I am in the process of re-posting a series of notes I originally put up on Facebook recapping my involvement with Frankie Manning’s 95th Birthday Festival. I wasn’t planning posting the following note, but as I was preparing this series, I noticed that there’s some interesting background bits that I thought may be useful to know to give what comes later a little more context. This was originally posted on March 30, 2009 entitled:
An Unofficial and Very Vague Frankie 95 Update
A few people have questions about what’s happening with Frankie’s 95th Birthday Festival. To be honest, there aren’t that many answers. Or at least few that I can give publicly.
It’s become cliché to call this the biggest Lindy Hop event “eva,” but it’s very apropos. It’s a big, huge beast with a lot of moving parts dependent on other parts, some of which are not in place yet.
All the big stuff is there, but there are a lot of little details that keep us from going public with a lot of the information. That’s basically what I’m doing: checking little things to make sure nothing catastrophic happens.
Yet, with an event this size, it would be very naïve to think that nothing will go wrong. Considering the number of people involved, the amount of activities, and the fact that New York City increases the difficulty level to do anything by a factor of 11, it’s pretty much a given that something will go wrong. But the executive committee has put together a great group of people to do this thing, and I think we can roll with most anything that comes our way.
I had a friend tell me that they were scared for me considering the significance of this event. Despite the fact that we’re two months away with tons of planning to do, I’m still not that concerned.
I’ve done more technically complicated stressful events: I coordinated about two dozen events for the opening festivities of the new student union when I worked at the Catholic University of America while filling in for two additional open staff positions in our office. Plus I was co-chairman for that year’s DCLX which took place at the end of that week of craziness
I’ve also done more historic: I started working at The National Museum of The American Indian the day before it opened. I just jumped right in and gave a helping hand wherever needed, much of it having nothing to do with what I was hired for. But it was worth it to witness over 20,000 people from almost every tribe, community, and nation in the western hemisphere march to finally receive the respect and honor that they had been waiting for for over 400 years.
I’ve even done weirder. Lindy Hoppers are an odd bunch, but I was working at The National Air & Space Museum when it hosted the Star Wars: Magic of Myth exhibit. I managed the interactive audio tour booth during the initial 24 hour opening of the exhibit on Halloween. One of my employees got into a little dispute with a visitor dressed in a Star Trek uniform (yes, you read that right) who settled it by “shooting” my guy with his “phaser.” (Fun fact: I possess the first and last entry tickets printed for that exhibition)
So I have a bit of perspective going into Frankie’s. Still, it’s easy to be impressed with the size and scope of this event.
The thing that gets me about this whole thing is the proportions. For example, we’re holding workshops for 1000 people. Even if half of them decide not to show that’s still 500 people. That’s still a huge workshop, but only one relatively small component of the entire event.
Look at the first dance. We’re expecting over 1000 people to come to a dance where Lavay Smith and Gordon Webster will be trading sets along with possibly a third band for the late night. This dance could be the centerpiece of any event, but this is just the opening Thursday dance which will be followed by FOUR more, even bigger dances.
We’re doing an evening dance each night, lasting around eight hours each, plus an outdoor afternoon dance. In all that time, I can count the number of hours of dj’d music on my one hand.
We’re only having two competitions. But one contest that has been dogging me in the schedule is what has been informally dubbed the “World’s Largest Jack & Jill.” I honestly don’t know what the record is, but with around 1600 people from 41 US states and 31 countries coming to this event, I’m pretty sure we can give it a good run for its money.
Then there’s the Hellzapoppin competition. The best of the best to be judged by the best ever. It’s just not that the best dancers in the entire world will be throwing it down in one contest spread over three days in front of the largest crowd of Lindy Hoppers assembled for one event in the modern era. The winner will be picked by a group of judges consisting of the surviving members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers led by the man himself, Frankie Manning.
The original Hellzapoppin contest was part of the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival which came up in our most recent marathon staff phone meeting last week. I was wondering how long we would go before someone mentioned the specter of that event.
For those of you who didn’t go or never even heard of that event, let me just say that it was a glorious train wreck in the worst and best possible senses of the phrase. That it doesn’t have a more notorious reputation owes more to the great things that came out of the event rather than to all the things that went wrong. I was glad that someone on the executive committee mentioned it because it shows me that they are aware of the cost and consequences of poor planning and a lot of bad luck.
That is why we’d rather err on the side of caution rather than come out with something now that will probably change drastically in a week or less. I’ve revised the schedule several times already, including twice in the last week. We’re getting there, but there’s a lot of work to do. We do hope to get it out as soon as possible though.
So there isn’t too much specific I can say about what will happen, but I can offer a few tips:
Stay awhile: I hear tell that some people are leaving early. You are lame. First there’s the show on Sunday night featuring great Lindy Hoppers from every generation of our community. Then that’s followed by the dueling sounds of two of the hottest swing bands in the world: The Boilermaker Jazz Band and Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five.
Those bands will back up the finals of the Jack & Jill. So if you want the full J & J experience, then be ready to dance on Friday afternoon, and plan to stay through Sunday night at least.
Also, Frankie’s birthday is actually on May 26 which is Tuesday. Because of that, we plan on having a few cool things planned for Monday evening. They won’t be as high profile as the other stuff happening earlier in the weekend, but it’s sure to make Frankie’s actual birthday that much more special for him.
But get there early: I’m sure you like many other Lindy Hoppers are thinking that something this big will probably run on Lindy Hopper time, running hopelessly late. I’m telling you that we’re going to be running on time for two reasons: 1) I say it will. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone that’s attended the first couple of DCLX’s, the Big Big Event, or the International Lindy Hop Championships. The same core of people who ran this past year’s International Lindy Hop Championships is running the show along with an experienced production team of volunteer and hired NYC talent.
Whether it runs smoothly maybe questionable, but we’re going to kill ourselves making sure it runs on time because of reason #2: My man is turning 95 years old. He ain’t gonna party with us all night long. Maybe 2000 people might end up attending this event, but his is the only opinion that matters. That means we’re going to make sure he gets to see all the cool stuff, and that means scheduling a lot of it early so he can properly pace himself through the whole weekend. So if you think you can take your time getting ready for the evening and eating dinner, I guarantee you’ll miss most of the reasons why you’re coming to this event in the first place.
If you don’t have a ticket by now, chances are you’re not going to get one. One of the things I did last week was sit down and try to figure out how many people are coming through the door each night. Doesn’t look good for you if you thought you could just show up and get a ticket at the door. The only sure way to get in at this point is to be slave labor . . . I mean . . . volunteer for 20 hours for the weekend. No, I am not joking about that last part.
If you don’t have housing yet, suck it up and get a hotel room. Your chances of crashing in the 5′ x 6′ studio of the New Yorker you had an amazing dance with at that exchange a couple of years ago are zero. New York City is a big place but not big enough to give free housing to all the dancers coming for this event. That said, I don’t even have a place to stay yet. Anyone got any space?
That’s it for now. A little birdie told me you might actually see a schedule on the website by the end of this week. Of course, some birdies lie like dogs.