On Friday evening in Station North, you could hear the "Ha" from a few hundred feet away, at least. That stop-start-and-drop vocal sample from Masters of Work's "The Ha Dance," a song snippet that has gone on to define vogue-house, yammered from the Ynot Lot at the corner of Charles Street and North Avenue.
On the turntables, Jersey's vogue/ballroom producer MikeQ, here for "Dance to Keep From Crying," a free outdoor dance party that was part of Open Walls 2's closing events, and spinning for a growing-by-the-minute group of dead serious voguers, twerk-minded punks, and plenty of regular ass people who just wandered over to check out the origins of the cathartic commotion.
A barrage of manic, "Ha"-inflected Beyoncé remixes landing somewhere between soulful house and industrial noise will make people curious like that.
Organized by Alex Coleurs of Primary Colors Presents, as well as executive director of Station North Artists and Entertainment District Ben Stone, director of programs Rebecca Chan, and Andrew Pisacane, better known as the street artist Gaia, who curated Open Walls 2, "Dance to Keep From Crying" was expertly conceived: Along with MikeQ, there was 92Q DJ and our city's new club queen DJ Angelbaby, Bmore club legend DJ Class, forthright rapper TT the Artist, and New Orleans bounce hero and "queen diva," Big Freedia. "Dance to Keep From Crying" was an in-the-pocket collection of brash dance-oriented artists from Baltimore and likeminded cities and that's great. But there was a deeper vision behind this edgy combination of artists.
Combined, it led to a living, breathing party music mix connecting the sonic dots between Bmore club present (Angelbaby and TT) and past (DJ Class) together, and revealing our homegrown dance music's similarities to vogue-house and New Orleans bounce. In short, these are all populist party musics birthed out of mid-tier cities' limitations and the creative spirit of the marginalized people living there. And here it all was, unfettered.
And considering the protest from conversation-starters Luminous Intervention who in March, crucially declared Open Walls 2 a "Sausage Party" due to this year's artist lineup being almost entirely male (of the 14 artists picked, only one is female), the variety of performers chosen for "Dance to Keep From Crying," and the multitude-filled crowd it brought out was heartening: Queer performers outnumbered straight performers and the ratio of women to men was nearly equal. Gaia's response to the criticisms back in March was fairly reasonable and the diverse lineup of "Dance To Keep From Crying" is proof that the critiques from Luminous Intervention were taken into consideration. Separate from all that very important context: Wow, Big Freedia and her MC-on-adderall chanting over forever bucking beats to close the night, holy shit, dude. These are the kinds of shows where sometimes headliners half-ass it, but Freedia performed for about an hour, barely even taking a breath it seemed as she facilitated call-and-response chants while her dancers shook to every hook ("I've got that gin in my system/ Somebody's gonna be my victim" remains a crowdpleaser); one dancer even climbed on top of the trailer behind the Ynot Lot stage and acrobatically bent down and danced, upping the spectacle's stakes.
Other cities wish they had something like "Dance to Keep From Crying" in their city. When these sorts of bleeding edge free party things do swing through say, New York, they for the most part tend to be overcrowded with no-fun media types that push to the front for photos and reporting and kind of crush the spirit. Not so here. Indeed, this had the feeling of an event like MoMA's increasingly legendary and somehow still enjoyable PS1 Warm Up shows in the summer. You know, artfully-curated and open-minded and indefatigably fucking cool without even trying very hard.
While we're talking about trying too hard. A local trend that I've been seeing lately at Station North events when they lean towards hip-hop and dance that has got to fucking go: goofy-ass white kids ballroom dancing, badly. Let's call it the Station North Shuffle. It's corny and it's happening way too much and it's incredibly disrespectful of people's space. Somebody's elbows bopping you in the nose by accident because they're going nuts or someone's butt bumping you here and there is cool and keeping with the spirit of a party where losing your shit is kind of the point. But twirling your partner around in quasi-slow motion like a fucking douchebag and occupying like, 5-8 feet of an already small dance floor? Not so much. Come on guys. You're better than that. And why in the fuck are you ballroom dancing to Big Freedia anyway?
The night after "Dance to Keep From Crying," Station North's Gold Bar had its last show. Apparently, some other bar of some kind will occupy its space in the Hyundai Plaza building. Maybe it will be cool, maybe it won't be. Either way, it won't be run by the same people who ran Gold Bar. The Hyundai Plaza building sits right next to to the Ynot Lot and so, it was in clear view all of Friday night, subtly reminding those who cared of Gold Bar's imminent demise, adding a bittersweet quality to "Dance to Keep From Crying." One cool thing starts up at about the moment when another cool thing is ending.
We should all remember then, that a scene doesn't live inside of a building or space but in the people that show up and populate that scene. Whether that's in a cool-as-fuck bar on the second floor of a weird building going away too soon or in a perfectly organized and executed and city-sponsored (!!!) outdoor oddity like "Dance to Keep From Crying." Check out a gallery of pics from the event here.