Lut came with me, which he usually does even though he doesn't like parties. I am not very good at normal parties. I've never gotten the hang of mingling. However, I do like dancing and there's always dancing at the Christmas party, so I almost always dance.
The last couple of parties have been at very crowded venues. Two years ago the venue was packed, which contributed to our decision to leave right after dinner. Last year it was even more crowded, to the point that some of the attendees had to be seated in a different room. We stayed longer at that one, though, because it was informal (hence Lut was more comfortable) and they had carnival games set up so we were having fun with those. This year we were back at the venue we'd used six years ago: the Starlight Theatre, which is an enormous open-air theatre. The party took place on the stage itself, with the front of the stage sealed off and heated. It accomodated the 200+ attendees very comfortably. It was also surprisingly warm; I was wearing a bolero jacket over a spaghetti-strap evening dress, and I soon took the jacket off. And I'm the sort of person who normally wears a sweater year-round at work.
In the past, the music for the parties has been done by a DJ playing recordings. This year, for the first time, the party had live performers. The first was a singer doing Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond covers to canned accompaniment. He was performing when we came in, so he was the background for the "mingling" and "eating" phases of the party, in essence.
I am not a fan of Frank Sinatra and I was unfamiliar with Neil Diamond -- I mean, I'd heard of him but I couldn't tell you anything about his style, music, or even name any of his songs before last night. But I was struck as soon as came in by the singer's performance; his Frank Sinatra renditions were very much in the Sinatra style, and his voice was rich and compelling. In fact, I didn't realize until I was walking past the stage and saw him singing that we were listening to a live rather than a recorded performer.
At one point before dinner, he encouraged people to dance -- "plenty of room", which there certainly was. But it wasn't the "dance" portion of the evening, and I was pretty sure it was a doomed effort on his part. He took a break when people formed up in the buffet line; I was afraid he wouldn't be back, since I knew another band would be playing later. But he did return while we were eating. He started with Neil Diamond's "America"*, which I greatly enjoyed and amazed Lut by never having heard before.
By now I was done eating, and I decided to get up and dance. I liked the performer and I felt that he was underappreciated by the audience as a whole. He'd been trying to get people to sing along for parts, but it was a rough crowd for that. I didn't have much hope that I was going to encourage anyone else to dance by dancing myself, but I figured I could at least dance for the singer. And I knew I'd regret it if he left and I hadn't.
A little stage had been set up before the cleared "dance floor" area, but the singer had a wireless mike and so he was wandering the floor, sometimes between tables and sometimes on the dance floor. When I went to dance, he was in the middle of the dance floor, so I got his attention almost immediately. He was singing "Sweet Caroline". He came over to me, and I danced before him, thinking This is maybe a little more exhibitionist than I'd had in mind while he sang.
Remember when I said he was trying to get the audience to sing? Now he tried to get me to sing. Two problems with this: (a) I can't sing (b) I had no idea what the words to the song were. OK, two of them were "Sweet" and "Caroline", but after that I was lost. I tried -- I really did -- and he even attempted to coach me on the next lines, but it was utterly hopeless.
Eventually the song ended and he moved on to the next piece. I stayed to dance. He attempted (you'd think he'd've learned after the first time) to get me to sing again. I danced back, shaking my head. "I can't sing. If you make me try to sing again I'm gonna sit down." I think he was a little put out by that but he did stop. During one of the instrumental interludes, he asked me in an aside, "So you like Neil Diamond?"
"I like you," I said, quite honestly. "I'm not familiar with Neil Diamond."
He blinked at me. "Well, thank you." I guess when you're performing covers you don't expect people to be enjoying the song for the first time.
After a couple more songs, he wrapped up his set and I sat down again while the bank president gave his usual Christmas party speech. "I'm going to talk for the next hour and a half," he threatened us, which received a mixture of cheers and boos. (I cheered, granted only because I knew he was kidding.) After his speech, they drew for the Eagle Award prizes. Toddler Bank gives out "attaboys" throughout the year: any employee or customer can nominate a non-officer employee for an "Eagle Award", which consists of a silver dollar attached to a pre-printed card. For each Eagle Award you receive, your name is entered in a drawing at the Christmas party. In the past they've drawn four names and given each winner $500. This year they drew six. A total of 252 eagles had been given out over the course of the previous year.
I've gotten a lot of Eagle awards in the past, almost all of them from one loan officer, Seraphim. She left half way through this year, so my total for 2006 was five, down from ten+ for past years. Despite having so many chances, I'd never won in the past, and with fewer entries than ever I didn't expect to win this time.** But I did, which makes me happy. Yay!
After the speech, the next band took the stage. This one had five members: a female lead singer with four men who did back up singing (and lead on a few numbers) and played instruments: one on drums, one on keyboards, one on electric guitat and one on bass guitar. They did covers too, over a wide range of rock & pop: "I Will Survive", "Brickhouse", "Call Me Al", "Heard It Through the Grapevine", "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" and several others I've forgotten. A couple of bank directors, a senior lender, and the bank president danced the first song with their spouses, in something of a lead-off to cue people that it was okay to dance now. I sat out the first couple, then danced for the rest of the set. I liked this band, too.
Lut danced with me during one of the slow songs, too. <3
In past years, there've usually been at least a few people dancing for every song. This year, it was just me for several of the fast-paced songs. The band alternated between fast and slow, and lots of couples danced during every slow song. But after the first couple of high-energy songs, the dance floor cleared out completely (except me) every time they segued from slow to fast. I danced anyway because it was that or go home and exercise in my basement, but after the second or third song of being the only one on the floor even my near-total immunity to standing out was starting to wear thin.
When the band finished their set, the bank gave out the door prizes. After the door prizes, they piped in Christmas music (starting with "Santa Baby", which was cute the first few dozen times I'd heard it but, okay, enough already), and Lut and I left. The band would be back for another set and it was only 9PM, but my feet hurt and I knew Lut was bored.
I'd had some trepidations over the live music, but I quite enjoyed it. Perhaps I'm finally gaining an appreciation for live music. There is certainly something about hearing the actual performer, standing a dozen feet away from you, instead of a recording. When I'm that close, I feel like I'm interacting with the performance***; a shared experience, rather than audience and entertainment.
Anyway, I had a lot of fun. I hope all of you are having a good weekend, too.
* As opposed to the KBC Band's "America" or Simon & Garfunkle's "America" or any of the other dozens of songs called "America". I bought a copy from iTunes when I got home, but it was a bit of a challenge to find the song I was looking for.
** I just worked out my approximate odds of winning. At this particular party: 11%. At any given one of the last five: 15%. Of winning at any point in the six years: 60%.
*** Even when he's not trying to make me sing. *^_^*