Drive west out Highway 54, way out, past the Cane Creek Reservoir. Just when you think you've gone too far, turn left at the sign for "Saxapahaw." Keep driving south, down the Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, until you enter this rural dell. There, rising on your left, is not the moon, but a glowing, propped-open, industrial dye kettle--it doubles as the sign for the Haw River Ballroom.
A ballroom, in the wilderness? Surely, this is a fantasy only Hollywood could have dreamed up, right?
Wrong: Walk inside the former Dye House to a cotton mill, over a grate lit up from below, and you step into a ballroom in the truest sense, fit for Tito Puente--or Orquesta GarDel, who performed at the Ballroom last Friday (8/26). Two levels--wooden dancefloor below, balcony-like seating area above--and a complete stage with beautiful lighting and sound. This may be the most perfect Piedmont venue to book a salsa band.
Dancers and GarDel stalwarts did turn out in pretty good numbers, though it's hard to say if Irene fears might have kept some home. It really didn't hurt the party any, which had critical mass and then some. Taking advantage of ideal filming conditions, GarDel had its own videographers there, so hopefully some pro video of the show will eventually emerge. Paso gave a dance lesson before the opening set, and Felix Padilla led some social dancing in the casino rueda style. (It was particularly fun dancing rueda to one of GarDel's timba tunes.)
Some recent changes in the orchestra: former conguero Jose Sanchez is officially no longer with the band; the Winston-Salem resident performs all over the Carolinas with a host of Latin groups, and had to pull back his energies somewhere in order to keep his family a priority. We wish him all the best! Looks like Atiba Rorie, a local leader in African percussion, will be filling the gap. Atiba has gigged in a number of Latin bands in the Triangle, and his powerful playing and cool presence are a welcome addition to GarDel.
The dance energy was pretty explosive. Here's the last jam of set 2 (except for an encore descarga). The tune is Ray Barretto's "Indestructible"; Brevan Hampden (timbales) and Atiba Rorie (congas) both solo:
On the GarDel event horizon:
Friday, October 14 - a long-awaited double bill with Bio Ritmo, celebrating Ritmo's 20th anniversary release party, at Motorco in Durham.
Worth the drive: Haw River Ballroom