Adderbury Morris - The America Tour II

May 26th. to June 6th 2011


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ADDERBURY MORRIS MENS’ MILE HIGH TOUR TO THE USA
text by Paul (Monty) Montague (with some additions by Stephen Wass)
A personal account , the views expressed in this piece are the authors' own and do not represent the views of the team as a whole or any other individuals.

Click here to see Robin Smith's wonderful slide show:

The Adderbury Morris Men take Colorado!

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and listen to the ADDERBURY BOYZ rendition of 'South Australia'.




The Adderbury Morris Men enjoyed a very successful tour to parts of the USA between May 26th. – June 6th. despite surviving an electric storm, lost baggage, a missed flight, altitude sickness and a rattlesnake attack. The squad consisted of Nigel Bennett, Paul Chesterman, David Gunby, Ian Harris, Keith Norton, Steve Priest, Colin Street, June Street, Stephen Wass, Verna Wass and of course myself.

The tour came about as a result of an invite in 2010 to the Mid West Ale which we had to defer to this year in order to plan our trip which was brilliantly executed by our tour organiser, our previous Bagman, Colin Street. He was able to strike up a relationship with one of the other 28 sides attending the Ale so that we were able to travel west to enjoy a further five days in Colorado as part of our tour. We flew into Philadelphia, where we encountered the inordinately slow immigration services on entry to the USA. This caused us to miss our connecting flight onto Detroit, despite having two hours to transfer, but we eventually arrived at Camp Cavell, near Lexington, the base for this year’s Mid West Ale. This is an annual event which we would advise all UK teams to consider attending for the sheer exuberance, joy and energy of the scene that is American morris.

Camp Cavell is a YWCA facility set within woods bordering Lake Huron and with its Main Dining Hall, Lodge building and chalets dotted around the 55 acre site, was an ideal location for this year’s ale hosted by the local Ann Arbor Morris. Each year the Ale is hosted by a different host side – next year it will be in Kentucky. The whole weekend follows the basic Morris Ring meeting formula with morris tours, workshops, instructionals, massed displays, singing and music sessions, massed dancing & impromptu dancing into the early hours for some, called in the USA ‘pick-up’ dancing. (Of course it differs from a Morris Ring event in that there are all male, all female. mixed and teams of no specific gender all participating in the fun! SW)

After registration & supper on the Friday evening it was dancing practice for the massed dances chosen for the weekend which were: Highland Mary (Bampton), Black Joke (a stick variant in the style of Bledington), Sheriff’s Ride (Lichfield), Waltzing Matilda (another stick variant in the style of Fieldtown), Sweet Jenny Jones (Adderbury) and  the Abram Circle dance -  a bit of  a signature dance of Mid West Ales which the Americans see as encompassing the embodiment of their philosophy of the friendship of the weekend.

This session started at 900 p.m.  and although massed dancing is an anathema to AMM at home, some of us felt obliged to join in. The dances chosen were instructed by a different selected foreman for each dance and our Squire, David Gunby and Foreman, Steven Priest, naturally took the assembled throng through the elements of our version of Sweet Jenny Jones (SJJ). We thought some of the dances chosen, including our own, were strange choices involving such difficult steps as the Lichfield caper in Sheriffs Ride as well as our own toe/heel step in SJJ but we were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the Americans picked these up and the energy, joy and exuberance with which they treated not only this session, but the whole weekend. You might think that this session would have satiated the desire for anymore dancing but as with all three evenings further massed dancing ensued well into the early hours. On the last night some were still dancing ‘Morning Star’ (Bledington) at sun up!

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Getting ready to tour and remembering, 'It's illegal on the bus,'

Saturday was taken up with six coach tours to numerous locations within the Blue Water area of Michigan’s ‘Thumb’ followed by a massed display of show dances at Blue Water Bridge over the St Claire River, the boundary between the USA and Canada. Our own tour suffered from the fact that due to the record numbers attending the weekend, Ann Arbor, a relatively small side, was obliged to employ other teams personnel as tour leaders for some of the tours. Mark of Minnesota Traditional Morris (MTM), consequently didn’t have a great deal of local knowledge and was not helped by our driver in this respect, so that we completely missed our first dance spot! However we were among friends – we had previously hosted MTM in the UK- and the other teams, Maroon Bells, Breathless in Berthoud Border Morris & Tommyknockers (What a great name for a children's/development side!) who we were to spend a lot of our time in Colorado with later in the week, so it gave us ample time to get to know each other. (Our first dancing venue was indoors at a river side bar - part of the Quay Street Brewing Company, rather cramped even once we had pushed the furniture back but good beer. We also put in an appearance at a re-enactors fair in a nearby park. SW)

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The Blue Water Bridge stand

Blue Water Bridge seemed a strange location for the afternoon’s two hour massed display, being out of town on a grassy knoll with a sloping surface, no PA or facilities, other than a distant food vendor and definitely no audience other than ourselves! Never mind there were a lot of us and we, Brits, were astounded by the excellent standard of most of the American and the one Canadian team performing.  We were given star billing being the last team to perform a show dance and our Roast Beef of England was enthusiastically acclaimed. On Saturday evening there was a full programme inside of Contra dancing as well as an English style barn dance, Aunt Sally outside, culminating again until the early hours in more pick up dancing.

Sunday morning was devoted to workshops including one on whiskey tasting which like our own Adderbury one was oversubscribed, so we had to run two such workshops and fit in the whiskey tasting in between. We taught Washing Day, Le Halle Place and Roast Beef of Old England as well as selling out of most of our merchandise of our CDs, booklets on the Adderbury tradition (We had brought the remaining Federation stock of these with us) and our own leather badges, courtesy of George Butterworth.
This was followed by lunch, another massed display, this time on site, during which one member of our team, Nigel, managed to split the finger of his opposite, Stan of MTM in the sticking chorus of SJJ. This caused some consternation not only to Stan and a sincerely apologetic Nigel, as the finger needed hospital treatment in the form of three stitches. We donated the blood spattered stick to Stan in the hope that litigation does not ensue but he has so far proved very forgiving! Our show dance, an eight man Princess Royal was again well received.

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Nigel makes good by presenting Stan with a blood-stained stick.


After the afternoon’s coach tour into Lexington (where we danced at a rather scabby village green, Steis's Village Inn - beer in jam jars, very strange - and down by the waterside. SW) we were confined to our chalets by the organisers as a cautionary procedure as a violent electric storm passed overhead. The word ‘tornado’ was mentioned in their warning but fortunately this did not happen although there was a lightning strike on the lakeside beach not 100 yards from the site. Occupants of the chalets were advised to offer refuge to those camping under canvas and a very pleasant hour or so was spent with ‘Spider’ and her mates from Braintrust Morris, an occasional side, with whom we shared our ample supply of beer and nibbles.  (In the event of the siren sounding we were told to gather in the south west corner of the hut which happened to be the location of Nigel's bunk. Fortunately for all sorts of reasons this was not necessary. SW)


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Drinking out of jam jars, Lexington                                                                                                The storm - Ian suggests the worst is over... then BAM!



Sunday evening was billed as skits, a self entertainment of three minute sketches, songs, dance, music and so on in which again there were some class acts even if some of the local American politics was a little lost on some of us. We had planned to perform a version of Old Man’s Morris but a temporary injury to Colin prevented that, so we danced Buffoon instead, as well as announcing to the large audience in the Lodge that MTM had been on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Americana’ that evening, very positively promoting morris dancing. Apparently a recording crew had attended their practice on the preceding Tuesday. Well done the BBC and MTM.

Monday was another traveling day, back to Detroit by hire car and internal flight to Denver, Colorado to meet up again with Ann, Robin and eight year old Marianna Smith who had offered to put up all eleven of us in their home in Berthoud, an hour from Denver airport by car, for the rest of the week. We cannot overemphasise or cease to be eternally grateful for the warmth, generosity, excellent hospitality ( and ribs SW) afforded to us by this committed morris family as they opened their house to us for the remaining five days of our trip. We had called our venture the ‘Mile High Tour’ as the Smith’s home is set in 33 acres of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with tremendous views from their decking back towards the Great Plains, Denver and beyond. In fact a comment at dusk by one of our number on that first evening, savouring not only the warmth of 70 degrees Fahrenheit but also the view was that he could stay there for the rest of his life. This said it all! Not that we had too much time for relaxing as Robin had planned a full & varied programme, by prior agreement with Colin, to occupy our stay.


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The view from Robin's deck

Tuesday was spent in the vicinity of Colorado Springs where we met up with our host side, Maroon Bells, at the native American site called Garden of the Gods so called because of the wonderful natural rock sculptures in the red sandstone hereabouts. It was a ‘non kit’ day, dancing just wearing bells and we picnicked after our first dance out of the day. Then it was a short drive to the cog railway for a 1.5 hour journey on the train well above the tree line to the snow covered top of Pikes Peak which at 14,110ft was the highest point on our tour so it was not surprising that we all felt light headed when we danced a very shortened version of Washing Day there. (Maroon Bells danced twice but they were acclimatised! Could this be a world altitude record for a morris dance by six dancers and a musician? SW ) The evening meal was taken back in Denver at the Breckenridge micro-brewery’s outlet there. Robin is an avid home brewer and real ale enthusiast, so not only did we have three ales on tap back at his home but also numerous micro-breweries to visit during the week.

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Dancing outside a herbal tea factory, yes it really did happen (photo by Ian Harris)

(Monty neglects to mention Wednesday's activities beginning with a morning trip to 'Celestial Seasonings' - a herbal tea factory - yes I know it sounds unlikely but there you are, that's probably why it was left out, that and an attempt to blot out the memory of the beard nets. We danced outside with Maroon Bells then drove to Pearl Street Mall in the centre of Boulder for what for me was one of the pleasantest stands of the tour. Lunch was at  the Walnut Brewery and after a little shopping we managed to squeeze in supper and some more dancing at the Southern Sun. SW )


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Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Maroon Bells and Tommyknockers dance

On Thursday we toured  the New Belgium Beer Company at Fort Collins and also ate out at Cooper Smiths micro-brewery in the centre of town. (We also opened the day's dancing at a nearby old peoples' home - there was some concern as to whether they would let some of us out again. SW)

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 The old folks are the ones sitting down (Photo by Ian Harris)                                                                    Breathless dance border as Adderbury look on.

Friday involved a short drive, at least by American standards, to the Rocky Mountains National Park where we availed ourselves of the spectacular views at Hidden Valley and Many Parks Curve along the Trail Ridge Road before dancing at Rainbow Curve (10,875ft). (We also danced outside the Beaver Meadow Visitor Centre on the way up SW). This was the highest point to which we were allowed to go as the road was closed beyond this height because the snow towered well over 6 feet deep over the road hereabouts. Back in the town of Estes Park we ate a late lunch at the Estes Park Brewery. A relaxing evening ensued back at the Smith’s punctuated by Ann’s insistence (Where does she get all her energy from?) that we taught both her and Robin the dances Roast Beef of Old England, Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl and Tiger Feet, a dance devised on an AMM trip to Latvia in 2001. Not to be outdone, Robin organised a music session in his fully equipped recording studio with its mixing desk, synthesizer, drum set and numerous guitars and a mandolin. Another of his passions being his band that convenes for practice each Monday evening to lay down tracks of their original songs. On this occasion after several takes he successfully recorded Ian Harris singing the folk song South Australia accompanied by Nigel Bennett on drums, Keith Norton on mandolin and other members of the team providing backing vocals and percussion (lots of percussion SW). Fame lies just around the corner!


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A joint set dancing outside the Beaver Meadow Visitor Centre - did anyone notice the building was designed by Taliesin Associated Architects, an architectural firm founded by
Frank Lloyd Wright to carry on his architectural vision after his death?  Didn't think so. (Photo by Ian Harris)


All too soon, Saturday, our last day in Berthoud was upon us. We taught the Tommyknockers Haste to the Wedding as well as our new processional at their morning practice so that they could accompany us in the Berthoud Day Parade later in the day. A last gathering between friends on the decking in the evening started with the two dogs barking around a rattlesnake just yards from the house. With the dogs and daughter Marianna safely gathered in, Robin dispatched it with third shot from his trusty deer rifle. The Smiths have lived here for 10 years and have only had to shoot one rattlesnake close to the house in this time previously so we were privileged to have been in such a close encounter with this venomous creature (I don't think the venomous creature felt quite so privileged about its encounter with the AMM SW). Peace resumed over a buffet meal and presentations to the Smith family before singing and dancing ensued to close another chapter in the history of the Adderbury Morris Men as next day there were emotional farewells to the Smith family at Denver airport ahead of our 19 hour journey back to the UK.

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Post-snake relaxation on Robin's deck

Click here to see Robin Smith's wonderful slide show:

The Adderbury Morris Men take Colorado!

and listen to the ADDERBURY BOYZ rendition of 'South Australia'.

It is to be hoped that we can return some of this generous hospitality to our American friends in the not too distant future...