What can some sun, a funky beat and a bit of dancing do for your soul a year into a global pandemic? Turns out, quite a bit.
I’ll set the scene: You’re walking on State Street, it’s a farmers market kind of Saturday. It’s markedly warm for the first time in about six months, and you’re wearing your orange Tevas (or some sort of sandal) for the first time since September. In the distance, you hear music — it’s floating toward you. Or are you floating toward it?
It gets louder and louder, carrying a certain energy, a certain beat, a certain something that’s tickling at your very core. You realize you’re drifting toward it, your feet following the sound of the music. Your original destination has been silently forgotten, and in its place is a mecca of sound and sun.
This is how most audience members arrived upon a spectacular scene a few weekends ago — delightfully impromptu. As it turned out, the sound heard around the town was emanating from a particularly percussive porch.
Squeezed onto this porch were two drummers, three horns, a guitarist, bassist, pianist and two vocalists. Around a dozen friends of the band sat in lawn chairs on the sidewalk, nodding their heads and prodding their buddies on stage. “Rock on, Kerrytown,” a Crocs-wearing electric bassist said, deadpan, into his mic.
For those who’ve been feeling like they’ve been living in a black-and-white world shaded with COVID-19 anxiety, the color in this scene was revitalizing. A golden saxophone twinkling like a jewel in the sun, standing on the steps of a house the color of dandelions, against a sky so blue it was almost indigo. One listener slid discretely to the front to snap a shot with their film camera.
Amid sax solos and drum duets, people kept trickling in. It seemed every time I glanced over my shoulder there were ten new faces who had stopped to listen. They’d moved with their ears rather than their feet, like me. All were pleasantly masked and fairly spaced out, sitting cross-legged in the street, perched on top of parked cars, lounging on couches they’d carried over from next door.
These porch musicians were playing some of the funkiest music around — stuff you just can’t sit still listening to. Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, the Jackson 5. Yet, although there were some head bops, toe taps, even some shoulder shimmies, all of the audience members stayed sedentary for the majority of the setlist. But these micro-movements were all just a simmer leading up to an eventual bubbling, boogying boil-over.
Although we all were sufficiently moving and grooving to “Blame it on the Boogie,” it was “I Want You Back” that got us up out of our seats to, in fact, boogie. This was the fateful track that transformed what was originally a small, incognito outdoor jam into a full-on festive block party. Almost immediately after the iconic introductory piano glissando, people, myself included, burst into full-body motion.
For some, this looked like tossing heads side to side, waving arms in the air, twisting torsos to the rhythm. Others paired up, swaying in mock salsa, twirling each other in circles. One dude in a blue baseball cap bounced around with high-energy knee-ups. Someone else moved their whole body like a waterfall, air catching in the folds of their flowy jumpsuit-like waves.
We rejoiced, but for me, it’s hard not to think of it as a rejuvenation, too. It was like there was some sort of liquid energy flowing up through our sneakers, to the tips of our skyward-bound fingers, evaporating off the crown of our heads, foreheads thrown back towards the blue sky.
It was clear we were shaking our bodies free of some serious built-up tension. Perhaps it was a natural eruption, after months of normalized, necessary claustrophobia (cramped at the desk in your childhood bedroom, indoors, squeezed between four walls). That afternoon, under the cerulean sky, we were free to wiggle and jump and sway our hips and shimmy and get down low — so we did. I suppose it was an unraveling: ourselves tightly-bound balls of yarn, granted permission to just let loose.
Everyone looked great, too. Bucket hats, floral masks, cut-off jeans, flushed faces, smiling eyes. It’s one thing to stand up on your own to dance, to make that decision within yourself for an impromptu dance party. It’s another thing to have that moment with 80 other strangers. Dancing together, we shared a collective exhale.
Above all, it was a spontaneous celebration — a weird concept nowadays. We’ve been living in an era sans 21st birthday bashes, stadium-filled graduations, weddings of triple-digit occupancy, the list goes on. But perhaps we haven’t actually been missing much — save for staggering bar tabs and extravagant wardrobes. As in, maybe, before the pandemic, we’d been celebrating all wrong.
After all, what does celebration mean, at its core?
That weekend, celebration meant dancing on solar power with smiling strangers. It was the simplicity of it all that made it so sweet; behind all the glamour, a celebration is simply an occasion to rejoice and to share in your jubilee. To me, this definition is exciting, because it means celebration is in and around us, just waiting for permission to bust a move. It’s up to us to release it.
Well, that and maybe a funky Jackson 5 baseline. We’re living in the strangest of times, the scariest of times, but there’s always a spellbound rhythm to groove to — and for that, there’s only the boogie to blame.
Daily Arts Contributor Gigi Guida can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.