Beginners Guide to Hoedown
An essential selection of hoedown tunes and dances from throughout the history of American music. This compilation features Legends such as Bill Munroe, Bela Fleck, Flatt and Scruggs, archival recordings of classic barn dances with live calls, a wealth and comprehensive selection of Old Time and Appalachian dance music plus a selection of contemporary and current artists resident in both the UK and USA.
Compiled by Joe Buirski and Joe “Hippy” Hymas
Cut A Shine Hoedown Collective
It was a great privilege to compile this beginner's guide compilation, and yet a curious task. There is no definable genre of music describable as “hoedown”. Indeed, the term refers more to a social function, a dance, a gathering, a celebration – it's high energy music played for dancing audiences. We use the term today to refer to the folk dance traditions of the rural communities of Appalachia in the Southern states of the USA, and this compilation focusses on the music of that region, yet it could rightly refer to any dance, rave or party that is community focussed and inclusive.
From the rickety barns of the Appalachian mountains to the clapper boarded barns of New England, the village and church halls of England and Scotland and the cider barns of the West Country, and not forgetting the music halls and pub back rooms of Ireland, this compilation is a musical journey through the old time dance music of yesteryear. Long before recorded music, DJs and raves, when, after a hard day of work in the sun getting a “red neck”, the people of the land would literally put their hoes down and head to the hoedown.
CD 1 Old Time / Square Dance / Mountain Music
Every country has its own “folk” dance (with Folk here being defined as “the music of the peasant and rural class”); Ceilidh in Scotland, English Country Dancing, Ceili and Step Dancing in Ireland, Zamba, Flamenco etc. American folk music and dance evolved from the melting pot of immigrant and African-American communities when the banjo, an instrument of African origin, met with the European melodies of the fiddle, giving rise to what is now described as “Old Time Music”, which forms the root of all Country, Bluegrass and Americana music.
What better way to introduce a hoedown CD than with a solo dance tune by first generation banjo player Clarence Ashley, who was brought out of retirement during the 1960s folk revival and recorded a session for Smithsonian Folkways with long time friend and influential guitarist Doc Watson.
Hoedowns, perhaps more aptly described as Barn Dances, were most popular during the 19th century both across America and the British Isles, and served as important social occasions for rural communities. Musicians would gather, perhaps for a wedding, birthday or to celebrate the raising of a new barn, and a “caller” would instruct the audience through a series of dance moves set to the music. This would be interspersed with demonstrations of individual dancing talent as “flatfoot”, “buckdance” or “clog dancers” would compete for the audience's praise – much as modern break dancers or street dancers would today. In many of the tracks on this compilation you will hear both “calling” and the rhythms made by “clog dancers”, although in the case of recorded music, imitated by playing percussive bones or spoons. The Rockinghams version of “Shout Lulu”, complete with barn dance calls, is a fine example.
Live calling can be heard on this compilation from Al Brundage's 1951 album “Square Dance”. Al Brundage ran the largest square dance school in the USA to date. The term “Square Dance” here refers to a particular dance style where dancers are arranged in sets of 4 couples in a square. This form is favoured in Appalachia and New England (the most prevalent areas of the USA for this type of dance) yet is also found in Scottish and Irish dances. His calling style is known as “patter calling”, where dance instructions are given out to the dancers in an almost rap like fashion.
In the 1920s Barn Dances began to be broadcast on radio. On this compilation we have taken tracks from perhaps the most popular of the radio barn dance personalities of the time, Piute Pete, performing the dance Buffalo Girls sampled and made famous by Malcolm McLaren in the 1980s.
The instrumentals and songs on this CD are performed using the classic old time banjo technique of “Clawhammer”, a style developed by the minstrel show performers of the 1900s and early African-American musicians. This style has developed and honed into what is now sometimes described as “festival style” banjo or “melodic clawhammer”, where the banjo not only provides the off beat strum but follows more closely the melody of the fiddle.
CD 2 : Bluegrass and Beyond
Despite talk of various “revivals”, folk music and dance in America and Europe has remained strong. In the early 20th century a great deal of material was collected and recorded by enthusiasts, Henry Ford of Ford Motor cars being amongst avid fans. In the 1950's and 1960's these earlier recordings were again “discovered” and became popular in the great folk revival, with Harry Smith's 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music being a crucial touchstone.
Meanwhile, hoedown music had evolved and moved in a new direction with the advent of “Bluegrass”. In 1946 Mandolin player Bill Monroe formed a band with banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt. Earl Scruggs having invented the “three finger” style of banjo playing, accompanied by Lester Flatt's “flatpicking” technique on guitar and Bill Monroe's fast melodic mandolin, the band had developed a brand new sound (although the term “bluegrass” was actually coined in the 1960s!). Bluegrass mixed the melodies of old time music with influences of the blues and “rockabilly”, whilst incorporating virtuosic solos and improvisation.
Included on this compilation Bill Munroe performs the classic dance tune Uncle Penn, while Flatt and Scruggs offer The Foggy Mountain Breakdown – a seminal bluegrass piece used most famously in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.
Throughout the 1960s a second generation of musicians took bluegrass further, with players such as Bela Fleck, Bill Keith and Tony Rice. In the 1970s Bluegrass fused with rock music and received cross-over popularity with groups such as the New Grass Revival and Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia's band Old and in the Way. The Dillards were perhaps one of the most influential cross-over bluegrass bands, being the first to electrify their instruments, giving birth to a folk rock and country rock and having great influence on bands such as The Byrds and The Eagles.
CD 3 : 21st Century Hoedown.
In recent years there has been a resurgent interest in traditional music in both America and across Europe and the British Isles. The 2002 surprise Grammy award-winning sound track album to the Coen Brothers Film O Brother Where Art Thou led to a huge interest in American traditional music and rocketed Alison Krauss and her band Union Station to international stardom.
Meanwhile, Old Time Fiddle conventions and festivals such as those in Galax, Virginia, have witnessed a new generation of players and copious numbers of bands emerge, bringing with it a whole revitalised and flourishing scene. Young bands such as The Water Tower Bucket Boys (Portland, Oregon) and Chance McCoy's Old Sledge (Virginia) are following into the mainstream successful cross-over bands such as The Old Crow Medicine Show and Sea Sick Steve.
Uncle Earl have proved a highlight of this on-going Old Time Renaissance, with their 2003 Album produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones receiving rave reviews in mainstream press such as The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Mojo.
More recently, Uncle Earl original member Abigail Washburn is receiving great success with her album City of Refuge. On this compilation we include her track Last Train.
Likewise, in the UK, demand for barn dances and ceilidh dances is strong, with sell out dances every weekend up and down the country. The hugely popular Mumford and Sons have been advocating and promoting their brand of hoedown tunes and tour regularly with The Old Crow Medicine Show.
The Coal Porters, fronted by founding member of The Long Ryders Sid Griffin, are resident in the UK, yet formed in Los Angeles 1989.
More home grown hoedown talent comes from The Cedars, Kidnap Alice, The Wagon Tales, all of whom are representing solid traditional music and are amongst those at the forefront of the UK Bluegrass scene. The punky edged Chicken Shed Zeppelin offer a rendition of a classic old time dance tune Sail away Ladies
Last up, no hoedown compilation could be complete with tracks from Hayseed Dixie, who continue to win fans with their unique Bluegrass cover versions of famous rock tunes.
Joe Buirski and Joe Hymas (Cut A Shine Hoedown Collective) July 2011
Joe Buirski is the banjo player for and founder of the Cut A Shine Barn Dance, and a founding member of The Magpie's Nest Folk Club. Cut A Shine have run sell out barn dance events at venues across London for 7 years, and regularly perform at and host hoedown stages at the UK's top music festivals, including Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party and Bestival, booking bands from the UK and USA.
Joe Hymas is the mandolin player for just about every bluegrass band in the UK, and has toured and studied extensively in the USA.
The Magpie's Nest won the BBC Best Folk Club of the year award in 2010 and has subsequently been awarded Arts Council England and PRSF grants to continue it's work of programming and supporting folk and traditional music of the British Isles, USA and the World. The Magpie's Nest brings together people of all backgrounds and beliefs under it's banner of New Folk Old Folk No Folk, and works with the Arts Council England funded Global Local programme in supporting home grown talent with performances and showcases at leading venues and festivals across the UK.