Part three of my Frankie Manning’s 95th Birthday Festival recap. In addition to some grammatical edits, I also added a bonus video at the end. You can see a compilation of videos from the Friday daytime activitiesand the Friday Night activities here on my site. This note was originally posted on June 8, 2009.
On Friday we did it all over again because we had to move everything from the Grand Ballroom to the Hammerstein Ballroom downstairs. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to skip out on the memorial service and the dance at Central Park. It was a tough decision especially after David had detailed the line up to me earlier in the week. The speaker and musical guest list was loaded, a testament to Frankie's influence.
- The Benny Powell Quartet
- Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston
- Rev. Dr. James Forbes
- The Ebony Ecumenical Choir
- Melba Joyce
- Mercedes Ellington
- Judy Pritchett
- Cynthia Millman
- Ryan Francois
- Carline Ray
- Frank Senior
- Deborah Manning
- Lennart Westerlund
- Larry Schulz
- George Avakian
- Jon Hendricks
- Manu Smith
- Chazz Young
- Norma Miller
- Lana Turner
- David Ostwald & The Gully Low Jazz Band
How many memorial services have a warm up band consisting of Count Basie alumni like Benny Powell and Frank Weiss? Major props to Lana Turner for putting that memorial service together along with the funeral just a few weeks previous.
I consider this memorial one of the main pillars of the event. I hope everyone who could was able to attend. For my part, after the near mishaps from the day before, I thought it would be wise for one of us to be on site to trouble shoot problems.
I will say that I think we could have been better prepared for this weekend, and could have done a lot more planning, but the fact is that this was a brand new ginormous sized event, in a facility that no one had done a Lindy event before.
I won’t bore you with details, but some of our issues bordered on the ridiculous to the downright WTF. I will say that everyone involved, volunteers to contractors alike, did a great job of recognizing problems and working with each other to come up with solutions.
Here’s a little secret: Event planning isn’t that hard especially when it comes to a dance event. You need a place to dance, some music to dance to, and people to dance with. Although I will say that the larger an event is also increases the complexity of the interaction of all the individual pieces.
That being said, I don’t know sh!t about lighting design, audio engineering, or how to put down a dance floor. Most of what I do is problem solve, and when I’m not doing that, I look for issues before they become a problem. When I do find something, I get the right people together and then get out of their way to let them figure out their stuff. It’s easy to look like a genius when you have dependable and capable people working for you, especially when they do things they don’t have to do.
Such as the case when one of Dave Moldover’s helpers, BJ, decided to stay behind to finish the dance floor because Dave and his crew of westies had to haul ass back to DC to set up their own dance that evening. BJ didn’t have to do that but saved us big time when a delivery for the lighting people got delayed.
What does the lighting have to do with the floor? Long story, but the moral of it is that every little thing can affect everything else. A bad day for the lighting designer can turn into a bad day for everyone unless a few people step up, put aside their egos, and simply decide to be helpful instead of covering their own butts.
I also have to give it up to Yvonne Evard who in the midst of coordinating a friend’s wedding back in DC for that weekend. Even as she was doing that, she was also helping me out by fielding phone calls and contacting people as I ran around the Manhattan Center and the New Yorker Hotel.
As with Thursday, I honestly don’t remember much of the music for the first half of the Friday night dance. My most memorable moment came right after the performances. You see, one of the things I do for the events that I work on is write out a detailed time line plotting out how an entire evening will go. Despite the level of detail it’s not meant to be gospel. I know Lindy Hop events and Lindy Hoppers. Great sense of rhythm, less so on timing. It’s just my way for everyone working to know where we are supposed to be and what needs to be done next.
The fact that the night’s time line said that performances were supposed to end and the band would start playing at 10:49 pm was just meant to be an approximate placeholder.
I looked at my cell phone as soon as the band started its first song after the performances, and lo and behold it was 10 f’n 49 on the button. I got up out of my chair and started strutting around the ballroom like I had just returned a punt for a 100 yard touchdown. I remember showing my schedule and my phone to a few people and they just looked at me with a polite smile and humored me until I went away.
We ran so on time that we were going to be able to start the Hellzapoppin Semi-finals a little after our original start time of midnight. It was always going to be at that time, but in my divine wisdom I updated the final printed schedule a few days ago with a start time of 12:30 AM because I figured that there was no way we’d run on time.
Go figure. Of course, Joel Domoe used that time in the contestants meeting earlier that evening and rightly pointed out that not all of the competitors would be in the ballroom by midnight. Clearly a case of me underestimating the professionalism and timeliness of our our event staff and generally being too clever for myself.
This resulted in us delaying the start of the competition to be on time which caused us to be late.
The overall reaction to the bands was about what I expected it to be. About half the people I talked to loved the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn and the Cangelosi Cards and hated Ron Sunshine and Paul Tillotson while the other half felt the exact opposite. It worked out as well as I thought it could under the circumstances.
Personally I was just glad to hear the vocal trio of Tamar Korn, Mimi Terris, and Naomi Uyama with the Cards. I thought we’d never be able to hear them together again when Mimi moved back to Sweden a couple of months ago, but I’m glad they were able to get together for Frankie95 because their rendition of “Stardust” was probably one of the most beautiful things I heard all weekend. The last part where and Naomi and Mimi slowly crescendo behind Tamar’s wordless vocal still gives me chills. I hope to hear a recording of that somehow.*
However someone did post their version of Moonglow.
As far as performances, seeing Kevin St. Laurent, Nathan Bugh, and Juan Villafane's re-creation of the Berry Brothers "Fascinating Rhythm" routine was pretty impressive. That is not a simple routine especially with all the acrobatics involved.
The other highlight for me that night was seeing Minnie’s Moochers perform. For a lot of people it was a trip down memory lane, but for me it was great to see and feel their energy together as a group. Quite a few of our performers, even the veteran ones, were a little unnerved at the prospect of performing in front of 2000 people, but the Moochers just went out there with honest, enthusiastic energy and had a ball.
Think about this: Out of everyone that has performed in the Lindy Hop community in the past 10 years, how many of them have been to asked reprise those performances over and over again for the length of the decade?
No, seriously. Think about it. For at least 3.5 minutes. This note will still be here when you’re done.
It was a crazy couple of days and nights. Most events would have stopped there after three dances of 1000+ people, 8 bands, 10 performances, the moving memorial to Frankie, and the special presentations with Norma Miller, Chazz Young, Lennart Westerlund, and Judy Pritchett. But we weren’t even half way through the event yet.
At the end of the night I helped Tena, Leah, and Patty cart some stuff over to the New Yorker Hotel. We strategized how we were going to handle the classes starting in a few hours in three different locations around the city while we munched on Leah’s delicious chocolate cake. When I was done there, I got my stuff back at the Manhattan Center and got sucked into another 30 minute meeting with Steven Wexler, David, and Elliot where we talked about adjustments for the rest of the weekend. After that, Elliot and I made a run to Duane Reade to get additional supplies for the workshops.
It was around 6 am, two hours after the dance had ended, when I finally walked back to my hotel as the sun was rose on Saturday morning over New York City.
*edited to add that Andy Stockdale posted a video of them performing Stardust at Banjo Jim's after Frankie95 on May 26, 2009, Frankie's Birthday.