Dancing in the Street

From the moment I first saw Healdsburg’s picturesque central square, I knew I could make a home here.  This small town had all of the trappings of a yuppie paradise wrapped in the premise of “rustic” country living.  Locally owned and eco-conscious coffee joint with $6 lattes and hipper-than-thou barista?  Check.  Awesome outposts for lavish culinary and viticultural indulgences?  Yup.  Casual, neighborhood eateries with character and warmth?  Got ‘em.  There are at least three kid-friendly burger/ pizza stops, a doughnut shop, and a fancy, high end grocery store with knowledgeable butchers.  We’ve even got a handful of upscale women’s boutiques to satisfy an impulsive hankering for $200 designer jeans, should an unforeseen, personal existential crisis require immediate resolution.  Sounds suspiciously like La Jolla, right? Clawing upstream against a sweeping current of bourgeois yuppiedom is a significant, counter-culture movement to “keep Healdsburg weird.”  This is bigger than a handful of gangly, preteen boys loping around the square in skintight black jeans and shades, a la Joey Ramone circa 1979.  I am talking about an insular, local pride, best embodied by the free-spirited gyrating and body swaying (um, “dancing”) of longtime residents enjoying the summer, outdoor concert series.  Every Tuesday night during the summer, the city of Healdsburg sponsors free concerts in the square, which coincide with local farmer’s market stalls, a famed tamale cart, and colossal mounds of hot, fragrant paella cooked up outside the Oakville grocery.  Protected by some zany and wonderful grandfather clause, concert goers can drink in the square, open bottles and all, so long as the music is playing.  When the music stops at 8 pm, weeknight alcoholics must seek shelter in the local bars and surrounding restaurant haunts.  It’s genius!

Official rules plainly state no unattended picnic gear until after 4 pm, but try setting up camp at 4:03 pm and you’re basically relegated to the foliage in an old tree in the back corner.  The most motivated folks arrive well before 2 pm to babysit their lawn chairs and relax with a novel.  By 3 o’clock the square is a bursting patchwork of colorful picnic blankets lined up edge to edge to edge.  But the good news is that even for the people sequestered in the boondocks, you can still tiptoe around the blanket corners and across folding chairs to join the dancers up front.  Frizzy haired ladies in long prairie skirts and Birkenstocks dance with aging dudes with long, grey ponytails and cowboy boots.  These guys are the real old timers, predating us city slickers with Williams Sonoma baskets, heavy Rabbit corkscrews, and $12/ounce local chevre.  Most mornings at the local coffee haunt, we fit right in with the other families - moms with a kid on one hip and an organic scone and steaming soy latte in hand.  But in the Tuesday musical mosh pit, we’re the fringe, outsiders looking in. 

As one of my kids summed it up, “Mommy, we had a great time dancing with all the funny mans and ladies!”  (And for the record, the local goat cheese is well worth the splurge).