“When I was on stage with Giant Robot Dance calling the late Saturday night set at the 2010 Dance Flurry [in Saratoga Springs, NY], I thought it would be cool to feature Perpetual e-Motion with Giant Robot Dance at the same event.”
"I watch the documentary movie on the musical event Woodstock every year because I get the sense that the festival was planned and reacting to individual circumstances. There was this kind of...it’s getting done as we go. And I just have this soft spot for the ideal of all these rag-tag people just sort of expressing this kind of idealism that is like a secular hippie religion and occasionally that comes up for me in contra dancing. There’s a kind of secular religiosity to it. It popped into my head at the same time I had the idea for an event. I don’t get to sit back and watch very much, but at Flurry  I sat back and looked at the size of the crowd and the fact that Andrew VanNorstrand was wearing a top hat and I think Aaron Marcus was wearing a dress and the whole thing felt like Jerry Garcia and Woodstock to me.”
Will remembers, “I’ve got a thousand people dancing and my thought from the stage was [on how to name this event] ‘Wood-dance, Contra-wood, Contra-stock...’ The thought was about who got picked, and the idea that it was this generation’s eclectic approach....well, that and Andrew’s top hat. I just love Giant Robot Dance. I love their unpredictability.”
Will continues, “From what I can tell, Wild Asparagus and The Clayfoot Strutters are two earlier bands who paved the way for an eclectic approach to contra dance music. An approach that balances skill, tradition, and fun, with an intelligent sampling of sounds and structures from an array of musical genres. Perpetual e-Motion and Giant Robot Dance are two younger bands who update this approach more than any other I have heard. John Cote and Ed Howe, the musicians that make up Perpetual e-Motion, remind me of New Music musicians who might hang out with Brian Eno. Their precise sets -- shaped by computerized-looping sounds -- foreground the structure of sound as a compliment to the melodies. As far as I know -- no one has combined electronica, funk, old time, bluegrass, and pop with contra dance music as much as Perpetual e-Motion. Andrew VanNorstrand, Noah VanNorstrand, Andrew Marcus, Aaron Marcus, and Michael Ferguson, the musicians in Giant Robot Dance, have created a savvy jam band that features a humorous sense of juxtaposing tunes. In addition to being great musicians, they combine and quote the cultural resonance of pop tunes with traditional tunes. Perpetual e-Motion engages content while favoring form. Giant Robot Dance engages form while favoring content.”
“I next thought of Nils Fredland because he is not only a great caller, but we share a similar sense of adventure and fun as callers. Nils crowd surfed at Contrastock after hours of flawless calling. Nuff said!”
“So it was going to be those two bands....I actually thought Clayfoot Strutters, Wild Asparagus, Giant Robot Dance, and Perpetual e-Motion would have been the most perfect bands all together....[they have a] fearless eclectic approach, fearless experimentalization, and all took shit from traditionalists. So I pitched it to Penny [Weinberger, FSGW Dance Chair] and then to Merle McEldowney [with CDNY] in New York and they immediately liked it. There was no hesitation on their part at all...they did all the ground stuff. There is some footage of the guy that organized Woodstock, and I always loved that footage and was happy not to be him but anyway so yeah I was just basically pitching an event. I mean, getting Giant Robot Dance and Nils and Perpetual e-Motion all on one date was a challenge....I didn’t count the emails but it was huge. You’ve got very busy people, and so they’re not gonna respond every five minutes. I’d get answers and then I’d have to prod....so finally we came up with these dates and then Penny and Merle immediately wanted to do it. I was surprised and happy that that part was easy. I was doing something that I’m not sure had ever been done before. I created the event and then pitched the event to a venue.”
So, did Contrashock and Contrastock turn out as he envisioned? Mostly, it seems.
“There’s the ideal world where there’s this vast dance floor outside and it’s sunny....the direct quoting of Woodstock, nice sort of dreamy image I can keep in my head, but yeah, I think somehow the dances took on slightly different characters because of the halls.”
“In an ideal world, the Clayfoot Strutters would have been in it too, with the old and new bands that played around with genres in relation to the trad music the most. I actually think that this year with Wild Asparagus, it’ll be great.”
“I don’t think there’s any proof of...there’s no way to prove that that kind of [genre] mixing is better or worse for dancing, but I think it’s better. Everyone puts their own mark on a tune. I remember doing a gig a long time ago in Walpole, NH and I don’t remember the band, but I called a square and I just kind of ended it and the band guy said, ‘so much for the integrity of the tune.’ I was a newbie and that was definitely an opinion [to consider].”
“I had an art teacher in high school who instilled in me that you walk into your studio, or into situations, and you step back and get a sense of it without judging it. But when you made your own work, you have to put a judgment on it and filter it through your own lens.”
“It’s like when you go for a Ph.D., you can’t just go with someone else’s research, you filter everything through your own take on things. That’s just absolutely in my DNA. If I walk in and a band is doing something, I never say yes or no right away, I just of respond to it. I don’t have an axe to grind.”
“I am happy that within the world of contra dancing that Dudley Laufman and Giant Robot Dance can coexist. I love it. And not only that, but it’s not all New Englanders. People are going to have opinions...I mean, when I’m on stage and there’s 200 people in front of me. I could have my best night, and some people may not like that. It’s also part of the nature of performing....it’s in time, and you can’t retake it. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
This year, Contrastock II (DC) and Contrashock II (NYC) will feature the bands Perpetual e-Motion, Wild Asparagus, and Elixir, and will occur on September 21-23, 2012. Many thanks to Will for taking the time to share his thoughts!