Stairwell Sisters not wasted at Durango dance Residents stomp, hoot and holler to San Francisco band

April 17, 2007 By Mike Clark | Special to the Herald

Judging by the whoops and hollers filling the Elks Club, the event billed as a "rural Saturday night celebration" will be part of the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown for a long while. One of the special events of last weekend's annual bluegrass festival, Saturday night's Old Time Barn Dance featured clogging, square dancing, contra dancing and assorted buck steps and sashaying around the dance floor to the old-time musical accompaniment of San Francisco's all-women band, the Stairwell Sisters.


The Stairwell Sisters played for an Old Time Barn Dance on Saturday at the Elks Club.

The doings had a decidedly family atmosphere, with kids underfoot and the organization on the loose side. One complication is that not a lot of people know precisely how to do all those steps, so the evening began with a lengthy workshop by Stairwell Sister, Evie Ladin, hitting the high points and the women in the audience - a 4 to 1 majority - enthusiastically joining in.

For the most part, the men either sat with arms folded and eyes glassy, or made their appearance on the dance floor doing a nonspecific shuffle rather like being in a strange church and singing the hymns without knowing the words.

Still, not having the dances down cold didn't appear to curb anyone's enthusiasm. This crowd of 200 or so looked as though their natural habitat might be the library or in front of a computer, but they were primed to cut loose Saturday night.

This was dancing for people who don't normally dance, but the general ignorance of the steps put everyone on an equal footing, so to speak - even the kids. So the crowd overflowing the Elks Club and crowding the dance floor was by no means the hippest group ever gathered in Durango. The dress code was Counterculture Formal. But there wasn't an ounce of pretension to be found, and they were having as much fun as any group I've seen in a long time.

The Stairwell Sisters, one of the Meltdown's headline bands, plays for a lot of contra dances and hoedowns in the San Francisco Bay area and seemed right at home patiently obliging newbies and experts alike with a solid instrumental backing. There were times, though, when the Stairwell Sisters playing for our haphazard selves had an air of overkill, like the Beatles doing a bar mitzvah.

Not that anyone else noticed. They were too busy do-si-doing and promenading to steps like "Monkey in the Middle" and "Drop the Clutch and Let 'Er Go" to be bothered. As the evening shifted from dance instruction to dance expression, the raucous group of dancers made it hard for Evie and company to be heard at times.

So if an evening of foot-stompin', whistlin', whoopin' and hollerin' fun, to the tune of accomplished old-time "Brother, Where Art Thou"-style music sounds like something you want to try, sorry. You missed it for this year.

But you might want to lay out your best T-shirt and Tevas for 2008's barn dance. And here's a tip for the organizers of the Meltdown: Guys, you're gonna need a bigger dance floor. Clark is a freelance writer who lives near Chimney Rock.

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