Raconteurs & Roustabouts offers carnival of bizarre performances

The weather has cooled, the days are shorter and the sky turns orange at twilight.

Fall is a time that reminds Alex Dawson of author Ray Bradbury and the first few lines of a favorite childhood book, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” And like Bradbury’s dark carnival, similarly arriving one crisp fall night, Dawson will bring the cultural carousal “Raconteurs & Roustabouts: Where Culture & Carnival Collide!” to Rahway’s Hamilton Stage on Sept. 21.

A vaudevillian variety show presenting authors, musicians, filmmakers and sideshow acts, the show has the informal vibe of an impromptu hootenanny in Dawson’s living room. That is, if his living room had 200 cushioned theater seats, light and sound technology, and the chrome and glass façade of the year-old Hamilton Stage.

Dawson, a resident of the Colonia section of Woodbridge, previously owned the now-closed Raconteur bookstore in downtown Metuchen. He has curated 10 events at the Hamilton Stage and, over the last eight years, 500 events in venues across the state. “Raconteurs & Roustabouts” stands out as a personal favorite, he said.

One of the night’s featured performers is singer-songwriter Wesley Stace, an Elvis Costello-like folk artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding and recently dubbed a “Renaissance man” by The New Yorker.

Stace, whose new album “Self Titled” was set for release on Sept. 17, hosts a similar monthly variety show, “Cabinet of Wonder.” It is recorded live for National Public Radio at Manhattan’s City Winery.

Dawson — who previously booked bands at bars in New Brunswick, has organized countless screenings at places like Metuchen’s Forum Theater and New Brunswick’s State Theater, and currently teaches creative writing at Rutgers University — is a passionate presenter of music, literature and film. But one might wonder: What is the deal with the sideshow acts? Dawson grew up on a horse ranch in Alabama. The closest movie theater was an hour away and across the state line; his family’s TV got only three static-filled stations.

“There was very little entertainment that didn’t involve a saddle or a fishing pole,” he said.

But once a year, Dawson’s school sponsored a carnival of sorts. The tents were a precariously poled arrangement of tarps used during the week to cover hay bales or bucked logs in the backs of truck beds, and the performers were people from around town.

Dawson recalled one man who juggled split wood, another who filled his nose with nails, and still another who stood — unitard peeled, straps dangling at the waist, and full of Sunday paper tattoos. This is not to forget the two-headed snake in a terrarium made from a boot box, and a coyote trained to act like a dog, sitting and spinning and rolling over. “It was all very backwoods and lo-fi,” Dawson said. “Even so, it felt, well, magical. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

The Amazing Traveling Circus Sideshow with Daniel Danson Hanson, who was recently featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Oddities,” will also feature Mr. Revolvo, Electra, the Human Pincushion and the Cabinet of Curiosities. In addition, the show will feature bestselling novelist Arthur Phillips; freaky fabulist Clay McLeod Chapman; artist and writer E.B. Hudspeth, also known as Dr. Spencer Black; Asbury Park folk rocker Arlan Feiles; and Stace, along with a surprise guest and an award-winning animated film short.

“Raconteurs & Roustabouts” will take place at 8 p.m. Sept. 21 at Rahway’s Hamilton Stage, 360 Hamilton St.

Admission is $20. Advance tickets can be purchased by calling 732-499-8226 or visiting www.ucpac.org.