Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year, New Dates

As we bring 2009 to an end I am pleased to announce that several dates have been added to our calendar. Contratopia will be providing the music for dances at Tapestry Folkdance Center on January 9, 2010 (guided by the calling of our friend, David Kirchner), March 27 (mystery caller) and April 24 (with Robin Nelson). We will also be playing for the annual Northfield Winter Stomp! dance on Feb. 19 (again with Robin).

These new dances will combine with our March 4-7 return to Philadelphia, Glen Echo and Shepherdstown, WV to make for a fairly busy spring in Contratopia terms. I just checked our history page and April, 2008 was our last visit to our friends in the mid-Atlantic region. This may be our longest absence since the band was formed, so we're really looking forward to seeing familiar faces and halls.

If you are still unsure about what to do on New Year's Eve (48 hours from now) it's not too late to travel to the Twin Cities where Pat O'Loughlin and Friends will be playing for the dancers at the Tapestry party. Pat has a lot of talented friends so there's no telling what you might hear that night. Say hi from me if you make it to the dance.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mid-term Review

Well, we've had a flurry of activity and now our season is going into the holiday break. We had another great time in Northfield on Oct. 23 (looking forward to returning there on Feb. 19, 2010) and a tremendous time last night at Tapestry. Beau Farmer called a great selection of dances and encouraged us to play whatever we wanted. It turns out that we had some good music in us last night and I believe we played a couple of tune sets as well as we've ever played them.

The night before last, Patrice, Pat and I were joined by wonder-fiddler Mary DuShane for a dance at a St. Paul grade school. Pat handled the calling chores (for a large crowd of excited youngsters and their sometimes reluctant parents) and Mary, Patrice and I had fun playing a variety of standard fiddle tunes. Following the gig Pat and I went out on the town briefly, first dining on some delicacies at a Lake St. White Castle and then crossing the street to hear some tunes at an Irish session in Merlin's Rest. Saturday morning we (Pat and I again) spent a couple of hours at a great old-time jam at a coffeehouse in St. Paul and then visited Hoffman Guitars. All in all a good weekend of music for me in the Twin Cities.

We are hoping to nail down some dance dates at Tapestry during the second half of our season (Jan.-April) and we have our east coast weekend dates all confirmed now. Also, Erik and I will be playing some with the Western Home String Band at our local Decorah contra dance next Sat., Nov. 21. Stop by if you're in town.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It All Comes Round Again

An eventful summer leads into another Contratopia season. We've spent a decade together as a band and we can honestly say (well, at least I can) that we are better friends than ever and we still get excited at the prospect of playing some music together.

Just a week ago we were all in the same dance hall celebrating the wedding of our beloved Patrice to the most excellent Alton Accola. Pat, Erik and I had the pleasure of playing a few tunes (with the stellar support of Sherry Ladig on keyboard) while Patrice and Al cut a rug with the wedding guests. Patrice nearly jumped in for a bit but she had a few other things on her mind.

In another month Patrice, Erik and I will be supplying the tunes for the dancers at the Midwest celebration of the wedding of our own Ted Hodapp and the legendary (because some of us had never met her until last week) Lynn Baumeister.

Pat O. will sadly be otherwise engaged that evening so the actual Contratopia machine won't get cranked up until Oct. 23rd in Northfield, MN for the annual Harvest Stomp! dance. After we kick out some jams (what's that next word?) in Northfield we will be ready for our seasonal debut in Minneapolis at the Tapestry Folkdance Center on Nov. 14.

Hopefully something fun will come up for us to do in January and February 2010 before we head back to the DC area in early March. We'll be playing in Glenside, PA on March 4 and Glen Echo on the 5th and 7th. On Saturday March 6th we'll return to Shepherdstown, WV for the third or fourth time. Finally there are rumors of a possible return to lovely Highlandville, IA in May for another Derby Day dance at the schoolhouse.

When's that new CD going to be ready you ask? Well I wouldn't start holding my breath if I were you but the topic does come up from time to time. We're all still in reasonably good physical condition and we've got two or three CDs worth of material waiting (if you count the dozens of waltzes that we've played over the last 6 or 7 years) but it's pretty hard to find the time to record stuff. Maybe someday?

In any event keep an eye out for us and come and say hello if you get the chance. You can usually find out where we'll be by checking our "dances" page on the Contratopia website. Hope to see you soon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Loose Ends

"Oh my friends it's springtime again, buds are swelling on every limb"
- from Dillon Bustin's "Gardening"

Well, another Contratopia season has come to a satisfying conclusion. The farmers among us are farming and contra dance music takes a bit of a back seat for a while. We did close the season with a bang by playing a cool wedding dance at the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul which included an expanded band for the last couple of sets.

In April, shortly after the previous post, we had the great pleasure of being joined by our friend Ken Steffenson on fiddle (on very short notice) to play both a mostly-waltz afternoon session and the evening contra dance at Tapestry after Erik called in sick with "the plague". Ken did a great job and we really had fun playing with him.

Linda Breitag finished out the season with us by playing the always-fun Earth Day contra at Carleton College and the above-mentioned wedding. We really enjoyed getting to play with Linda more often this past season, and we look forward to more gigs with her in the future.

Even though it's only June it's not too soon to begin looking ahead to next season. In September and October we have two Major Wedding Events in the Contratopia family. More on these to come. Next March, thanks to Ted Hodapp's highly organized booking efforts, we will be making another visit to our favorite DC area dance spots: Glen Echo, Glenside and Shepherdstown. Beyond that we have some openings.

So, if you are looking for a really good contra dance band next winter or spring give us a holler and we might be able to work something out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Ted Flies

Why indeed? If you'd really like to know, you can stop by Tapestry on Saturday night and ask him yourself.

It was just a little over a year ago that we last had the pleasure of touring with Ted Hodapp. You can check some of the blog posts from last April to get a sense of what we were up to then. Our last dance together would have been at the Glen Echo Sunday night contra but I suspect we ended the evening by watching a couple of episodes of Shaun the Sheep at Ted's place afterwards.

In any event we're all looking forward to meeting up with Ted again on Saturday and we can promise that a good time will be had by all. We are also playing a mostly waltz dance from 3-5 in the afternoon that should be a lovely way to spend part of an almost-spring afternoon.

This will be our last outing of the season with Erik on fiddle but we will also be playing the following Friday at Carleton College in Northfield with Linda Breitag as part of their Earth Day celebration.

Finally, all of you mandolin players are invited to stop by during any of these dances and take a look at my new Pomeroy flattop mandolin. Don Paine has created a beautiful instrument at an extremely reasonable price and I'm very happy to be one of the first owners of this new model. Here's a link to short recording of me playing the new instrument: (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=40787&d=1238859035)

Hope to see you soon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Additions

Contratopia has added a couple of additional dances to its current season thanks to our good friend, fiddler Linda Breitag. Linda allowed a "Pat O'Loughlin and friends" gig at Tapestry last Saturday (March 21) to become a Contratopia dance by subbing for Erik Sessions (who was busy with more important matters, see below). She is also going to join us at Carleton College on April 24 as part of their Earth Day celebration and at a private function in May. We are always delighted to have Linda join us and last week's dance was an especially good one. You can ask caller Beau Farmer to confirm that if you want. He'll tell you all about it.

Another addition to the larger Contratopia world has been the publication of my new tunebook "31 Waltzes" (http://www.contratopia.com/mtopia/31waltzes.htm). I'm pleased with how the collection turned out and, if you enjoy playing waltzes, I think there are lots of tunes you might find interesting. You can check out the website if you are curious and order using Paypal, or you can email me.

The most important addition to the Contratopia family, however, is Nina Stella Sessions, Erik and Sara's new baby girl! Born earlier this month, Nina joins her sisters Meg and Mairi as future fiddlers of Contratopia Land and organic farmers in training.

Just about a year ago at this time the band was out East having a great time. Just tonight, from my hotel room here in New Harmony, Indiana, I stumbled across a Flickrstream of photos from the dance we played on April 5, 2008 in Shepherdstown, WV. Here's the link:
Many thanks to akaelainesk for sharing these excellent photos!

Thanks to the wonder of Ted Hodapp we have just recently arranged to return to Shepherdstown during the first weekend of April next year, 2010. We always love playing in that hall and the cool people who dance there. Something to look forward to....

Finally, don't forget that we'll be reuniting with Ted on April 18th at Tapestry for what promises to be a really fun time. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bozeman to Northfield to Minneapolis

Here are a few photos from our recent time in Bozeman. Thanks to Pat O'Loughlin for sharing his artistry (and the photos too).

The new President had to cancel at the last minute but we honored him with an inaugural ball anyway. Here's Cis Hinkle asking for a few million to support contra dancing in the new economic stimulus bill.

Below is a good shot of our new friends, Fiddlerats, heating up the hall.

Our buddy Rab took several great photos of the band in action, at the risk of his own life and limb. I'm still not sure how he managed the shot of Patrice but it's a great angle on her nimble fingers.

On Friday Erik and I will drive up to Northfield and meet Patrice and Pat for another great Winter dance. Robin Nelson will once again be our caller. We may even have some special guests show up to play a few tunes.

Saturday we will have a reunion with one of our earliest caller pals, Carol Ormand, at Tapestry. My understanding is that there may be some sword dancing and a short hambo lesson during the break that night. This should be a ton of fun and I hope that some of you can attend.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Frosted Hair

Ditto to all of John's comments. Thank you to Mary the high school oboist from Bozeman who made us sound especially good on John's waltz Last Call at Hawley-Cooke on Saturday night. Such a sweet sound! Good luck at college next year, Mary!

One highlight John neglected to mention (because he sensibly stayed back for some rest and down time) was the trip to Norris Hot Spring on Sunday afternoon for an exciting soak in the outdoors with temps near 0 degrees F. Except for the 3 minutes before and after getting in the hot water, it was a wonderfully toasty experience. No heated changing rooms or toilets made for the quickest changes ever. Whew! I'd never seen "frosted hair" like this. The freezing steam made for cool, crunchy hair. There is a small geodesic dome with a clear plastic front on it on one end of the pool. It houses live folk music at times (not while we were there) that gets piped out to the pool. How amazing is that! Even though we were jolted by the news that we forgot our towels at home, Rab magically teased some from the management. We look forward to more good times with all the great folks out there!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back from Bozeman

What a time we had! The Wintergreen dance weekend folks were the perfect crowd for our music, even though this was our third time playing for this event. It was our first chance to work with the remarkable Cis Hinkle and I have to say that we hit it off right away. Cis is a very musical caller who exudes energy and confidence and was open to anything we wanted to try. We also got to play more than the usual number of square dances and we had several opportunities to turn Patrice loose on old-time oboe and even (God forbid!) piano.

As much fun as we had working with Cis we had nearly as much fun listening (and dancing) to Fiddlerats (for this weekend, Caroline McCaskey, Cole Ingraham & Eric Anderson). They are wonderful players and every set they played was exciting. Caroline, Cole and Eric were also very open to collaboration and some of the highlights of the weekend involved them joining with us for a few special numbers. I should also mention that Fiddlerats has an excellent CD for sale titled Contraband.

During the post-dinner concert on Saturday night Caroline and Cole came up to add percussive spice to Pat's great tune "Two Bits" (formerly know as "Pat's African Tune") and then Eric joined us for a special one-time-only take on Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba". We had two fiddles, oboe, flute, concertina, guitar on chords and piano playing the bass line. For me, the whole thing peaked late on Saturday night when I think we played one of the four or five best hours we've every played. Everything seemed to line up and it was great.

As always in Bozeman the hospitality was amazing. Oshi, Mark, all the folks on the committee, Mitchell Frey handling the sound, all the callers (there must have been at least a dozen) who came to study at Cis' feet, all the young fiddlers and musicians, the folks who came to our workshops, every single person was warm and friendly and made us feel great.

Special thanks, of course, go out to Rab, Mich, and the boys for taking us into their home again. This time even Sugar the dog was my pal. Also, a big hug to Oshi for loaning us a vehicle. This allowed Pat to take us on a death-defying journey up past Bridger Bowl on Friday morning and around to a delicious lunch in Livingston.

As always it was great to see former Decorah area resident Steve Marty and get to play a little music with him. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was jamming on my tune "Canny Crow" in the upstairs hallway of the Emerson with Steve on guitar, me on mando and the wonderful sound of two oboes. Steve's band Weatherwood has recently issued their first CD and will be a featured band at Wintergreen 2010. Their CD release party is this coming weekend at Equinox Theatre in Bozeman.

Just like last time Pat and Rab took tons of photos but I have none at this point. Hopefully we'll post a few of the better ones here in the near future. With luck we'll be invited back again someday!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Winter Flurries

It's a new year and we are gearing up for our winter flurry of music and travel. In two weeks (Jan. 17) Erik and I will drive up to Minneapolis for a full day of music: a band rehearsal, followed by a Mostly Waltz dance at Tapestry from 3-5 in the afternoon and a full-length contra at Tapestry in the evening.

This will be a kind of boot camp for the following weekend when Erik and I will drive to the MSP airport (notice a pattern here?) to meet Patrice and Pat for our flight to Bozeman. There we will spend 3 wonderful days (Jan. 23-25) playing, workshopping and jamming with our Montana friends at the Wintergreen Dance Weekend.

A month later, on Feb. 20, Erik and I will travel north again. This time to Northfield, where we will play with our musical better halves (halfs?) at the 3rd(?) annual Winter Stomp. This amounts to a short tour for the Decorah guys because we then will drive on to Minneapolis to play at Tapestry on the 21st. Hopefully Pat will lead us to a good old-time jam session that Saturday morning. Maybe we'll even get to visit the Pickin' Parlor or the Podium while we're in the Big Cities.

Since Decorah set an all-time record for December snowfall (no climate-change doubters here!) we fully expect January and February to co-operate with our travel plans and keep the roads and the airways clear for us. Hope to see you at some of these events. Stay warm.