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This story was inspired by the many wonderful outdoor concerts my husband and I enjoyed this summer throughout the Upper Valley, the area where we live. We hope your summer has been filled with music as well.
By the middle of August, the grass on Carding green showed the marks of many feet around the gazebo on its western end. Paula Bouton smiled at the town common’s trampled condition. It was, she believed, a testament to the best concert season the town had ever had.
“That was a job well done,” she told her assistant, Tim Yu. “I do believe you scheduled something for everyone.”
He grinned, pleased with praise from the town manager. “And there’s still one more to go.”
“Indeed,” Paula said as she finished off the last of her morning’s second cup of tea. “We’d better get ready for the onslaught.”
The Carding Summer Concert series has a very long history, as these things go. Its advent stretches back to the early 1980s when Ted Owens and Diana Bennett and Bruce Elliott decided that their band, the Belmont Street Irregulars, was good enough to perform publicly. Though originally planned as a one-of, it was such as success, the town decided to make it a tradition.
During that first summer, a high school band concert followed the Irregulars, and they, in turn, were followed by a jazzy swing combo. Then the Coop set up an ice cream wagon, lawn chairs appeared, and young families showed up with strollers, picnic suppers, and blankets.
As a general rule, the adult audience members stay in their seats during a concert, tapping their toes or nodding their heads in time to the music. The children, however, are an entirely different story.
Freed (mostly) from hovering parents, they take full advantage of the empty space in front of the stage and the gaps among blankets and chairs, running, twirling, and tumbling to their hearts’ content.
Young teenagers gather near the sycamores in the center of the green, all of them way too cool to dance. Instead, they eye one another, boys checking out girls, and girls aware of the male stares as each side speculates what the other is thinking. Further back, the older teens participate in elaborate-though-unrehearsed rituals that precede coupled retreats into the green’s darker corners.
As the years have passed, the air of the green has been filled with classic rock, reggae, celtic music, country bands, salsa, an annual appearance by a local pops band, different varieties of funk and folk, and once, to everyone’s great delight, a polka band that managed to get everyone on the green to dance.
Paula was especially excited about this concert. Ever since her engagement to Ted Owens, she’d tried to persuade his father, Robert, to break out of his assisted living apartment and come home for the music. She’d seen pictures in the town archives of Robert dancing on the green with Ted’s mother, Anna, and she’d found a big band to play the last Carding Concert.
After a bit of hemming and hawing, the older man finally agreed, and Paula wanted everything to be perfect. So to relieve her anxiety, she got in Tim’s way as he organized the food vendors who had become an intrinsic part of concert nights. He heaved an enormous, though inaudible, sigh of relief when Ted finally picked her up to get Robert.
If Robert had had any misgivings about the effort needed to return to his hometown, they disappeared as soon as his feet touched the green. So many friends and former neighbors stopped to greet him, it took Ted nearly forty-five minutes to guide his Dad to a seat close to the bandstand. Paula brought him dinner from one of the vendors, a plate of stir-fry with chicken and noodles. His granddaughter, Suzanna, proudly towed her best friends over to meet him, and Robert thought it all perfect.
When the musicians showed up, a murmur of anticipation rippled through the crowd, and Robert leaned forward in his seat. “Is that a big band?” he asked his son.
Ted nodded. “Yeah, Paula found this one special for you.”
Robert looked around the green, noting the number of gray heads mixed among the other colors. “It will be special for several others, I can guarantee that.”
When the music started, the band showed its versatility as it moved seamlessly from “Take the A Train” to “Stompin’ at the Savoy” to “Tuxedo Junction.” The kids swept through the crowd, squealing as they chased one another from one corner to the next. Some of the teenagers peeked out of the trees, their interest piqued. A couple of women started dancing with one another off to one side while the rest of the audience nodded and clapped.
At first, Robert swayed from side to side in his seat, a big grin stretched over his face, his feet keeping time. Ted reached over to take Paula’s hand.
“I think you have a real hit on your hands,” he said. Paula nodded. And then her eyes widened and she pointed over Ted’s shoulder.
Robert had risen to his full six-foot height, towering above his walker. He raised his hands above his head to clap. Then he began to sway his hips in time to the music.
At first, no one else followed his example even though you could hear folks saying “Look, look” all over the green.
And as they watched, Robert held his hand out to Paula. “I can’t swing the way I used to when I danced with Anna but I can’t sit still when this music is playing,” he said. “I think I can take a few steps. What do you think?”
“I think you’re wonderful,” Paula said as she matched his small, uncertain steps. His grin widened. And then, as the first bars of Benny Goodman’s “In the Mood” drifted through the summer air, a waxing moon pierced the edge of the mountains, and the people of Carding danced.