When's the last time you heard about a community-wide square dance in Paducah? Been a while? Maybe never? J.D. Wilkes wants to change that.
"As I was working on my book Barn Dances & Jamborees Across Kentucky, I met T-Claw, a 20-something square dance caller from Louisville. He's a unique guy! He's young and has this strange cross between a little bit of punk kid and your typical grandpa."
J.D. and T-Claw struck up an email friendship, discussing music, dances, and old folk traditions. "He's very in tune with history," adds J.D. "He studied with some old square dance callers, and he works hard to bring back the art form."
T-Claw has since moved to Denver, but when J.D. heard that he was planning a square dance tour from Colorado to Kentucky, he knew he had to schedule him in Paducah. "T-Claw has been working with friends along the way, booking venues such as Elks Lodges, VFW halls, etc., reviving this old tradition."
Aside from the tour and calling at most of the country’s currently active dances, he’s called at festivals including Dare to Be Square, Morehead, Clifftop, Augusta, Cooper's Glen, Urbana Folk Fest, Seattle Folklife, Portland Gathering, and The Black Fly Ball.
"He's very laid back," adds J.D., "and has a way of drawing you in. It's kind of a magic, I suppose. You just can't help get up and dance!"
There will also be a BBC camera crew at the Paducah dance to record some of the action for an upcoming documentary on southern music. "I found out about this project through my manager, and I talked to the folks putting it together. I lured them to Paducah, telling them about this being the crossroads between the blues and jazz coming up the river and the Irish music traditions brought by settlers. Bluegrass was born in Western Kentucky, and Paducah was the port where all that entered in. When they learned about the square dance, they wanted to come to that as well."
The square dance will be held tomorrow, Friday, June 13 at 7pm at the Elks Lodge (310 N 4th St) downtown Paducah KY. Music will be performed by J.D. Wilkes and friends with a lesson at 7:30 and the dances starting at 8.
"You don't have to know how to do it to come," says J.D. "And you'd be amazed at how fast you pick up on it. You don't have to dance if you don't want to, but once you get there, you'll want to!"
More info can be found on the event's Facebook page.