did not await people in their living rooms (or bedrooms), and if folks were a little slow moving the next day – well, they were all in the same boat – no one was commuting to Keene to work among folks who had not shared the experience.

For those of us who were dancing in the 1970’s, we might allow ourselves the excuse that our increased vintage doesn’t allow us to tolerate late nights the way we used to. However, the dances these days seem to be well attended by a new generation as well (which is a great thing), so we must look elsewhere for a reason. It does beg the question – if dances are going to end earlier, should they start earlier? Let us know your thoughts about this.

Also back in the mid 1970’s I had the good fortune to get a job as a chef in a new restaurant and folk music club called The Folkway. During the first few months, having no budget and no reputation, they were dependent on anyone who was willing to come and play to fill out the schedule. Among those who came by was Guy Wolff, who had been a classmate of mine at High Mowing School some years before, and who was already on his way to becoming a well-known potter.  He arrived on the Folkway stage with his repertoire of traditional banjo tunes, some gospel songs, and a demeanor of great silliness which I well recalled from our earlier association.

After he had sufficiently established himself as a viable performer, he leveraged his influence to bring up (from Connecticut) a young folksinger named Lui Collins, who immediately won over the audience with an engaging repertoire, lovely voice, and charming spirit. Lui in turn came back with a new musical partner, Horace Williams, and for some time “Horace and Lui” were among the most popular performers on the schedule. They were frequently joined on stage by Julie Snow, a young woman who summered (and now lives) in Nelson who had written several of what would become Lui’s classics. And it was not unusually for Folkway co-founder Jonathan Hall to share a song or two as well.

Lui Collins

Lui’s career flourished. She became one of the Folkway’s most popular performers, and also became established on the national stage. Her career has taken many interesting turns. Much of her music work these days is teaching children, so a Lui Collin’s concert has become a rarer (though still highly sought-after) event. The Monadnock Folklore Society is very proud to present Lui Collins in concert on Thursday, July 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Nelson Town Hall. And she will be joined by all of the aforementioned musicians for an evening that will provide many fond recollections of the energy and spirit of the Folkway. Tickets are available online – we look forward to seeing you there.

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