by Chrissy Fowler
The contradance diaspora mourns when an important person passes, especially when the death is untimely. When Nat Hewitt died of complications of cancer in November, the loss was keenly felt by dancers, musicians, and callers across the world, and particularly in Maine, where Nat was the much-loved house fiddler for the Falmouth dance series. Over many decades, he also appeared regularly at dances around the state, in places like North Yarmouth, North Whitefield, Belfast, Rockport, Trenton, Freeport, Kittery, and Eliot; was on staff at Maine Fiddle Camp; and several times was a featured performer the annual DownEast Country Dance Festival.
In November, Maureen Costello (an early Falmouth organizer) catalyzed the idea of a memorial dance event in Maine. A quartet of us began to plan the event: Maureen, Nat’s bandmate Glen Loper, current Falmouth organizer Barry Magda, and myself.
I was motivated to be part of it because I’m grateful to Nat for our various connections over the years. He did innumerable gigs with me, starting early in my calling practice, he passed on useful nuggets re. calling and self-employment, his musicianship lent credibility to dances I organized, he provided memorable late night hilarity at Pinewoods and elsewhere, and he was such a damned talented dance fiddler. Who else could pull off playing Wizard’s Walk for the dance Haste to the Wedding at a Bat Mitzvah?
We decided to run the June 1st Falmouth dance as a fundraiser for a CDSS scholarship in Nat’s memory, invited many callers and musicians to volunteer their time, and started spreading the word. Musicians and callers in Maine jumped right on board, and a few folks from “away” committed to come (including NEFFA leaders Dan Pearl & Linda Leslie, fiddler Jaige Trudel, and another of Nat’s bandmates Adam Broome.) One dancer volunteered to assemble a memory book and brought supplies, various photos, and some anecdotes and memories that people had shared online in the wake of Nat’s passing. It all came together, coincidentally, just 2 days before Nat’s 55th birthday.
And it was amazing.
The day was hot. Really hot. We should have been on the water in a sailboat, not in a steamy hall. But there we were, having what Maine native and Oberlin student Ness Smith-Savedoff labeled “a mystic sweat lodge experience.”
The floor was full of longtime Maine dancers and new faces. Nat’s mother Elizabeth watched from the side of the hall, taking it all in. The musicians and callers exulted in each other’s contributions, whether listening onstage or whirling around the dance floor. As Linda Leslie succinctly stated, “the dance was very special.”
Each caller did 2 dances, and the bands played separately and then combined forces for a couple of sets. DEFFA president Pam Weeks observed that this format illustrated “the diversity of styles we have in our little community.”
Eric Weest Johnson was the superstar of the night. He brought his 24 channel board and a ton of gear – even pre-labeling a cable for every single musician. He did an initial sound check of each group during our pre-dance potluck, and this meant that the bands could just plug and play. When the whole group launched into their first mega-band set, the mood was jubilant.
Much appreciation to Glen Loper, Maureen Costello, Barry Magda, Maggie Robinson, Bill Olson, Kim Roberts, Linda Leslie, Dan Pearl, Jessie & Greg Boardman, Frigate (Steve Muise, Glen Loper, Fred White), Adam Broome, Jaige Trudel, Jeff Raymond, Henry Road Band (John Pranio, Jamie Oshima, Glen Loper, Toki Oshima), T-Acadie (Pam Weeks, Bill Olson, Jim Joseph, Jay Young), Edward Howe, and Eric Weest Johnson on sound, but special thanks to all of the dancers and the folks who tossed in extra money above and beyond admission.
We netted nearly $1,400 given generous contributions of time and money from the dancers, performers, and organizers. Wow!
But, more importantly for all of us, it was what Pam Weeks described as a “celebration and amplification of Nat’s spirit and legacy in dance music.” And the bonus was the way our community pulled together to make it happen. I think every one of us was seeing Nat’s impish smile and devilishly sparkling eye, and hearing his fiddle in the mix of the traditional music and dance that we all cherish.” Being together and remembering together our old friend Nat, through celebration, was uplifting and cathartic and brought its own richness,” reflected Adam Broome. Such richness is at the core of our traditions. We celebrate them as we celebrated Nat.
~ Chrissy Fowler
More photos and a short video are on Dropbox
Folks may still donate to CDSS online, noting that it’s in memory of Nat Hewitt.
Chrissy Fowler is a dance leader and a board member of the Belfast Flying Shoes Dance Series and DownEast Friends of the Folk Arts (DEFFA) – both of which are CDSS affiliates.