Old-Time Music and Dance
Community and Folk Revival
Publication Year: 2005
In the summer of 1972, a group of young people in Bloomington, Indiana, began a weekly gathering with the purpose of reviving traditional American old-time music and dance. In time, the group became a kind of accidental utopia, a community bound by celebration and deliberately void of structure and authority. In this joyful and engaging book, John Bealle tells the lively history of the Bloomington Old-Time Music and Dance Group -- how it was formed, how it evolved its unique culture, and how it grew to shape and influence new waves of traditional music and dance. Broader questions about the folk revival movement, social resistance, counter culture, authenticity, and identity intersect this delightful history. More than a story about the people who forged the group or an extraordinary convergence of talent and creativity, Old-Time Music and Dance follows the threads of American folk culture and the social experience generated by this living tradition of music and dance.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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On its way to publication, this manuscript has received much benefit from the comments and support of thoughtful and astute readers. I am grateful to those who took time to critique all or parts of the book: Dillon Bustin, Joyce Cauthen, Eloise Clark, Pat Gingrich, Frank Hall, Jim Johnson, Tamara Loewenthal, John McDowell, Ron Pen, and David Schloss. Others generously provided photos...
Introduction: Conjuring History
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When I began this text years ago, my goal was to correct an unsettling discrepancy in the depiction of the “folksong revival,” the cultural movement that has emerged in various forms throughout history in America and elsewhere. I had fallen behind this banner in my youth, and it has nourished me intellectually, politically, emotionally...
1. An Apocryphal Story
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Among those who participated in the old-time music and dance group in the town of Bloomington, Indiana, in the 1970s and 1980s, there circulated an apocryphal story of the group’s origin. The story is all but forgotten now, but at the time it was a well-known point of historical reference for the group. The narrative itself is of some...
2. Old-Time Music Revival
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The institutional machinery of bluegrass may have been influential in the emergence of localized folksong revival, but in Bloomington and elsewhere there was another vivid and influential model—the pre– World War II country music style known as “old-time music.” This musical form is generally associated with acoustic string...
3. Banjo Pedagogy
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To determine the thinking that led to the Bloomington dance, I return to the revival of the late 1960s and examine several important pedagogical works to understand this transition from folksong revival to oldtime music revival. Surely a key transitional text was Art Rosenbaum’s Old-Time Mountain Banjo (1968), one of the many...
4. Back to the Land
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Dillon Bustin came to Bloomington in 1969. Although born and raised in Indiana—during most of his youth he lived in Cumberland, near Indianapolis—he spent two formative high school years in New England, where he began accumulating the unusual set of experiences that led eventually to the Bloomington dance. He learned...
5. The Green House
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Throughout the early years of the Bloomington dance group, two events—the providential meeting of Dillon and Miles and the authenticating presence of the dance—seemed always on the surface of consciousness. More obscure, however, was another set of facts that comprised the dance’s more modest beginnings. The first dances were held in the summer of 1972 in a location...
6. The Old-Time Community
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Bloomington’s music scene was changing at that time also. Miles began playing Irish music and was less involved in the dance. The recordings released on Rounder Records in 1972 and 1973of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band from Durham, North Carolina, were having an impact nationwide. In Bloomington, their influence was...
7. The Jukebox
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Veteran dancers consider the mid-1970s as a period of excitement and significance for the dance group. Musicians who passed through Bloomington were impressed with the dance, which was uncommon in folk revival communities outside of New England. There was a reliable stock of talented callers and musicians; dancers’ skills...
8. The Orange Sheet
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The free-spirited atmosphere of the Jukebox drew its strength from the social effects of old-time community music and dance. Through this traditional form, dancers enjoyed one another’s co-presence in a manner unavailable to their mainstream contemporaries. Dancers came to the dance to connect not so much to the past,...
9. Anne’s a Bride Tonight
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These formal activities—from the after-dance gathering to the volleyball meetings—traced the outlines of the dance group socio-cultural orb. But there were other occasions where its social and cultural expanse resonated less explicitly: the less formal socializing—the parties—that spurred what Linda Higginbotham called the “golden age”...
10. Opening Up 100
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For weeks to follow, the story of Tom and Amy’s surprising anniversary announcement made its way through the communicative pathways of the dance. It had become narrative, of course, and it was imbued with values that would seem to fuse the moral world of its teller with the real events of the story, however extraordinary. Such,...
11. Gardening and Dumpstering
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The moral community of the dance was not wholly constituted in narrative, of course. The discrete events recounted in stories were indeed connected, albeit loosely, by a unifying orientation toward real-life choices. It was not so explicit as an ideology nor so rigid as a lifestyle— this is probably why narrative, rather than doctrine,...
12. The Bean King
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On the surface these rituals of identity could seem austere or eccentric. But what made them entirely unoppressive was the way they were so relentlessly enveloped by celebration. There was indeed so much to celebrate, and most any celebration was quickly swept up as an affirmation of community. The most common occasion was birthdays. Of the...
13. The Indiana Contra Dancers’ Lament
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Of all the sites where exclusion, consensus, transgression, and identity were negotiated, style held a special place because of its accessibility and potency. Particularly after the nationwide dance network took shape in the 1980s, dancers became more aware of the way dance style and performance practice articulated relations within the...
14. The Gang of Four
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When I arrived in Bloomington in 1976, I had already been dancing for several years and had been involved in several organizations that promoted folksong performance. But in Bloomington I sensed an astonishing difference in the concerns of the group and in the understanding of the group as a social and political entity. I would...
15. Easy Street
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During the early 1970s, the jam session was the defining act of old-time music revival. For beginning musicians, it could be a formative event, an epiphany that could carry a new musician into the vivid presence of old-time music’s most deeply held values. At a festival, a few people playing together could quickly swell to a hundred...
16. Dance Camps
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During the latter years of the 1970s, particularly on the East Coast, where populated cities are in close proximity, there was beginning to emerge a cosmopolitan network of contra dance groups. This was partly constituted in local dances, but also in large annual dance events to which the most avid dancers, musicians, and callers frequently traveled. Because of its geographic distance from...
17. The Sovereign Self
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Dance camps and the institutions that produced them had their roots in turn-of-the-century English antimodernism and later the movement in America, called by critics a “culture industry,” which sought to restore folk practices and artifacts in traditional or contemporary settings. The Country Dance and Song Society was founded...
18. Bloomington Quarry Morris
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At the dance, those who were traveling to week-long dance camps were being exposed to a variety of dance styles other than contras and squares. One of these was morris dance. This traditional English ritual dance, observed, recorded, and taught by Cecil Sharp, had been at the center of the early English folksong and dance revival. According...
19. May Day
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With the popularity of Easy Street, with trips by Bloomington dancers to dance camps, and with more frequent travels to festivals, the Bloomington group was beginning to become known among dance groups nationwide. During the late 1970s, the level of interaction with other old-time communities increased discernibly. Musicians and callers...
20. Dare to Be Square
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In addition to his involvement with the sunrise May Day celebration, Paul Tyler was also an experienced caller of southern squares and perhaps the first in the group to embrace squares deliberately as an alternative to contras.It was not that Bloomington had any antipathy to squares—which had, after all, been Barry Kern’s...
21. The Shuffle Creek Cloggers
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Pat Gingrich’s dance experiences pre-dated her years in Detroit. A native of North Carolina, she had studied nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the site of the vibrant old-time music community associated with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. At about the same time in nearby Greenville, the youthful Green Grass...
22. The Old Library
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During the late 1970s, Frank Hall, Ted Hall, and Bill Meek began calling and by the end of the decade would be the busiest callers at the dance. In June of 1979, the dance bought its first sound system for $348. It may be difficult for readers to imagine that the group endured seven years without sound amplification, but indeed that was the...
23. Sugar Hill
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Breaking Up Thanksgiving was a weekend-long celebration of old-time music and dance beginning on the Friday after Thanksgiving. For a modest donation, floor space was provided for sleeping and some food for meals. But meals were mostly potluck contributions, especially leftovers from Thanksgiving dinners. Word was spread throughout...
24. Young Audiences
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Many musicians who played at the Bloomington dance had other performing outlets that accommodated old-time music. In the 1970s, old-time concerts were held at the Gables restaurant and the Monroe County Public Library, and Easy Street played a weekly engagement at Rapp’s Pizza Train. In the 1980s, the Daily Grind coffeehouse...
25. Little Bloomington
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Young Audiences of Indiana provided an unusually good climate for this kind of performance: there, encoding sentiments and values into the music was important because school audiences generally were far removed from the native world of old-time music. In other stage performance venues, however, one found an audience of peers. Local...
26. Eight Miles from Town
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I remember a special excitement that surrounded those Rounder recordings of the Highwoods Stringband and the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. As a teen I had begun a modest collection of pop-rock LPs, but later, via folk revival channels, I had added a hefty complement of County reissues, vintage country LPs from bargain bins, bluegrass and...
27. The Piano Controversy
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Through the 1970s, the aesthetic conventions that unfolded after the meeting of Miles and Dillon held in check a familiar, redundant old-time sound at the dance. But with exposure to dance music elsewhere through travel and recordings, the range of musical interests began to expand. Even some whose tastes had been forged by the old-time...
28. The Book
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In Bloomington, these differences in style paled against what was the only genuinely divisive issue the dance faced throughout its early history: the local status of bands, callers, and dancers as artists. The informal “open mike” arrangement, installed very soon after the dances began, had endured with widespread satisfaction throughout the 1970s. By the 1980s there were...
29. Collection Time!
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This book was undertaken from a particular historical perspective. It was 1987 when I first drafted this narrative and printed it in the Sugar Hill calendar. Most of the issues and people discussed here had their influence before this date; most who came after are omitted. I have followed some thematic threads past that date when it seemed helpful. This chapter describes...
30. The Reclusive Muse
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At the beginning of the 1980s, nearly a decade had passed since Dillon Bustin called that first dance in the green house and conjured up the spirits of old-time American dance. Dillon’s interests had passed through several phases, and now he had turned to productions of works on southern Indiana. In 1983 he made a recording, Dillon Bustin’s Almanac, of songs composed during...
31. Lotus Dickey
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By the early 1980s, Dillon Bustin was an infrequent participant in the Wednesday Night Dance; most dancers would not have been aware of the extent and nature of his publications. But the effects of his writings were felt thoroughly in the third subject of Water from Another Time, Orange County musician and poet Lotus Dickey. Increasingly...
32. Breaking Away
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When I inquired among Bloomington dancers to compile the facts surrounding the dance group’s history, John Levindofske recalled an eerie yet half-forgotten scene from the summer of 1978. He remembered that summer watching from the second floor out the Walnut Street window of Bloomington Music as a film crew below worked on...
33. Blue Spruce
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I remember vividly my arrival in Bloomington. To get to Bloomington by car, one had to leave the interstate system and travel some fifty miles over picturesque two-lane state roads—my route from the east traversed the “hills o’Brown County.” Along the roadside, modest homes of every vintage seemed eager to oblige the pastoral imagination. Many were...
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Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 30 b&w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2005