Dancing in the streets

A Saturday night dance on First Avenue between Main and Alder bid an early farewell to the season.

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Wearing a big smile on his face, Walla Walla resident Doug Good sings and cheers loudly while drumming with his hands on his knees during Saturday night's dance downtown.

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Jim Balis carries his daughter Sophie, 6, during a slow dance Saturday evening at an end of summer street dance. Family and friends lined both sides of South First Avenue between Main and Alder streets for a two-hour concert and dancing in the street. See ''Dancing in the streets'' for complete story.

WALLA WALLA -- The brassy jazz and pop rock sounds of Locust Street Taxi reverberated across the old brick buildings of downtown Saturday night, much to the pleasure of those who attended the End of the Summer Street Dance, as well as to the pleasure of the band.

"We do like to play Walla Walla because the wine is good and the people like us. There is kind of a friendly vibe here," said band member Franco Bertuci, who would describe himself as the lead guitarist, but he points out he is the only guitarist.

"We have a lead trumpet," Bertuci humbly added.

This was the band's third performance here this summer. And as much as the Seattle-based band likes to play here, its fans seemed to like hearing it even more.

"We are on their mailing list," said Berney Neal, who came with her husband and 7-month-old daughter, Cecilia.

"It's awesome. They are a really great band. We found out about them because we saw them at the Balloon Stampede," she added.

In addition to a great performance, a great venue was featured as First Avenue was closed between Main and Alder streets.

"It is really fun. It makes it more of a celebration when the street is closed," said Jennifer Northam of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, the group that sponsored the street dance.

This year the Foundation held two street dances. The first was in conjunction with the Relay for Life and their second was on Saturday night. And before the summer is over, Walla Walla might see a record number of scheduled street dances this year.

In addition to regular street dances held by the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival Wheelin' Walla Walla, the Walla Walla Wine Alliance scheduled its first ever street dance this year because of rain. Had it taken place, the total number of street dances this summer would have been five.

"If we could find a sponsor to cover our large or small music events, we would have music every weekend," Northam said. And she added that Locust Street Taxi gave the Foundation a break by dropping their rate to $1,000. But the foundation still had to pay for stage rental and other fees.

For Jerry and Machelle Hartman, this was their first street concert of the year.

"It's fun. We like the mix of brass," Jerry Hartman said, as he held on to their two medium-size Lab-cross dogs. His wife held onto 2-year-old Mica, while 5-year-old Aidan ambled about his mom's feet.

Dancing was out of the question for the Hartmans.

"I think we will probably stay here with the kids," the father said. And he had a good excuse for not asking his wife to dance. But most of the other men did not.

Dancing at the street dance was sporadic at best. And as expected as such events, women could be seen moving to the beat in their lawn chairs or while sitting on the curb, while their male partners sat like bumps on a log, oblivious to the fact that the person next to them wanted them both to move to the beat.

But that wasn't the case for Justin Buley, who sat on the curb with his dinner date, Morgan Filan.

"The funny thing is I am the one asking her to go and dance," Buley said.

And even though she still curb danced, Filan admitted she was too self-conscious.

"Exactly. But he doesn't care at all," she said.

So the young couple, both 19, sat, listened and watch, as most of the crowd did. But every once and a while a group of friends and family would muster the courage to go out together -- safety numbers -- and did every move imaginable on a street dance floor, except anything that resembled a classic dance move.

Tourist also enjoyed street dance, at least Amy Schaffer and her five girlfriends did. After a day of winery touring -- and one stop at Petite Noir in Milton-Freewater for a fix of chocolate -- the six women were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected night life of what is normally a sleepy Walla Walla. But even if there were no dance on Saturday night, Schaffer said they still would have had fun.

"It's nice just to hang out with the girls during the day. And when you got wine you can always have fun," Schaffer said.

All the while, as the music played, sporadic flashes of lightening from somewhere over the Blues could be seen above the tall brick buildings. They were an ominous reminder of what happened to the Walla Walla Wine Alliance's street dance, which was cancelled because of a summer rain storm.

"We sat in the puddles waiting and finally went home," said Loni Okalani, a member of the Walla Walla Cruisers. The group likes to drive cars downtown Saturday nights to hang out and "people watch." And this night they were treated to the unexpected sounds of a street concert.

"It is a great concert," she added.

And it didn't rain this time.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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