Groups I have worked with has done this kind of thing in various
forms. With the goal of being able to having open band dances
locally, we organized a kickoff event of a five hour contra dance
musicians' workshop after consulting with Laura Lengnick about what
she thought would be necessary to get started having open band-style
events in our area. She put together a curriculum and arranged for a
four-piece band she is part of, the Skytones, to lead a workshop about
playing contra dance music. During the five hour workshop, there were
two classrooms and during some of the timeslots, the group split into
interest area to work on different aspects of playing. At the
culmination of the kickoff workshop, the workshop attendees played for
an evening contra dance with the Skytones, with a peak of 14 on-stage.
Over time, and doing a variety of these kinds of events, we have
collected a shared repertoire collected in a tune book based on
well-liked recommendations primarily from the bands who have put on
workshops or led rehearsals. When pitching the idea to a traveling
band, that makes it possible to send the repertoire and transcriptions
ahead of time to ask if they know those tunes and also ask them to
propose any that they might like to add to the list. The repertoire
might also also helps give an idea a series' flavor.
Before this kind of event, we typically announce a tunes party to be
held a few days prior at someone's house, including with the tunes the
featured band has selected and a link to the tune book. That way, the
players can practice beforehand.
On the day of the dance, a common plan has been to announce 30 minute
warmup for local players that afternoon, followed by a 60-90 minute
rehearsal with the evening's featured band on shared repertoire.
Together, the local players and featured band pick out a preferred
tune list, trade tips and discuss any arrangements they would want to
try (e.g., solos, different instrument sections playing different ways
for different times through, etc) Usually the large ensemble would
play for 4-6 sets together, then the local musicians leave the stage
to join in the dancing while the featured band played for the
remainder of the evening.
It's true that certain bands are more interested in this idea than
others, so it's a good idea to try to gently feel out what the
interest level might be before proposing it. If it's a band's first
gig, for instance, it's a pretty safe bet they are probably focused on
their own performance and would find it really distracting to put on a
rehearsal for others that afternoon. Likewise, it can happen that a
band who is less than enthused might agree to such a plan, but
emphasize that they can't be held responsible if everything breaks
down. (As a counterexample, one instructor said to the group at a
rehearsal that it is OK to make a mistake as long as it is loud and
In other words, this idea only works if the featured band is actually
into it and not only agreeing because they think it's required for a
booking. I found it best to get to know the featured bands a bit and
their preferences for this type of setup. When determining whether to
approach a visiting musician we had never worked with before, I found
that searching for the performer names + music workshop and sometimes
found old announcements for some of the week-long music events.
In my experience, this type of event can work better on a dance that
happens a Saturday, so mentoring and skills exchange and warmup can
happen prior to the evening dance.
I have read articles about some cities having open bands at weekly
dances on weeknights where they have regular, committed rhythm and
melody leaders locally, though. One of the articles mentioned the
local leaders hosting regular tunes parties to work on skills and
playing as an ensemble.
Sound is different from the typical 2-4 piece contra dance band and is
something you would need to talk to the local sound people about.
My preference is usually to try to have everyone individually in the
mix, but that for the local players here, that required obtaining
enough mics and a mixer with 16 plugins. I have been using a dbx
AFS224 feedback suppression unit for the monitor mix, too. Having
lots of open mics increases feedback potential and it can be more
likely to encounter musicians who are still developing their mic
Other options are a single mic for the local player ensemble and the
featured musicians connected normally, and having mics for sections,
e.g., if their are three flutes, having a shared mics with them
working out which one gets to take a solo at a given time.
On Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 10:37 PM, Emily Addison via Organizers
Hi Dance Organizers,
One more question stemming from my work on our callers handout here in
Ottawa... except this query relates to musicians!
Do any of your dances facilitate local musicians sitting in (either on OR
off mic) with visiting bands? This came up at Puttin' On The Dance 2 and we
have a few keen musicians who would like to do this as part of their
strategy for improving their chops. I've since talked to two touring
musicians who are very open to this and think that some other bands may also
be open. However, I anticipate that other bands may not be open.
So ... if you do something like this...
1. How do you structure it? Is anyone allowed on stage? Do the musicians get
permission from organizer ahead of time (e.g., book their spot)? Is there a
max number of sets a night that are 'sit in'? Are any 'sit ins' on mic
are all off mic? ???? ????
2. Also, how do you pitch the idea to the hired band?
I'm particularly talking about TOURING BANDS and then local musicians who
already have some dance experience (not random musicians).
Organizers mailing list