Social gaps are meant for bridging, so on Saturday I attended a pair of parties both willing winter away in high style -- Frostiball at the Overture Center and The Fire Ball at the High Noon Saloon. It was a night of champagne followed by beer, conspicuous affluence followed by bar-scene madness, and all-around costumed extravagance at the extremes of multiple spectrums both lofty and base.
Perhaps the most telling aspects of any affair upon first impression are the décor, music and dress, so I will do my best to compare the two events based on these terms.
The Frostiball was already in full swing upon my arrival at 9:30 p.m. What must have been nearly a thousand guests dressed to the nines drank champagne and danced to the Dick Judson Orchestra, which played renditions of Baby Boomer standards -- mainly classic '70s tunes -- in the richly decorated lobby to Overture Hall. Other revelers sipped cocktails in the Martini Lounge, attractively lit with red, pink, and white paper lanterns hung from the ceiling, while the Hanah Jon Taylor Quintet enhanced the mood with upbeat soulful jazz.
The Overture Center is definitely Madison's premier venue for upscale events, not only due to its vast amounts of space and aesthetic design, but also for the impeccable service by the staff. The impressive array of hors d'oeuvres and desserts was always stocked, and as soon as anyone had finished a drink, a gracious server was there to collect the empty glass. The main lobby's décor was very attractive, meanwhile, with huge tropical centerpieces and floating candles in oversized pilsner and wine glasses. The only detraction were the zebra print-inspired tablecloths that vaguely gave the impression of an '80s high school prom.
Never have I seen so many tuxedoes and evening gowns in such a high concentration in Madison. The many local politicians and prominent community members all impressed upon me a sense of good-natured importance. As I first approached the dance floor, I smelled affluence, which took the form of Jean-Paul Gaultier perfume on a graceful middle-aged woman in a full-length powder blue gown. The scent wafted past as she and her tuxedoed husband, who had very clearly taken years of ballroom dancing lessons, glided past.
Likewise, I found the appropriately dubbed Fire Ball equally engaging on a different level. As I gathered my impressions upon arriving around 11:30 p.m., the High Noon was brimming with a certain type of energy that can only be achieved through hours of maximum volume dance beats from DJ Nick Nice. Unfortunately I had missed the evening's burlesque performances by Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies and the Madtown Hellcats, but the kinky vibe lived on among the revelers. A reminder immediately presented itself to me as a friend wearing jeans, a leather harness and a red mask greeted me and my esteemed photographer with a bearish hug and a friendly "Welcome, ladies!" This was certainly a different greeting than the gracious hosts of the Frostiball, who welcomed us in the Overture Rotunda more elegantly and with much more formality.
Most people at The Fire Ball had dressed rather extravagantly in their own individual ways. There were several steampunk-themed costumes in addition to the more risqué attire, and almost everyone else at least donned a mask. One woman dressed in a strange gown with sleeves like bat wings danced emphatically among guys in leather pants, old-fashioned top hats and feathered masks. Someone, I honestly don't know from where, handed me a gold Mardi Gras-style mask, which I accepted graciously after ordering a PBR from the bar.
There wasn't much in the way of decorous lighting unless one counts the Lethal Enforcers arcade game in the corner of the club. However, one main feature everyone seemed to find particularly absorbing was a bondage suspension device on stage where shibari performer Graydancer, wearing a sleeveless black shirt and kilt, bound willing subjects with an impressive lattice of knots before literally letting them hang there blissfully immobilized. This man must have studied with the Boy Scouts, because the knots were so impressive they transformed what may have otherwise been a somewhat uncomfortable sight to me into a living sculpture.
Though I didn't hear it played at the High Noon, I'd venture to say the one song both the Frostiball and the Fire Ball had in common was "Love Shack" by The B52's. Yes, the dancers at the Frostiball may have been proficient in ballroom dancing, but there is something inherently comical about watching 50-something couples in formal attire timidly throw their hands in the air at the song's climax. "Tin roof" indeed.
To assign a value judgment on the eminence of either ball would be futile. Both parties raised money for local benefit -- the Frostiball for Downtown Madison, Inc. and The Fire Ball for local theatre companies Mercury Players and Stage Q -- which exemplifies a commitment to community involvement on all levels, great and small, young and old. On Saturday night, community spirit reigned supreme and creative, a spirit that makes our city truly dynamic and diverse.