Sunday, November 26, 2006

Live from the Spanish Ballroom

Contratopia loves to play couples' dances, especially waltzes. We felt particularly honored the first time that the Waltz Time organization invited us to play for the Sunday afternoon dance at Glen Echo and even more honored when they invited us back. To see all those couples twirling around the beautiful Spanish Ballroom is always inspiring. Our waltz CD, Ballroom Echoes, takes its title from a tune I wrote that tries to capture some of that feeling.

Last Sunday was our third (or fourth) time playing for the Sunday afternoon dance and master sound man Jamie Platt ( was kind enough to record the band and give us a copy. Here are links to two of the tunes from that dance.

First is a recently composed waltz, "Aubrey & Andrew's Wedding", that the band has only performed two or three times. This is live and unedited so there might be the occasional mistake but the feeling is good and the dancers were definitely with us on this one.

The pattern for the Sunday afternoon dance is three waltzes followed by some other kind of couples' dance. We only know one tango and we always play it at this dance. Here's a warts and all version of the "Tango Argentino" by Arthur Green with Patrice laying down a solid groove on piano and Pat adding just the right percussive spice.

Feel free to download these mp3s (I hope they're not too big) and share them with friends. Consider the recordings to be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. Meaning they can be used freely for non-commercial purposes but you should ask us for permission for commercial use.

Let us know if you enjoy these tunes. I'm hoping at a future date we can add some of the contra dance tunes that Jamie recorded for us last weekend also.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Glen Echo Friday Tailgate

There's a fine tradition where a small group of dancers get together after the Friday Night Dance at Glen Echo for a little tailgate party, just down the hill from the lovely Spanish Ballroom. Even in November it's not too cold to hang out for a while and talk music, share home improvement stories and/or jokes. (Like the one about the turkish wedding band drummer who goes off to study jazz in New York.)

Contratopia has been able to attend a couple of these events and last Friday night we had a really nice time. I met two "persons of interest" there:

Robert Cox is the creator of a fine series of podcasts that feature contra dance music. Here's the link:

These are half hour collections of excellent music from a wide variety of fine musicians along with some tasteful announcing. Robert was kind enough to feature one of our tracks on his soundcast from 10/20/2006. It's nice to be able to just click on one of these shows and hear some good music, carefully chosen and presented with full credits and links to where you can go to purchase the recordings.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Orrin Star, a master of mandolin and guitar who's especially well-known in the bluegrass world. The tailgate meeting led to Orrin sitting in with us for a dance during the Sunday night contra where I had the benefit of a close-up lesson watching him play my Rigel mando on a medley of "Nail That Catfish to a Tree" and "St. Anne's Reel". His right hand precision and economy of motion gave me plenty to work on for months to come.

I saw today at the Mandolin Cafe that Orrin has announced a series of mandolin workshops from November through February 2007. I'd strongly recommend any mandolin players in the DC region, no matter what style you play, to consider attending these workshops. I know if I lived in the area I'd be signing up.

(Thanks to Pat for the photo of the band+Ted with Fala, FDR's dog.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

DC Pictures and others

If you want to see a few more pictures (more to come later), go to This is the nifty gallery in the corner of a larger gallery of the vocal quintet, Five by Design, which my close and personal friend Al is associated with. Check out their website to meet one of the finest performing groups doing swing and big band music.

While you're wasting your precious time on this nonsense, why not see more pictures of the group taken last January at Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis, MN.

Glen Echo - Purcellville (Bluemont)

Just returned from the Patch Weekend (briarpatch?, pumpkin patch?), a saturday night Bluemont dance (in Purcellville, VA) punctuated by a series of dances at Glen Echo Park. Much music, merriment and spirited dancing with our good pal Ted Hodapp calling and playing button box with us on the hambos.

Too many highlights to list them all in this short missive but we had some memorable moments. The friday night tailgate party, the late saturday diner with the awesome waitress and the sunday night sandwhich shop fiasco will all be remembered for years to come.

Special thanks to Jamie Pratt for his great work with the sound at all three Glen Echo dances and to Peter in Purcellville for working with us in a slighty scrunched environment. Jamie recorded a bunch of stuff and I'm hoping we can share some of that later on.

Can't wait for the next time. The Spanish Ballroom never disappoints.

(Thanks to Ted for the photos too.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fries with that Fiddle Tune?

Erik and I had a unique opportunity to play some tunes in preparation for next weekend's tour this morning at a local fast food establishment. As part of a weekend of events celebrating 20 years of fries, hot apple pies, chicken nuggets, even yogurt and salads in our little town, we were hired to play jigs, reels, waltzes and hornpipes from 11:00 until noon for the folks who stopped in for their coffee or burgers, etc.

We, of course, realize that many people who enjoy contra and couples dancing to Contratopia's music rarely consume fast food. (Erik fits that bill. I, on the other hand, eat way too much of the stuff.) Nonetheless we could hardly resist the chance to play acoustic instrumental music in such an unlikely venue. We only wish that Pat and Patrice could have joined us!

Biggest surprise? The acoustics were excellent! I expected that it would be really noisy but the managers turned all the TVs and video games off and we could hear each other great. The sound was actually much better than many coffee houses and bars that feature music. Smoke-free, no alcohol too! Whoda thunk it?

(Thanks to Jim Skurdall for the photo and for joining us on guitar for the gig's only vocal, "Little Georgia Rose.")