Many American social institutions unite strangers of different generations. In bowling leagues, you can roll pin-for-pin with a person twice your age without breaking a sweat. Knitting circles can buffer and sustain long stretches of intergenerational awkwardness by focusing intently on the weave. And well, anything can happen at a well-catered wedding.

Oddly absent from this list is dancing. Sure, Americans dance, but when was the last time you saw couples in their 20s and 30s two-stepping or slow-dancing alongside those twice their age? Nostalgia-fueled '80s nights and blundering karaoke bars are in abundance, but truly all-ages dances are increasingly rare events in this century, especially in the city.

Saturday night's performance by the Mezcalitos, the local six-piece Western swing band led by multi-instrumentalists Tom Whitehead and John Cooper, changed all that. They played no fewer than 30 rollicking Americana and country standards, alternating between mournful ballads like "Blue Moon" and more stompworthy fare to a cozy, dimlit room. Mayo Street Arts isn't the biggest dancehall in the county, but then again, if you accidentally kick your neighbor in the shin, they're inclined to shrug it off.

It wasn't all hoot. Guest players Tanya Whiton and Kelly Nesbitt zestfully filled out the sound on barnstormers like "Cotton-Eyed Joe," but the depth and yearning in their voices on the more somber tracks (dig Nesbitt's mournful, decayed take on "Jolene", for example) were particularly standout, adding layers to the Mezcalitos' emotional range. During other ballads, John Cooper's old-world blues pickin' on the Dobro lap-steel and wailing twin-fiddle action with Sam Goodall steeped the crowd in a welcomed, wine-soaked malaise.

When the band wrapped it up with the Hank Williams downer, "I'm So Lonesome, I Could Cry," no one was bummed. It's a song anyone with a pulse can relate to. Even the old cowboy in the back, catching his breath from a dancefloor romp with his ol' girl, nodded along wistfully. Sure, loneliness is a drag sometimes, but it's got a hell of a lot richer history than bowling.

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  Topics: New England Music News , Music, Dance, Hank Williams,  More more >
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