Along the River

A Bit of History of Contradancing in the Connecticut River Valley

Fiddle Hands

(from the introduction to Along the River)

"Dudley Laufman is credited with bringing contradancing to the lower half of the Connecticut River Valley, from southern Vermont to the mouth of the river. As the dances gathered momentum in the 1970s, another Valley resource was revealed -- a rich mine of musicians and potential callers. Among others, there were: Ralph Sweet, just over the line in Connecticut, building and playing wooden fifes and flutes and already an experienced square dance caller; the Kaynors, Valley natives with an eclectic background of classical music and close harmony singing; and the members of Swallowtail (and the future Wild Asparagus), local college students or graduates, also classically trained. All became highly visible and active in the Valley dance scene, and remain so today, twenty years or more later. With so much youthful energy up on stage and on the dance floor, western Massachusetts dances developed a trademark rowdiness and quirkiness that raised some eyebrows and in some cases genuinely shocked members of the more decorous Boston dance crowd.

Festival at Brookfield Farm 1989

Most of the local dances welcomed sit-in musicians on stage (in some cases, the band was entirely composed of sit-ins). Almost any musician who got involved in playing for contradances here in the Valley can recall formative experiences as a sit-in musician. It was probably done at least as much from a general sense of conviviality as from any calculated design to train future dance musicians. But as it was both fun and good training, the Valley bubbled with up-and-coming musicians. Eventually, there was so much good music around that it made sense to export it, at least occasionally. Dance bands went on tour, recordings were made. Bands and musicians became famous far beyond their own backyards. And in a classic case of the rich getting richer, experienced musicians were drawn to the area by the existing music and dance scene.

Meanwhile, in kitchens and on backporches, in their offices or their cars (and in other more improbable places), musicians were writing tunes..."



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