How one man kickstarted the Durham Music and Dance Festival | Music Feature | Indy Week
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How one man kickstarted the Durham Music and Dance Festival 

Jack Wolf, his Panama hats and his moves

Hearing dance bands in a sit-down auditorium? "That's like having sex with your clothes on," says Jack Wolf, social dancer, DJ, newsletter writer and entrepreneur extraordinaire.

Well-known for his colorful gear, omnivorous dance appetite and quirky sense of humor--his Dance Gumbo newsletter promises subscribers "more Technicolor orgasms and tastier pancakes"--Wolf dares to dream: He wants to hear live music, and dance to it, at the same time.

Don Quixote in a Panama hat? Maybe, but he's taken the Armory in his sights and is making his beautiful dream a reality this weekend. "The Durham Armory is a real classic venue that's not that well known, that's a real jewel for the community. It's got 8,400 square feet. There's a lot of venues in town which are sit-down concert [venues].... This is a venue with a huge ballroom style dance floor. My hope is to be able to throw big events."

When Wolf says big, he's not kidding. His first festival will be an all-out live music and dance soiree at the downtown jewel. The Durham Music and Dance Festival brings five big concerts to the Armory on Saturday and Sunday, showcasing some of the nation's top acts in zydeco, jazz, blues, contra dance and salsa. The legendary Night of the Living DJs, featuring Wolf and guests spinning a gumbo of dance styles, begins the festival Friday night at Triangle Dance Studio.

The festival also offers an optional instructional component for those who want an introduction to each dance style. A beginner's lesson precedes each concert at the Armory, though the festival will also offer advanced classes for more experienced feet.

And for the already addicted, Wolf has invited several nationally recognized dance teams to give workshops in East Coast swing and New York mambo. Exhibition performances and amateur Jack and Jill contests will give the general public an eyeful at some of the shows.

"I think we are seeing a little bit of a resurgence with this Dancing with the Stars," Wolf opines. "There was a bubble about five years ago, you know, when they had those Docker commercials, everybody was coming out to swing dance. But I think with this latest thing, more people have been showing up to learn dancing. I just think it's great."

Besides the high styles of swing and salsa, there will be a contradance with waltzing and other vintage moves, and the earthy, accessible grooves of zydeco. "Zydeco is great. I love zydeco," says Wolf, who normally makes a pub crawl pilgrimage to New Orleans once a year, forestalled this year by the Katrina devastation.

"Zydeco is so funky, such a down-in-the-groove type of dance. And as opposed to salsa, where you can study for 20 years and still be an intermediate dancer, once you get zydeco down you've got it down," says Wolf.

Astoundingly diverse local communities devoted to participatory dance--from Victorian waltz to Lindy Hop--have joined together in unprecedented fashion for what promises to be a groundbreaking outreach. More than a dozen dance associations, clubs and private instructors are co-sponsoring the festival, and the City of Durham even chipped in on rental costs. "I really would like this to be like a community effort as much as possible ... I just think part of the City of Durham sponsorship is that this is hopefully going to be an annual Durham event," says Wolf.

Not just for dance aficionados, the festival promises to be a boon for wallflowers and foot-tappers alike, especially if you like large bands with musicianship by the bushel. Front-row seating will be available for the sit-down crowd, and Wolf emphasizes the merit of the festival's five headliners: "They are great bands. They happen to be great dance bands, but they are just great bands."

Tickets for each concert range from $12-19 if purchased before March 16 and from $15-24 at the door. Tickets for any group of three or more concerts can be purchased at a discount before March 16. Individual workshop tickets start at $16. For complete lineup and ticket information, see


Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys

Rosie Ledet has left her trademark on the music her parents used to call "French La La," or, outside of Louisiana, Cajun zydeco. She grew up listening to Santana and Hendrix, but picked up an accordion in 1993 and learned to play by ear. Now she fronts the family band the Zydeco Playboys and writes her own songs with a dark edge. "I have one called 'Paradise.' Stephen King could make a great movie out of that one," says Rosie, who emphasizes the importance of good lyrics. "My music is danceable, but even if you don't dance, like me, you can still enjoy just listening!"


Roomful of Blues

"We do swing, we do jump, we do Chicago-type blues, Kansas City style, it's all a little different flavors. We try to keep people interested throughout the night," says Roomful of Blues guitarist Chris Vachon. Vachon says that variety is the spice that keeps a blues band going strong for 37 years and counting. The Rhode Island-based band has five Grammy nominations, 19 albums and a slew of awards, including W.C. Handy Awards for Best Band and Best Horns. "That's about as good as you can get in our music," says Vachon. Come see these eight sons of Providence swing the Armory with superb musicianship and style.


Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers

Voted one of Los Angeles' sexiest people, Lavay Smith performs classic jazz and blues of the '40s and '50s with a silky, seductive style. Her red-hot band is experienced, featuring horn players and a rhythm section who have played with Duke Ellington, Tito Puente, Benny Goodman and more. A swing dancer's favorite, yet there will be no shortage on sound and spectacle for those simply fond of a good lick.


Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca

Ricardo Lemvo's salsa-soukous is as African as it is Latin, blending Cuban arrangements with a Congolese guitar style. Backed by a Latin band with all the essentials, the Los Angeles-based singer's earthy vocals, humor and warm stage presence invite everyone to the party. "One thing I like about the version of salsa that I do is, it's not exclusionary," he says. "Dance in my opinion has to be enjoyable. If I see someone tapping their foot, even if they are not well versed in these intricate moves, that means I'm doing my job."



Nightingale grew out of the New England contra dance scene into one of the most innovative trios in traditional music. Keith Murphy (voice, guitar, mandolin, piano, foot percussion), Jeremiah McLane (accordion, piano) and Becky Tracy (fiddle) won't be typecast, and have reached beyond the dance band format while maintaining rhythmic integrity. The nightingale symbolizes their musical range, which casts a wide net over Northern Europe, Canada and the United States. Full-time professional caller George Marshall brings over 20 years of experience, enthusiasm and musicality to the dance.


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