Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Highlandville, Derby Day

On Saturday we will end our 2007-2008 season with what has become our traditional Derby Day Dance at the Highlandville schoolhouse. This gives me another chance to use Pat's beautiful photo which captures the venerable old building so well. We will be joined by the excellent caller David Kirchner and, we hope, many fine dancers from the Decorah area and beyond. Teaching at 7:30, dancing at 8:00.

Directions: From Decorah, take Locust Road (W38) about 11 miles, take a right on Big Canoe Road (A26), after about 3 miles turn left on Highlandville Rd. Go north about 2 miles to Highlandville and just after crossing the bridge over the creek turn left.

From the North, turn south off of Minn. Highway 44 onto county road 8, midway between Mabel and Spring Grove. This becomes Locust Road (W38) when you cross the state line into Iowa. Take a left on Big Canoe and follow the directions above.

Last Saturday we had lots of fun at Carleton College with Linda Breitag sitting in on fiddle. Robin Nelson called a great series of dances and the mostly college crowd kept us all energized. Since Linda doesn't know all of the original tunes we do this gave us a chance to play a few more traditional tunes than usual. Here's a list of what we played:

Angeline the Baker
Loaves and Fishes/Too Many Goats
Connaughtman's Rambles/The Kesh Jig
Fourth and Walnut/Steady On
Mason's Apron/Maggie in the Snow/Julia Delany
Red Wing
Benton's Dream
Morrison's/Cliffs of Moher
Motel Henri/Reel Eugene
La Bastringue

Waltzes: Mother's Day & Last Call at Hawley Cooke

Hope to see you on Saturday. If not, we'll catch you next fall.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Next Stop - Earth Day

I know that today is the real Earth Day but we will be in Northfield, MN on Saturday night to celebrate the Day at the 2nd Annual Earth Day Contra Dance held on the Carleton College campus. This should be another great time with Suzie and all the special folks who have come to the Harvest and Winter Stomps! over the last couple of years.

When is Contratopia not Contratopia? This is a riddle we've asked ourselves many times. Currently our consensus is that whenever three of us are gathered together for a dance (often with a guest fourth member, often a fiddler) and aren't calling ourselves something else then we are probably Contratopia. Clear enough?

On Saturday Pat, Patrice and I will gather with one of our favorite fiddlers, the remarkable Linda Breitag, to play in Northfield. I think I'm correct when I say that Linda was once a member of the St. Olaf Choir, so this will be a homecoming of sorts for her and a great pleasure for us. Hope you can make it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two Bits Tour, Day 4, pt. 2

Pat and Patrice (with the help of Patrice's generous husband-to-be, Al, and the resources of his amazing group, Five By Design) have collaborated to make 50 of Pat's photos from the tour available. While there are a few too many shots of me looking goofy (and too few shots of Pat, who was taking the photos) they are a lot of fun to see.

In the last entry the band had just finished the Sunday Waltz Time dance. This dance ends at 6:00 and the evening contra starts at 7:30 so there isn't a lot of time to go out looking for food. We solved the problem by calling in an order to a fine local Italian restaurant and having food delivered. This allowed us the chance to sit around and visit with old friends without the stress of wondering if we were going to be late getting to the gig.

The crowd at the Sunday Night Contra and Square Dance is usually a little smaller than the Friday night crowd but they sure know how to have a good time. I see that tonight, for instance, they will have the treat of dancing to the calling of our old friend Beth Molaro (source for the title of my jig "Bunch of Stuff") and the music of the legendary Rodney Miller and his Airdance Trio. I can't remember if Ted called any squares last week but I suspect that Beth will make up for any deficiency in that regard tonight.

It being the last dance of our tour we let out all the stops and had a great time with the Sunday night group. Five of the sets were tunes we hadn't played yet on the tour. By avoiding repetition we managed to sound pretty fresh even though we were a little tired. We did a better job with Pat's African Tune this time although I nearly crashed the whole dance by missing an important downbeat during the transition. All in all it was a great way to end the tour.

Here are the sets we played on Sunday night, April 5 in order:

Revelry Reel/French Sneakers/Maggie in the Rain
Manistique/Reel Eugene/Evil Diane
Timmy Clifford's/The Return Home/O'Keefe's (in D)
The Judge/Canny Crow
Whistling Britches/Riff City/Easy Club
Calliope House/Booth Shot Lincoln/It Ain't the Heat, It's the Humidity
Aly on the Plains/Hay to Market/Just 4 Guys
Black Squirrel Frisbee?/No Contest/Pat's African Tune
Mason's Apron/Maggie in the Snow/Julia Delany

Waltzes: Emma & The National Road

I thought both waltzes were especially lovely that night and Patrice played an absolutely gorgeous piano solo during National Road.

Thinking our adventures were over we headed back to Ted's for the most curious encounter of the whole tour. As we parked in front of the next door neighbor's house (who are really nice folks) they came out to greet us wondering if we knew anything about what you see below:

It seems that mysterious visitors had planted hundreds of plastic spoons in the yard. Our alibi was undeniable but a fun photo shoot ensued. Next morning, sadly, the spoons were all gone.

Finally here's a shot of us at DCA having exited the Metro and waiting for the shuttle to take us out to the Northwest terminal:

All's well that ends well. We're looking forward to our next visit sometime in the next couple of years. Hope to see you then!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Two Bits Tour, Day 4, Pt. 1

(Breakfast at Ted's, photo by Pat)

Sunday started with Ted fixing us a delicious breakfast of potato pancakes and eggs. We can't say enough how much we appreciate Ted's hospitality. More importantly we love the way he calls dances and his foot percussion really adds a strong fifth voice to the band. Plus it's great to have his excellent button box playing hambos during the breaks.

(Hambo Ted, photo by Pat)

We worked up a set list for the afternoon Glen Echo Waltz Time dance. We rarely plan ahead for contra dances but the Sunday afternoon waltz session needs a little forethought. We found time for a frisbee workout in the front yard before cramming back into the car for the windy drive to the park. This time we got to listen to Swap's (where is that little "o" diacritic?) great Du Da CD.

We were blessed with excellent sound persons at every stop on this tour but we knew that on Sunday we would get to work with Jamie Platt, one of our all time favorite guys. He had been working long shifts all weekend at the park but he made sure that we sounded great for both dances on Sunday.

(Waltz Time in action, photo by Pat)

Waltz Time is one of the favorite things we get to do. We have so many waltzes that we love to play and here we get the chance. The dancers are amazing to watch too. One of the highlights for me this time was getting to see how much fun the dancers had with Erik's rendition of the "Sakkijarven Polka" and the rare chance to get to hear Erik and Ted play two hambos. I only wish there had been time to play another 6 or 8 waltzes. Everything sounds so good in the ballroom.

Here are the tunes that I think we played on Sunday afternoon. The formula was three waltzes followed by a different kind of couples' dance.

1) Mother's Day
January Waltz (We've opened with these two almost every time we've played this dance.)
Alice's Garden
Red Wing polka

2) St. Louis Christmas
Last Call at Hawley-Cooke
Turning by Threes (first performance by the band)
Hambo no. 1

3) Favors Her Father
Ballroom Echoes
Ms. P's Waltz
Tango Argentino (We play it every time but it's a great tune.)

4) French Creek Waltz
Shaoxing Waltz
Evenings & Weekends
Unbelievable! as a swing tune

5) Aubrey and Andrew's Wedding
Two Rivers
Hambo no. 2

6) The Highlandville Waltz
Spring Forward
Sakkijarven Polka

7) Bighorn River Sunset
Small Town Downtown (I think this was the final waltz.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Two Bits Tour, Day 3

Saturday morning (not too early) Pat, Erik and I hiked up to one of my favorite music stores, The House of Musical Traditions, where we spent an hour or more making noise and enjoying the hospitality of the friendly HMT folks and their customers. Patrice had deserted us to visit with old friends and Ted enjoyed some time in his own house without a band making a racket. We then took a brief stroll along the lovely Sligo Creek on the long way back.

We regrouped and all piled back into the Tedmobile for our trip to Shepherdstown with a brief stop at the Manassas (or Bull Run) National Battlefield Park. Arriving in Shepherdstown with plenty of time for dinner we surveyed our options and ended up at Kazu Thai & Japanese Cuisine on the main drag. We won't go into details here about my deplorable taste in food. I'll simply point out that this was the first time I had ever dined in a Thai restaurant. That should tell you enough. Despite my reluctance I had a very enjoyable meal and I think the rest of the group really appreciated the fine food.

Then, of course, there was the dance. I love playing in the hall in Shepherdstown. It's intimate in all the best ways. We set up on floor level but we can still see everyone in the place most of the time. The dancers are a great mix of old and young and I can always tell that there are a few sharp musicians in the room who can probably play rings around me. We responded with some of our best playing of the tour and had a ball. This dance was particularly notable because we played what we've been calling "Pat's African Tune" for the first time in public. It was a good first try but it will get better.

The trip home took us up towards Frederick, Md. and included our first, and only, stop at a McDonald's just around midnight. This was, obviously, the opposite of our earlier dining experience but it did hit the spot. Back at the crib we enjoyed some of the antics of Shaun the Sheep and called it a morning.

Our new friend photographer Doug Plummer (see the last blog post) today sent a link to a Flickr site with some great photos of Friday night's dance at Glen Echo. I especially like the shot of Patrice and the piano. Thanks a million Doug!

Here are the tunes that we played on Sat. night in Shepherdstown, WV:

Ain't Broke/Two Days to Maine
Revelry Reel/French Sneakers/Maggie in the Rain
Nail that Catfish to a Tree/Queen's Polka/Reel St. Antoine
What Spring/Knee High in December (jig & reel)
Waitin' for Nancy/Over the Waterfall/Squirrel Hunters
The Phoenix/Sheehan's/Shenandoah Falls
Reel St. Joseph/Star of Munster/Two-Legged Stool
Black Squirrel Frisbee?/No Contest/Pat's African Tune
Old French/Badlands All Night/Sand Island
Fair Jenny/Four Potatoes/Catharsis

Waltzes: Ms. P's Waltz & Aubrey and Andrew's Wedding

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Two Bits Tour, Day 2

(Friday night, Glen Echo, photo by Doug Plummer?)

We slept in on Friday morning and after breakfast we unpacked instruments and proceeded to have one of our longest (and most fun) rehearsals in years. Tunes and more tunes until mid-afternoon. Patrice, Erik, Ted and I headed off to the Metro and down to the National Gallery of Art for a short visit, while Pat stayed behind to cook up a gourmet treat for us. Walking toward Union Station, near the Capitol, I was amazed to see of couple of tour buses belonging to Decorah's own Hawkeye Stages at a red light. It's a small world indeed.

After Pat's delicious cooking we left Hodapp Manor for Glen Echo Park and the Friday Night Dance. Ted always programs great music for us in the car and this time we listened to a live recording by the fabulous Horse Flies. Very inspiring stuff.

Before the dance started we were approached by friendly and polite photographer Doug Plummer who said he'd like to take some pictures. He's working on a book of contra dance photos, among other things, and we were pleased to find ourselves the subject of his Daily Photo for April 4. In another "small world" moment we discovered that he is also doing some photo work for Decorah's own Luther College, my employer in the real world.

The dance itself was great. Over 280 of the nicest dancers on the planet in one of the finest ballrooms anywhere. We always have a great time playing at Glen Echo. After returning to Ted's we were treated to a couple of episodes of Shaun the Sheep before calling it a night.

Here are the tunes we played on Friday, pretty much in order:

La Bastringue (circle mixer)
Loaves and Fishes/Too Many Goats/Fourth & Walnut
Ross' Reel/Cornutopia/Happy Ears
Palisades/Christmas Past/Fairbanks
Sandy River Belles/Liza Jane/Rockabye Baby
Sweetbriar/What You Got There/Scandy Twist
Hogwart's Express/Colored Aristocracy/Steady On
Fenstermann's Surprise/Stumpy/Bunch of Stuff
Ain't Broke/Two Days to Maine/Squirrel Hunters
All Fall Down/Flying Home to Shelley
Waitin' for Nancy (post-dance clogging tune)

Waltzes: French Creek Waltz & Last Call at Hawley Cooke

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Almost Home Away From Home

There's always another view of any band experience, although I can ditto most of what John said about our DC escapade. Not only do I look forward to playing with my favorite dance musicians, I get to pick up so many new jokes from Ted. I love seeing friends we've made from previous tours and it starts to feel like we're at home in our DC home. I wouldn't mind if Ted's couch was about a foot longer so I could stretch out for sleeping, but better me than my taller companions! Actually I sleep amazingly well out there. Maybe it's from exhaustion - or the Dramamine I used pre-emptively to counter all those curves and hills on the way to Shepherdstown, not to mention the "back ways" to Glen Echo.

The cherry blossoms totally cooperated and stayed on the trees while we were there, in spite of rain. What a thrill! And I love getting to visit my old friend, Deb Anderson in Kensington. We talked weddings since she just got married a couple years ago and I just got engaged a couple weeks ago. Deb and I are both the same age (which I won't reveal, but Al and I call ourselves Geezers in Love, so that's a hint). Check out Al's vocal group Five By Design at Deb's husband Richard made the best peach pancakes!

I never tire of seeing the dancers cruising around the floor. The waltz afternoon is a particularly mesmerizing experience and I find ways of playing a tune that are inspired by watching them. Thank you to all the great dancers we experienced.

And if 284 people dancing in one area (Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo) isn't enough, try having a dance just a few feet away at the same time for some jiving swing dancers on Friday in the Bumper Car Pavillion and Cajun on Sunday night. The dance energy was off the scale! I've stored up some of it to help me ease back into everyday life at home - which includes getting those dang tax returns done. See you at the dance!

Two Bits Tour, Day 1

(Erik & Ted play a hambo during the break. Photo by Pat O'Loughlin)

Erik drove in from the farm and picked me up at 5:30. We met Patrice at the Minneapolis airport about 4 hours later and soon were settled in our luxury (not) seats for the flight to DCA. My guitar and mandolin flew first class though, thanks to a friendly Northwest employee who stowed them in an empty bin up front. Ted and Pat (who had flown out two days early) met us at the baggage claim and we started our trip to Philly.

We grabbed a tasty dinner at the Glenside Pub, home of memorable sessions in the past, and made it to the hall on time (for a change). The Glenside dance is one of our favorites and April 3 was a good night for us. It seemed like we didn't need a lot of warming up and instead went straight to full throttle. It helped that our old pal Scott Higgs was handling sound and Ted was telling some of the best jokes ever (OK, that's a lie).

A big treat for me was discovering the new Tuneadelphia! tunebook for sale at the door. This is a great collection of tunes composed by folks associated with the local SPUDS group and is beautifully printed with excellent notes and illustrations. Kudos to compiler/editor Sarah Gowan and her crew of contributors. If you are looking for new tunes you definitely should get one.

When the dance fun was done we loaded back into the Tedmobile and hit the turnpike. A long, late drive back to Takoma Park with exhausted, aging musicians (and the everyoung Erik). I think this was the drive where we listened to a CD of one of our spiritual guides, David Sedaris. Finally we made it to Ted's place and set up camp for the weekend.

Here are the tunes we played that Thursday, not necessarily in order.

Waitin for Nancy/Over the Waterfall
Loaves and Fishes/Too Many Goats/Fourth & Walnut
Bay of Fundy/Maid Behind the Bar/Mouth of the Tobique
Manistique/Reel Eugene/Evit Gabriel
Mason's Apron/Maggie in the Snow/Julia Delany
Sweetbriar/What You Got There/Scandy Twist
Two Lieutenants/Sledding at Walnut Ridge/Emory's Crossing
Palisades/Christmas Past/Fairbanks
Road to Bangor/Eager to Please/La Maison de Glace
Angeline the Baker/Scollay's/Liberation

Waltzes: Alice's Garden & Ballroom Echoes