Last night was the night that the Minnesota Freedom Band performed its annual concert at the most excellent bandshell at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. For the last several years, my Morris dance team has shown up before this concert to dance a bit, in a grassy area beside the bandshell. It's a fun gig. We don't get many people sitting in front of us like an audience, but we contribute to a general festival atmosphere, leaping about for thirty minutes waving our hankies and clashing our sticks until the first downbeat begins the actual concert from the stage. Families with children pay the most attention to us. Small boys seem generally fascinated by stick dances.
I went over to play with the band for their very first number, during which the band marched to the stage from a distance. The percussion section stayed put on the stage while this transpired, playing our cadences, until the band stood in front of the bandshell and the drum major gave his whistles and we all played a marching song. Then I went off to join my Morris team and the rest of the band took the stage to finish the concert.
It has become the tradition for my Morris team, at this point in the evening, to head right over to the trolley station that's just a small ways from the Lake Harriet bandshell. There a remnant of the Twin Cities trolley system remains, connecting Lake Harriet to Lake Calhoun. This is maintained by volunteer railroad enthusiasts as a working trolley, which they run as a sort of historically-accurate amusement park ride during the summer. We dance at the station for a while, then we take a train ride. Sitting down on a nice old trolley feels very sweet after dancing.
Last night the station and train crew just loved us, as did the many families strolling by on this loveliest of nights on the longest day of the year. After we danced and chatted with the passersby for about twenty minutes, the conductor announced that all Morris dancers could ride free We took over the train, with nobody on it but us. Five children of team members were with us that night, including Lolo and Smack, the six-year-old twins who dress in kit and now dance a little for real with us.
We started off on the ride and we started to sing train songs. First we sang a round: "In cases of emergency pull on the chain" is one of the lines. This was near-spontaneous: I began it to teach the boys and then everybody else joined in to make it the round and we sang with gusto. Then Ingrid led us all in Charlie on the MTA which is corny indeed but a real delight to sing. The conductor at one end of the train asked if we could sing Chattanooga Choo Choo, and of course we could, more of us than just me knew it all. Denise and I even danced a little bit of swing while we sang, and the conductor blew the train whistle at key moments. The conductor challenged us with a request for The Wreck of the Old 97 which Nat not only knew but which he had been about to sing anyway.
To bring the kids into the fun I started I've Been Working on the Railroad which, again, could seem a bit corny but not then and there, no sir. I taught the kids to sing "Dinah won't you blow your nose", which they continued to sing long after the train stopped, adding verses about nasal discharges of various sorts. It was a big hit. And then the train ride was over, and toddler Daniel began to cry because he wanted to stay riding the trolley and singing songs. I can't blame him.
The tradition after the trolley ride is to walk over to a nearby barbecue house. Imagine a dozen or so people, dressed head to toe in white, heading out for barbecue. It is not uncommon for people to note the poor planning. But the food was good and we deserved our beer.
The ten minutes or so of the train ride was as happy of a ten minutes as I can imagine. You can't guarantee that, you can't plan that, you can't arrange that, you can't force that. But sometimes everything just comes 'round as it should.