Silent Disco Boogaloo!


The Silent Disco headphones! Photo by Phillip James.

Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus has been asked to DJ at Lincoln Center’s out of doors Midsummer Night Swing events just about every summer for at least 15 years; maybe more. He has provided the dance music between sets by such acts as Buster Poindexter, a cumbia group, several swing orchestras, Chubby Checker, a tribute to the great songwriter Doc Pomus, Bobby Rydell, Binky Griptite, a boogie woogie group that featured Charlie Watts and who can remember the others? Every time it has been a wonderful experience for The Boog, with folks dancing to his records and enjoying the groovy vibes provided by the good people who put on the shows.

But this time it was different. This time, on the 13th of July, the nice Midsummer Night Swing people asked The Boog to play his records for the Silent Disco portion of the show, after the main event: The James Hunter Six. The Silent Disco is a genius idea. It consists of three DJs playing their recordings, each program going out (via the miracle of some sort of wifi-type of hustle) to wireless headphones worn by the folks on the dance floor. Each set of headphones has a switch on it so the listener can change to any of the three DJs playing music, and when it does, it lights up in the color that corresponds with each DJ’s booth: blue, red or green.


Monica Sharp, Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus and Rita Houston swing during the Silent Disco portion of Midsummer Night Swing. Photo by Nancy Gardner.

The other two DJs enlisted to perform during the Silent Disco were Rita Houston and Monica Sharp.


Rita Houston controls the dance floor during the Silent Disco. Photo by Phillip James.

Rita Houston is a legendary radio DJ and the program director at WFUV, New York City’s Bronx-based NPR station that features an eclectic assortment of music, but mostly what may be deemed as ‘modern music for thinking people.’ Ms. Houston is a smart music person. She has done these Midsummer Night Swing things before. She knows what people like.


Monica Sharp had the whole place rockin’ during the Silent Disco. Photo by Phillip James

The Boogaloo Bag writers met Monica Sharp that evening. When setting up her DJ booth, she hooked up a laptop to Serato-fueled turntables. Very often this is a clear sign that the DJ knows what she is doing. She also has been a regular DJ at the Midsummer Night Swing things. She struck the Boogaloo Bag writers as someone who is professional and knows how to work a crowded dance floor.

The Boog’s competition for the dancers’ headphone time was heavy, to say the least.


Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus plays old 45s during the Silent Disco. Photo by Phillip James.

The Boog’s contract clearly stipulated that he was to provide music for dancing: “Soul Blues, Rhythm & Blues and rock’n’roll.” Noting that the James Hunter Six draws much influence from records from the Fifties and early Sixties, he figured that a program of hits from this period would be popular with this audience. He pulled a bunch of 45s that would work really well with folks who want to twist, hully gully or do the jerk.


James Hunter of The James Hunter Six swings at Midsummer Night Swing.

The early part of the evening went great. The James Hunter Six puts on a swingin’ show. How can you not like a band who covers“Baby Don’t Do It” by The “5” Royales? The guy has excellent taste. Ms. Houston was the DJ between the band’s sets and she played an assortment of oldies via a laptop computer. The Boog figured she would play a similar fare for the Silent Disco. Who knew what Ms. Sharp would do, but it would be cool.


Jill Sternheimer introduces Rita Houston and the other DJs preceding the Silent Disco portion of Midsummer Night Swing. Photo by Phillip James.

Midsummer Night Swing hostess Jill Sternheimer came out and introduced the DJs.  Rita Houston had the blue DJ booth. Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus was in the middle with the red one. Monica Sharp was in the green booth.

Phast Phreddie started with an instrumental, as he often does, then went straight for the jugular by playing The Isley Brothers record. He looked up to see what headphone colors were lighting up on the dance floor. It was mostly blue and green with a smattering of red here and there. He kept going, hoping he could win folks over. Several minutes into the night the whole place seemed to go blue and the dancers were jumping up and down with glee. What was Rita playing that got them so excited? The Boog switched his headphones to her program. “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye. Wait, she’s playing disco records? Then many headphones turned green. What was Monica playing? Talking Heads. This is how it seemed to go all night. The two gals played modern records using modern technology the crowd was lovin’ it! The old guy in the middle was playing old records on old technology. Nobody seemed to want to twist, hully gully or do the jerk.


The whole night it seemed if the folks weren’t listening to Monica Sharp’s program, they were listening to that of Rita Houston. Photo by Nancy Gardner.

Every time the Boogaloo Bag writers looked up it seemed the dance floor was a sea of blue; Rita’s playing a Michael Jackson record. Suddenly it is a sea of green; Monica is playing the Marvin Gaye record! Rita and Monica had the hearts and minds–and more importantly the dancing feet–of the folks on the dance floor. They played Donna Summer records, James Brown funk records, Eighties new wave records, disco records–and the place was blue and green the whole ninety minutes, with only a smattering of red from time to time. Some old folks in the far corner seemed to be red most of the night. “Louie Louie” got some to turn red. So did “Twist and Shout” and “La Bamba.” The most red headphones appeared at the very end when The Boog played the record by The Contours, but it was cut short when time ran out.


A rare moment when folks did the Hully Gully–probably during “La Bamba.” Photo by Nancy Gardner.

To say that this Silent Disco was a humbling experience for Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus would be putting it mildly. After all, it was Friday the 13th! When it was over, Ms. Sternheimer came over and graciously thanked him for participating and that they appreciated the diversity that his program provided.

At least it didn’t rain, as it did three out of the last four times Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus was guest DJ at Midsummer Night Swing. Here’s a list of all the records he played that night:

None of these records are for sale. Some of them may have youtubes clips for your own edification. Thanks to our pal Philip James for most of the photos here.

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