changes, explains British ritual dancing to curious onlookers, rescues an ailing Molly
singer mid-song, plays two different marching bass drums, is three times mistaken for
an actual police officer, and returns home at last to dance the two-step with an assortment
of lovely lesbian ladies and handsome homosexual gentlemen.
Saturday was a good double-gig Morris day for Great Northern Border, the fall and winter
season Border Morris and Molly Dance team for which I play bass drum and sing. First there
was the gig at the Saint Paul Farmer's Market, and then out to an apple orchard in Afton
Minnesota, 30 or so miles east, where the Wisconsin team of General Hardware met up with us.
Mid-morning I changed out of my civvies and put on Border kit, hauled out my bass drum, and
drove out in search of the Saint Paul Farmer's Market (which I had never been to -- I
am a Minneapolitan, after all, and we have our own). Morris dancers are a self-aggregating
group; We accumulated around a lamppost in the middle of the market then danced for about half
an hour. This was a right sort of place for us to dance, a feeling that was well-aided by
the amazing warm sunny October weather. Many of the shoppers stopped to watch us, asking what
this was about -- these men in black clothes and rag vests swinging sticks and stomping about to
the accompaniment of two melodeons, a pipe & tabor, a clarinet, and a bass drum. The instruments
used for Border dancing traditionally consist of whatever the available local musicians play.
We regularly include trombone and C-melody saxophone. I've heard tales of scarier ensembles.
Molly dances are performed to an unaccompanied singer, who must sing like a dance musician
(steady driving beat without any hesitation between verses and a vocal quality that carries
even outdoors). Shannon and I split these duties. Shannon's voice started to give way halfway
through her Molly on Saturday, and (while singing) she managed to convey this to Denise who
conveyed this to me and I jumped in and took over mid-dance. I had no idea where we were in the
song, so I sang a jumbled assortment of verses until I figured things out. The dancers didn't
even notice, of course -- neither the jumbled verses nor, I think, the singer-change midsong. We
were all very pleased with ourselves following this private bit of excitement.
Back to our cars and off to Afton. Once you get off the highway for the final 12 miles of the
journey you drive through farm fields and what passes for rolling hills around these parts
(since you are approaching the St. Croix river). The apple orchard in Afton provides hayrides and
a playground and many pick-your-own opportunities, so there was a fine and large audience of many
families with children. General Hardware arrived shortly after we did, and we had a grand old
reunion and a nice massed band.
After we finished our group stayed around to pick apples and enjoy the day, but I had to rush
back to town to shower and change into my police uniform. (I love being able so say "I had
to change into my police uniform.") I play bass drum for the Minneapolis Police band for the
eight parades they march a year. Two of those parades bookend the weeklong Halloween celebrations
in Anoka Minnesota, 30 miles north of the Twin Cities and the Halloween Capital of the World (TM).
Saturday was the small evening kickoff parade; next Saturday is the huge three-hour daytime parade.
In Anoka I must park on the side of town where the parade ends, then walk the parade route in
reverse down the main street to the staging area. I try to arrive early enough that there is
no crowd, because I learned years ago, when I started playing for the police band, that when
you are in a police uniform in a parade crowd you cannot walk more than a block without being
stopped and asked where the bathrooms are, even if you are carrying a bass drum. I hadn't realized
how much a part of a police officers duties it is to provide this information. I find it extremely
frustrating when I can't help all these people, and, of course, I feel like a fraud when I am
mistaken for a police officer. This year I escaped with disappointing only three people. I really
have no idea where there are public restrooms in downtown Anoka Minnesota, I am sorry to say,
and I've even tried to find out in the past.
The parade went off without event, although we had no drum major and the police band is
diminishing in size each year. There were only 18 of us, four of us guest musicians from the local
gay and lesbian band. (This arrangement began several years ago when the same woman served as
percussion section leader for both the police band and the Freedom Band; at one point there
were eight of us from the Freedom Band who marched regularly with the Police Band.)
After the parade I did not join my fellow police band members for the free drinks the Anoka
VFW Hall offers us because I needed to get back to the VFW Hall in Minneapolis for the
twice-monthly Saturday night gay-lesbian two-stepping dance that is held there. This was a special
night that I didn't want to miss because there was a live band, the Buffalo Gals, most of
whom are friends of mine from the local folkie world and I like to support them. I also
prefer very much to dance to live music.
So it was home, another shower, a change to my Saturday night 40s tie and dancing shoes, and
off to the VFW Hall. I was hardly late at all! Oh, it was a wonderful time. But, sadly,
I pooped out about 11:30, ninety minutes before the end of the dance,and I had to go home.
It had been a long day indeed, and I had an equally scheduled Sunday to rest up for.