The CONTINUING TRADITION Number 12
Origins of a Contradance Band
I joined my first serious contra dance band, “Scrod Pudding,” around 1991. I think our first gig together was playing for the premier Downeast Country Dance Festival in March of that year. Band members were (and still are) Pam Weeks on fiddle and mountain dulcimer, Greg Anderson on hammered dulcimer, Jim Joseph on banjo, button accordion and percussion, Eric Johnson on guitar, and myself on bass and calling. We played around Maine and New England for a few years and around 1994 decided we were ready to record an album. “Food for your Feet” came out on cassette tape in 1995. The cover picture was taken at the New England Folk Festival in Natick, MA, on the brick back wall of the gymnasium. The photo was set up by Marco Brehm (bass player for “Grand Picnic”) who saw us fussing around trying to take a shot and volunteered to help out. We were quite happy with the composition! The recording came out good too, hah hah, with dance tunes and songs.
With a recording finished we felt we were ready to go on tour. We chose early April figuring it would still be cold up here and enjoyably warm as we headed south! It seemed like on that trip down and up the east coast (essentially the “I-95” corridor), we could hit a bunch of dances many of which were on weekdays so there wouldn’t be a lot of “down time”. I don’t have the exact schedule, but I know we played New Haven, CT; Glen Echo (DC) both Friday and Sunday; Philadelphia; Charlottesville, VA; Winston Salem, NC; Elizabeth City, NC; Chapel Hill, NC; Greensboro, NC; Knoxville, TN; Arden, DE. I probably left some out and several of these had to have been on subsequent tours, but you get the idea. Back then the internet was still in its infancy and booking a tour involved getting the monthly CDSS magazine, going to the back where it had all the dances listed, and calling dance organizers up on the telephone. I was chosen to be the “booker”, oh boy. Actually booking the tour involved starting out with a “desired” itinerary and modifying it along the way depending on what was and wasn’t available. To my surprise, just saying we had a band from Maine, WITH caller and sound gear usually got us the booking if the date was free. Didn’t matter that the organizers hadn’t heard of us before. After a week or so I had a tour booked. It started in New Haven and ended in Delaware. What the heck. It so happened that Eric’s parents lived in Wilmington, Delaware, so we drove two cars to the first gig or two, but then traded them in for Eric’s mom’s camper van for most of the trip. Onward.
The first stop was In New Haven at the heralded “Eli Whitney Barn.” Not wanting to be late for the first gig of our first tour, we got there in the early afternoon for an evening dance and everything was locked up tight. We got out of the cars to take a look, peeking through the barn doors. “Hey, this is just a barn,” Eric said. I guess we had expected something sort of restored to be a “dance hall”, but no just stalls and a main center aisle for the equipment or for dancing, and a shorter space up about 6 inches next to that. Finally the organizers showed up and the band set up in the hay loft looking down at people dancing below us and sideways. Seemed weird, but not like, coming from maine, we hadn’t played in barns before! Well finally dancers came and the audience (maybe 30 of them) seemed quite subdued. We were used to Maine dancers whooping and hollering. None of that here!! After each dance, pretty much total silence. We were quite discouraged and all wondering, “What have we signed up for here?” At the end of the dance as folks were filing out, one couple looked up and said, “You guys were REALLY GREAT, we all had a great time.” REALLY? Well that made us feel a little better.. Onward..
I don’t remember exactly how it all went, I think we had one more dance before the “car change” in Delaware, but we weren’t getting the feedback from the dancers that we had learned to expect in Maine. We arrived at Eric’s parents’ place in Wilmington with a day to rest, practice, load up the van and trailer and take stock of things. The next day we were headed south. Things went better and we were drawing nice crowds. I think there was a Philly dance at the Summit Church. That would have been Thursday. We were having fun but it “just wasn’t like Maine”! next was a dance in Chapel Hill, NC. Maybe this was a Friday dance. It was at a Middle or Elementary School I think, and the space had a cement floor covered with linoleum. Didn’t look like the greatest dance floor, BUT then the magic started to happen. Dancers started showing up and there were LOTS of dancers. Pretty soon the hall was packed and we quickly forgot about the floor and decided we better start thinking about putting on a really good dance! So I got folks lined up. It was three or 4 sets all the way to the back wall and I was so nervous that at the start of the very first dance I screwed up the call and I had to stop the dance and reset. I told everyone “my fault” and take hands 4 again and the hall erupted with cheers. Guess they appreciated the honesty? Anyway I didn’t make any more mistakes and it was a GREAT dance and a preview of what was to come. After a few more dances in North Carolina, we quickly decided that we were finally in our “home away from home”.
Here are a few more shots from the tour. On stage at Glen Echo and playing tunes and singing songs in Eric’s Mom’s van (no room for the bass). The last dance of the trip was a Sunday afternoon dance in Arden Delaware. The night before we were in North Carolina I am pretty sure and knew the day was gonna start early and be pretty arduous. The booker (me) it seems misjudged the actual mileage PLUS the previous night was when daylight savings time started so “Spring forward” we lost another hour. We quickly called Eric’s mom (yes she saved the day once again!) and had her bring food which we gulped down while we were setting up. I think we only got started maybe 15 minutes late but it seems like hours! As I remember the dance was well attended, and even though it wasn’t NC anymore, a pretty good ending to Scrod tour #1!!
We did the ol’ I-95 tour several more times over the years. We met many folks along the way and they remain dear friends. I will name a few. Rod Edens gave his whole house over to us when we were in Greensboro or anywhere near. He got a dance out of it: “Rod’s Grits” (our favorite breakfast). Jamie and Betsy Platt from DC would host us, we’d always stay up late with them. Jamie did sound at Glen Echo. Carol Thompson from Greensboro and Winston Salem got a dance too, “the Wild Woman from North Carolina” – got that name after clogging on a tabletop at the Tate Street Coffee House!. Speaking of Winston Salem, that was the Tuesday night dance at the Vintage Theater. Gene Hubert always showed up all dressed in white. “Suspenders George” Rettie was always there early to help us load in and set up. Wore yellow “tape measure” suspenders and he was such a smooth dancer, did a great “dip” instead of swing sometimes. George died in 2019 here’s a pic. Paul Fackler and Marilyn Hartman put us up in Durham several times and hosted house concerts on non-dance days. Paul just moved to Maine we made such an impression! Finally we did a dance out in the outer banks of NC and afterwards met up with Bill and Libby Hicks who invited us to stay with them on an off day at their place on Ocracoke Island. Got a ferry ride and all! Bill was a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers Lots of great tunes played that day!
Not doing much touring these days but the memories remain!! see y’all next month – bill
The CONTINUING TRADITION Number 12
Origins of a Contradance Band