In its preparations this post had two working titles before the final one became apparent. The first was “Dance All Night” as I anticipated what the night might be. In the midst of it, the first disco hit of the evening “Oh What a Night” seemed to present the perfect summary. But, men plan and the gods laugh, and so we have the wistful title above.
When Erin McLeod texts you at 12:37am that it’s Rae Town time you don’t think about what time you have to be up for work – you put on your sequins and bright pink lipstick, down an icy cup of coffee and go. Rae Town is a downtown neighbourhood of Kingston. It is also a long-running oldies street dance party that has traditionally run most Sunday nights until the wee hours. Rae Town was one of the exciting Kingston offerings that captured my imagination as I was researching coming here. A volunteer predecessor had attended with Erin, blogged rapturously about it, and I just knew it was something I’d love.
It was everything I expected. People in fantastic outfits. Gigantic sound systems pounding music into the street. A variety of kinds of smoke wafting through the air. Streetside bars and pedestrian vendors selling drinks, smokes, peanut cakes, roasted cashews, pan chicken, lollipops and more. And people – all the many many people – most lining either side of the street just swaying. Some brave and rhythmic souls in the middle of the street displaying their best steps.
Rae Town is yet another time when taking pictures is truly the only way to share the wonder of it, and grossly inappropriate. It was the kind of evening I’ve been waiting for. Erin, music lover/scholar that she is, guided me through some of the old school reggae (and new Jamaican music) that was played, but what I was really waiting for was the Oldies for which Rae Town is famous. The Dj kept promising – music from the 60’s to the 90’s. And then there it was – disco that nowhere else in the world am I quite so free to love and to sing along to with a thousand other voices. R&B. Pop. All the light and fluffy music that floats my spirit.
Rae Towns have not been happening as regularly as they use to. While they may appear on the outside to be just a bunch of people in the street there is clearly a lot of planning and business involved. The enormous sound system doesn’t come from nowhere. The vendors don’t just happen to have extra stock on hand. And the police are not cruising up the packed street every 15 minutes by accident.
In the end – the far too soon arriving end – it was the police that ended the evening. That may be an unfair & inaccurate statement: Rae Town is a licensed and permitted event, and I suspect that as more people arrived and the road become increasingly difficult to drive (yes, the street is open through all of this. It’s like a giant rhythmic street hockey game – with a lot of gold foil and sequins – that pauses just long enough to let cars through) the specifics of the permit were breached.
We’d only been there an hour when the blue lights started flashing. The naïve Canadian in me thought ‘oh, we’ll just see how this plays out.’ Erin, however, having lived here much longer than I and being much more attuned to what could happen immediately said let’s go.
Of course it happened just as one of my favourite songs EVER started. We didn’t even get through the first verse of the lyrics … I heard the opening guitar chords and suppressed a squeal. I reminded myself not to make my white girl dance face. I thought of my friend Peter and his confusion at witnessing me regress 25 years when we heard this song in concert in 2008. I smiled and sang …
Well I think it would be nice
if I could touch your body
you know not everybody’s got …
[Silence] DJ voice “… everyone please cooperate.” A beat. Then Erin’s voice “Ok, let’s go.”
And so I am home at a relatively reasonablish hour. I am unfortunately caffeinated, oddly happy, and wondering what tomorrow will look like. I am hoping to go again and stay longer.
And since I’m up anyway, we might as well listen to this. 🙂 ❤