Sunday, July 18, 2010

Big and Bad and Doowap Swing

by Zinta Aistars

What's a Friday for? A quick impromptu invitation to head north of Grand Rapids, Michigan to Canonsburg Ski Resort on a summer's overheated eve? I'm there. The skis are at rest, but the grass is green on a hot July evening. Hundreds, no, thousands of people are streaming into the resort, flapping blankets in the wind to settle on the grass, popping open lawn chairs, unpacking picnic baskets.

As the blazing sun sets, breezes pick up. The crowd is immense, but attention is in one direction as the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra files out onto the bandshell. They play Gayene, music from Romeo and Juliet, and their music fills the evening air. Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khatchaturian... orchestra conductor John Varineau jokes about all that Russian, or is it rushin', music from the Soviet days isn't allowed to be anything but happy, with bright endings.

Yet we are all there, let's admit it, much as we love the GR pops and their happy endings, for something bigger and something badder.

The sun dips and the evening is blue. In their zoot suits and fedoras, Big Bad VooDoo Daddy takes the stage. For 17 years, this band has been together, all original members, bringing Cab Calloway and the big band sound of swing to new life, fully juiced, doowap, doowap, swing! Jumpin' Jive, Minnie the Moocher, 5-10-15 Times, favorite tunes make the air electric and alive.

We are sipping cool juices and vinos, toasting marshmallows over tiny fires, licking gooey s'mores from our fingertips, and our toes never stop bopping, tapping, not once. It is irresistable, this music, seductive to the blood on a summer night, bodies rocking, shoulders jumping, and dancing breaks out in the grassy aisles.

A crescent moon appears glowing white behind a lone pine tree on the hill. Thousands of  us sit and listen, bop and rock, doowap, yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.

Bassist Dirk's double bass looks like it's been with him all these nearly two decades, worn blonde and bone smooth along the edges, but he plays, fingers strumming and dancing, and twirls the bass in a dance of its own. Brass flares, wingtips flash across the stage, fedoras throwing cool shadows over their faces.

Oh, they are big, in their zoot suits pinstriped, double-breasted, gestures large, horns raised to the sky and blowing stars, brass and strings, the sound of a summer night shimmering in heat and moonlight. And oh, they are bad, so bad it moves, moves two thousand souls and more on a hillside to forget the week behind them, the week ahead, and play it Friday night like that's all there ever is, a week of Fridays, a summer of Fridays, a life of Fridays.


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