I’ve finished a new documentary on the history of the Old Farmer’s Ball, our local folk dance organization that sponsors the Thursday night contra dance at Warren Wilson College. No, sadly there has been no social dancing recently due to COVID. These interviews are from 2019, and I’m glad to finally give them voice. Working on the piece, I loved hearing the music and reminiscing about good dancing in times past. Watch the YouTube version with still images below, or check out the audio-only version on PRX.
From Community Dance to Dance Community: Recalling the Old Farmer’s Ball
The Old Farmer’s Ball is an Asheville, North Carolina regional folk dance organization supporting live music and participatory arts that is best known for its Thursday night contra dance at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa. Over the decades, the OFB has grown from a small, homegrown dance to a nonprofit with an elected board of directors and affiliation with the larger Massachusetts-based Country Dance and Song Society. It has also expanded to support a range of events that reflect the varied interests and preferences of its participants, including a traditional-style roots contra dance, a family dance, and a community waltz. There’s lots to love about the OFB, and it has brought many people together. To some of the original participants in the dance, however, the changes that have occurred over the years have been less positive.
This piece tells the story of the Old Farmer’s Ball’s creation and evolution through the voices of four people who were there from its beginning. Featuring the reflections of Frederick Park, Dede Styles, Phil Jamison, and Julia Weatherford, interviewed in March and April of 2019. Dance audio was recorded at the Old Farmer’s Ball’s Thursday night dance on March 28, 2019, Atlantic Crossing with Diane Silver calling. Produced by Carla Seidl. Perspectives shared about the dance are the speakers’ own (see producer’s note below).
Music included by permission:
Burning Desire String Band feat. M Mueller, Bob Willoughby, Frederick Park, Travis Stewart, Leon Bumanglag, and Chris Jong, caller Frederick Park: “Fourteen Miles to Georgia,” “Sandy Boys” (trad.), “Fly Around My Pretty Li’l Miss,” Crook Brothers’ “Sally Ann,” “Santa Rosa Processional,” “The Louisiana Swing,” “Shortnin’ Bread” (trad.), “Tennessee Waltz”
Marcus Martin: “Cripple Creek” (trad.)
Wild Asparagus: “Lafferty’s” (From the Floor Up)
Wild Rumpus: John Skelton’s “Trip to Amnesia” (Riding the Wave)
Atlantic Crossing, live at the OFB, 3-28-2019
The Old Farmer’s Ball has brought much joy to my life and to the lives of many others. I have observed the Asheville contra dance scene to be marked by a creative energy and freedom of expression that is hard to find elsewhere. In contrast to some of the perspectives in this piece, I find the incorporation of swing/blues/fusion elements to be my favorite part of contra dancing at the OFB! After hearing the tale of the Thursday night dance’s evolution recounted by people who were there in the beginning, however, I began to appreciate what may have been lost along the way. I decided to focus on the voices heard in this piece in relating the OFB’s history because, after interviewing a number of people involved with the dance through the modern era, this “original voices” take was the most cohesive audio story that emerged, and I felt it deserved to be told. Post-pandemic, I hope that the OFB will continue to evolve and grow, becoming a place where those who want a community dance find that, and those who want a high-energy place for personal expression find that, too.
For more on the history of the Old Farmer’s Ball, including other voices not heard in this piece, see also my related 2019 article in Mountain Xpress.