Square Roots

By Jonny Clement Brown Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-7 18:33:02

Square dancing to the tunes of the Hutong Yellow Weasels in an alleyway off Nanluogu Xiang. Photo: Courtesy of Offside Bar

Square dancing to the tunes of the Hutong Yellow Weasels in an alleyway off Nanluogu Xiang. Photo: Courtesy of Offside Bar

Musician Michael Ismerio is planning to barnstorm China in November. Ostensibly, he's coming to introduce audiences to his brand of old-time fiddle-playing and square-dance calling, but his presence is also providing local bands with an excellent excuse to hold a rollicking jamboree in Beijing.

In the buildup to Ismerio's arrival, members of local old-time music band The Hutong Yellow Weasels are holding square dancing workshops along with singalongs and jams at 8:30 pm every Monday at Modernista Old Café and Tapas Bar in Chaoyang district.

"Old-time music is all about building community, so we wanted to get people taking part by dancing, singing or playing an instrument," said Weasels fiddler Kirk Kenney, 28. "Some of the magic of this music is that the parts are very simple, but sound magical when combined. It's just like friends and family playing on the front porch."

Backed by the Weasels, Ismerio will play a festival in Shanghai and a series of small venues in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Suzhou and Nanjing in Jiangsu Province. Eventually, the group will wind up in Beijing for what Kenney is calling the Old-Time Musicians and Dancers Summit.

"Beijing has a very active music scene, with lots of weekly opportunities to jam with other talented musicians," Kenney said, referring to sessions of Irish music, old-time and bluegrass, and gypsy jazz. "It's also a great town for dancing, with regular chances for swing, square, samba and salsa dance. Our idea is to bring all these people together," he said.

The music festival kicks off at The Bookworm on November 17. The first few events are aimed at children and families, with a square dance, a singalong, and a chance to hear and try out instruments like the banjo, violin, guitar and ukulele.

On top of all that, local bluegrass luminary Randy Abel will offer a songwriting workshop. In addition, he and other local musicians will introduce some of their favorite songs and lead a singalong. The evening will culminate in a square dance and jam featuring Ismerio.

Next up is a night of American roots music on November 22 at Mako Live House. It will feature the Randy Abel Stable, which recently released their debut album, Stable Condition, as well as the Confectionaires, the Hutong Yellow Weasels and Ismerio.

Finally, there's a day of workshops and jamming at CD Blues on November 23, starting at 1 pm. Along with members of the Randy Abel Stable,  local Irish band Blackwater, chanson ensemble Mademoiselle et son Orchestre, gypsy jazzers Hot Club of Beijing  and the Hutong Yellow Weasels, Ismerio will teach novices what they need to know to sit in with the local jams, and offer advanced tips to seasoned musicians. Meanwhile, there will be dance tutorials for jigs, line dance, square dance and swing. Each workshop will be followed by a jam, with dancers and musicians encouraged to try out what they've learned. The evening will end with a show and a huge square dance.

"I'd like to say we are bringing square dancing to Beijing, but actually there are over 300 active square dancers in ten clubs, who mostly do it in the community centers in their apartment complexes," said Kenney.

"An American showed them how to do it 15 years ago, and they kept doing it all these years. I hope we can have this kind of impact."

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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