With a long, red gown as bold as her deep, sultry voice, jazz singer Lavay Smith, along with her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, lit up Bing Concert Hall on Saturday, July 26. As the live music played in the background, a large crowd of guests celebrated the warm summer evening by swing dancing.
The event kicked off with a free dance lesson from Paul Csonka and Rachel Liaw of Wednesday Night Hop, a studio based in Mountain View. Even after the lesson ended, instructors mingled and offered themselves as dance partners to other guests, often attracting many claps and nods of appreciation for their swift, aerobic kicks.
Guests had the freedom to socialize as they wandered on and off the dance floor and interacted with others. Although concerts are typically held inside the concert hall at Bing, Smith performed in the lobby. She was only a few feet away from dancers and in earshot of people enjoying drinks and snacks, provided by Off The Grid food trucks outdoors. This setup confused many at first: Even though the tickets had the words “dance party” printed on them, it did not state that the party would have no formal auditorium seating. Had the nature of the event been more publicized, it’s very likely that StanfordLive could have expected more people.
Still, the crowd was large and lively, and everyone appreciated the opportunity to let loose. Students, young adults and elderly couples alike showcased their varying dance moves. Most remarkably, no one was judgmental. People danced freely, with no inhibitions or fear of lack of ability to hold them back. In fact, it was almost as if they had been transported back into a simpler time through the magical music of the Swing Era.
The crowd was full of exhilarated smiles that beamed at Smith as she sang with open arms. Her voice demonstrated control and an impressive range, singing a variety of songs, from the popular “It Don’t Mean a Thing” to the more soulful “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The singer’s warm, welcoming personality was enough to take over the entire room, but she knew to give others spotlights of their own. Each member of the eight-person band was clearly heard, and saxophonists had popular solos that the audience found brilliant, as evidenced by their thunderous applause.
Only one thing could have made the night better: an additional slow song. Many people arrived as couples and embraced each other gently during a mellow tune in the middle of the show. After nearly two hours of dancing, guests needed to wind down with a slower song.
Instead, the night concluded with the same vibrant energy with which it began, and plenty of guests still seemed to enjoy it. At least, everyone in the conga line forming on the dance floor did. Even Smith joined for a while, before returning to the stage to deliver one long, final note.
The concert ended very much unlike the more formal shows at the exquisite Bing Concert Hall: People left the doors looking sweaty and exhausted. But almost everyone left with a smile: Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers provided a night of entertainment that was loud, free and joyful. Exactly what summer should be.
Lavay Smith performs next at Le Colonial in San Francisco on Tuesday, July 29. For a full calendar, click here.