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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

NOMAD 1996

Northeastern Music and Dance Festival

Newtown, Connecticut, October 25, 26, 27

By Ryan Thomson

This festival is now in its 9th year. I've been attending for the last 7 or 8 years and have watched it grow and prosper. The organizers describe it as "Connecticut's first participation festival," and it certainly lives up to this label. Not only are top folk performers in many styles involved, but there are loads of participatory workshops, singalongs, jam sessions, dances, children's activities, and other events for folks of all ages and skill levels. There are 9 separate areas going at the same time which means lots of fun things to do, no matter what your interests are in folk music and dance.


From the festival flyer: "Our admission prices are kept low to encourage families to participate together. All teachers, dance leaders, performers, musicians and those who coordinate and run the festival are volunteers! They share their talents in this setting so that others may learn and grow in our worldly traditions......Of course fees are paid to the school support staff, required police, the sound rental company and the piano tuner who tunes all pianos for us the day before the festival."

As a full time performer who makes his living by playing, I still feel perfectly happy volunteering to help at this festival because of the cooperative spirit, and nice folks who put it together.


The festival usually takes place at the local high school, but this year was in the Newtown Middle School. The sites are similar, both have many classrooms available for activities, and gyms for dancing which included: squares, contras, English country, Scottish, Irish, cajun, Balkan, Israeli, Scandinavian, and more. Schools are generally good sites for festivals, and I like to see facilities that are ordinarily closed on weekends, opened up for the public to use for weekend festivals. I always leave for home at the end feeling good from seeing my friends, and with new music making skills. 


Instrumental workshops featured instruction in bones playing, doumbec, fiddle(by myself and others), chanting, bodhran, concertina, dulcimer, banjo, guitar, and Irish harp. Many workshops were for beginning players, and others were in a demonstration format with questions welcome. An "open mike," for singers, encouraged participants and I was drawn in to a group singing gospel songs.


The crafts and folk music area included clothing, wooden toys, hand puppets, paper cutting, leather work, the Captain Fiddle booth, jewelry, tapes and recordings by several vendors, and other international items. John Foley has created some really clever "stereo kazoos," made from laminated woods. Allan Block took measurements in order to make me a custom leather strap for my mandolin. Besides being a master leather worker, Allan is a great fiddler who periodically takes a few minutes off from his work to play some lively tunes.


There was a Scottish and vegetarian food booth along with fare from the school cafeteria. I always enjoy Scottish meat pies, and one booth had great home made chocolate chip cookies.


I had a satisfying experience again this year at NOMAD, and I heartily recommend it to those who come to a festival to actively participate in international folk culture. The official date for the festival isn't ordinarily set until late spring.

Written by Ryan J Thomson, 1996 

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