Enter dancing. Which is exactly what Felicity Russell did as one of the first patrons at the Yard’s DanceHall: Public Dancing Allowed! with Red Baraat, last Friday, Feb. 22, at the Chilmark Community Center. Russell’s dancing testified to the groove pulsing from Red Baraat, a rocking, rocked-out band. And plenty of others did too. Enter dancing, that is.
The six musicians, led by the Brooklyn band’s founder, Sunny Jain, brought the bhangra-inspired sound — in this instance, loud, driving, and danceable — to the up-Island venue. Red Baraat’s music, all original, and at least for this gig, mostly instrumental, is an intriguing mix of Punjabi folk, Hindustani classical, jazz, rock, and funk. Jain, whose parents emigrated from Delhi, India, to Rochester, N.Y., where Jain was born, has described himself as a South Asian, Indian, Jain, vegetarian drummer. He’s made a deservedly big name for himself over the past 20 years in World Music and beyond.
Jain enthusiastically anchors the group, playing the dhol, a two-headed drum about the size of a kitchen trash can, suspended horizontally from the neck, with a wooden drum stick in each hand. The unique tonal mix, melodies, and rhythms combine as the other five instruments — drum set, soprano sax, trumpet, trombone, and sousaphone — are played almost continuously, all at the same time. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard, but if you think “world music wall of sound,” you’ll be off to a good start.
The evening started with an introduction by the Yard’s David R. White, who thanked the Barr Foundation for its significant support of the Winter Yard, which brings world-class events to seriously appreciative year-around Islanders. White, a longtime luminary of the New York City dance scene now living on the Vineyard, is known for having his finger on the pulse of what’s hot and happening, and often what’s going to be happening next.
What happened here was a roomful of people dancing, surrounded by a parameter of toe-tapping, finger-snapping, head-bopping pals. Vivian Baguer Holland and her hubby Stephen Holland were delighted with the prospect of some hot music and room to dance. “We often hear great music at other venues on the Island,” says Stephen, “but the ones we like best are the places we can get up and dance.”
Vivian continued, “It was great people-watching too, and the band was clearly enjoying themselves.” Both agreed the musical mix was terrific, and notwithstanding having mentioned some particular physical ailments, were often up and dancing.
Howard Paisner was one of the many people who danced the entire night away. He did it his way, alone, right on the edge of the dance floor. “I just like to move,” Paisner said. “When I dance with a partner, I try and play off their moves, but for this band, solo going was the way to go. Plus, I’ve always loved music.
“I saw some amazing bands in the ’70s — Jethro Tull, Queen, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I like bands with horns and driving rhythm, and Red Baraat fit that bill.”
Other all-night-long dancers included Joanie LeLacheur, contrasting the beat with her fluid style while wearing the hippest pair of sunglasses seen in recent memory. Her husband, Richard Skidmore, mingled, danced, and mingled some more, but nothing stopped Joanie. Then there was the wingspan guy, tall with arms as long as his legs, trying out lots of in-flight moves. A conga line of tweens, probably led by Mom, wound its way around and between the other dancers. There was also a papa wearing a “Chilmark Guard” hoodie, who danced the night away with his toddler daughter. And the wiggle gal, who was not to be missed. She needs no other description.
Toward the end of the night, the band announced a dance contest, with each entrant given a 10-second time limit. No. 1’s solo had a mosh-pit style, but with lots of wild yet innovative punching choreography, and it’s probably a good thing she wasn’t actually in a mosh pit, harm would have been done. But not to her. No. 2 can adequately be described as exhibiting isolated shimmies. No. 3, the winner, chosen by audience applause, loosely based his moves on the “Running Man,” “Gangnam Style,” and an energized confidence that belied his age. As W.C. Fields said, “Never work with children or animals.”
For overall style, substance, invention, effort, line, use of space, and stamina, I must nominate Felicity Russell in absentia, who failed to enter the contest. I believe she would have been a strong contender. As noted, she entered dancing, the first one on the floor, went full out for 40 minutes, then danced her way down-Island to the P.A. Club to catch Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.
The evening wrapped up ’round about midnight. That’s Chilmark midnight for those of you who live in America. For up-Island folks, it’s code for 9 pm.