Sunday Sanctification with some Ozark Bartenders

A sleepy morning after late night bourbon suddenly enlivens with musician friends, the 32 Bartenders band from the northern reaches of the Ozarks. They came to Springfield to play a contra dance which Cath and I unfortunately couldn’t attend due to a dinner date with gardener friends. It’s spring, salad celebration…

I was still sleepy at 8 a.m. when crawling out the sack. The two Toms were crashed in the living room: Verdot on the floor, Thom Howard on the couch. Our old friend Becky Logan Trickey got the guestroom bed upstairs. She was already perky as I started the coffee.

This is three-quarters of the band. Marcie McGuire, keyboardist, stayed over at Sandi and Dave Bakers’ home which has become know as the ‘Shoe Tree Listening Room’, a novel in itself.

As we coffeed this May morning we touched on all kinds of shared interests while listening to folk music gathered by Art and Margo Rosenbaum in their ‘Art of Field Recording’ collection. This set of 4 CDs has such a great variety of tunes it inspired talk about:

– the late Nile Wilson and his tie hacker songs from north Missouri;

– visits to the Tipanogos Storytelling Festival in Utah, said to be the largest in the US;

– the brawl between Thomas Hart Benton and Andrew Jackson in Tennessee which eventually led to a duel on Bloody Island near St. Louis long ago;

– dance music played by ‘The Skirtlifters’, an olde timey band from Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Verdot is quite a historian, a great talker, but I cannot say for sure if he’s a great fiddle maker. That’s his profession, so he has to be pretty damn fine. I know almost nothing about fiddle music, just am totally uplifted by these traditional, simple tunes. He lives in Columbia where he buys, sells and repairs violins full time when not on the road playing music.

I asked Tom if his family heritage is French.

“Yes, my people came to Bonnots Mill in the 1840s,” he said. “The village was a boomtown in those early years near Missouri and Osages rivers. I think a whole town from France must have immigrated as a group then. The census record show the men’s occupations with trades like blacksmith, cobbler, baker, wheelwright, but ten years later the next census shows they had all become farmers. Gradually the town lost its economic diversity as the steamboats lost out to highways and railroads.”

So where are the other 28 players in the group? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Maybe we find the rest of the story when we hear them live at at some north Ozark rural Catholic picnic playing near the beer tent, or at another contra dance hopefully very soon.

Later on this Sunday, after I sent Tom an e-mail to make sure his quote above was reasonably accurate, he wrote back, “Most contra dances have 32 bars or measures before the tune & the dance figure starts over again. We tend the bars – kind of like sheep herders except that sheep have 4 legs. There might be other differences as well- I’m never really sure.”

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