20-plus bands set to play
in Friday, Saturday event

TOPSHAM — The DownEast Country Dance Festival will celebrate its 28th season of traditional music and dance March 23 and 24 at Mt. Ararat Middle School and the adjacent Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham.

The annual event attracts hundreds of folk arts fans from throughout Maine and New England for hours of non-stop dancing and music-making. The biggest draw is Saturday – “folk smorgasbord” day – for which the school’s cafeteria, gym and multiple classrooms will be transformed into dance halls, workshop areas, and spaces for concerts and jam sessions.

The festivities kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, with an evening of traditional New England country dancing in the gym to music provided by the Maine-based trio Frigate and, from Massachusetts, the band Notorious. Typically called “contra” dancing, this style of dance has its roots in the English country dances enjoyed by American colonists over 200 years ago. While similar to square dancing, contras are danced in a double-line formation of as many as 20 couples, allowing a great deal of intermingling and socializing. The Friday evening dance will end at midnight with a last waltz.

The action resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 24, with more contra dancing as well as opportunities to learn everything from waltz, polka, tango and swing dancing to folk dances from Scotland, France, Scandinavia, China, Eastern Europe and beyond in workshops which will take place simultaneously in multiple different venues throughout the day.

An equally wide variety of activities is planned for those who want to enhance their own musicianship, including instrumental workshops in fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bones and bodhran. Singers can choose from sessions in yodeling, sacred harp and round singing as well as vocal improvisation.

A number of mini-concerts are on deck in the Bistro, while the Rainbow Room will feature some special activities designed for children and families, including workshops in origami and other cut-paper crafts. Because festival organizers are committed to keeping the event affordable and inclusive, children age 10 and under will be admitted free with youth age 11-21 given a substantial price break.

The Saturday night schedule, more geared to adults, features contra dancing from 7 p.m. until midnight, in addition to an international folk dance party and a swing dance party, both of which run 7 to 9 p.m.

Live music will predominate throughout the festival, with appearances by more than 20 musical groups from Maine and elsewhere, including the contra dance bands Twisted Strings, T-Acadie, Desperate Measures, The Sea Slugs, Fleeting Moments, Scrod Pudding, Gypsy Minor, Velocipede, Frigate and Notorious. In addition, the Racket Factory and the Maine Squeeze Accordion Ensemble will play for waltzing and polkas, and JimmyJo & the Jumbol’ayuhs will provide the tunes for a Cajun dance party.

Tickets to the 2018 DownEast Country Dance Festival are available for either the complete two-day event or portions thereof, with admission prices ranging from $12 for the Friday night dance ($8 for age 11-21) to $34/$24 for the entire festival. Children age 10 and under are free at all times if accompanied by an adult.

The Orion Arts Center/Mt. Ararat Middle School are located on Rte. 201 (Main Street) in Topsham. More information, including a full schedule of activities, is available by consulting the Festival website at www.deffa.org/festival.

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The Racket Factory, based in Farmington, is one of 20-plus musical groups performing on Saturday, March 23, at the annual DownEast Country Dance Festival in Topsham at Mt. Ararat Middle School.

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