Traditional music & dance around Southwestern Connecticut

This page pulls together some resources about traditional dance and music around Fairfield County, Ct. and surrounding areas. Outdated, updated, proposed links? Drop me an email.

Dances

Among local contra dances with live music are the monthly Round Hill dance on second Saturdays at the Round Hill Community center in north Greenwich, Ct., the New Haven Country Dancers on first, third and fifth Saturdays, and (new in Nov. '04) a Danbury series most fourth Saturdays. For full details, check out the Connecticut Contra and Conntra Connection pages and the Dance Gypsy listings.  The best-established English country dance series is the mostly-Thursdays one in White Plains, N.Y., with elegant music from Leah Barkan and friends.  Patricia Campbell and local musicians put on regular programs of family-oriented dancing, including colonial and barn dancing, in Newtown. Scandinavian dances with live music sporadically turn up in New Haven, Newtown and elsewhere. Always call ahead or check listings and flyers, as many dances suspend during the summer or when conflicting with regional dance festivals.

Also check newspaper listings for other dance series, including Scottish in New Haven, Wilton and Elmsford, N.Y., English in New Haven and Cranbury (Norwalk), contra in Cranbury (Norwalk), international in Darien and Hartford, Irish in Stamford, Fairfield, Danbury and New Haven, tango in Greenwich and ballroom in Stamford. There is swing dancing in New Haven and Hartford, a large polka community farther up in Connecticut with regular dances in Bristol and other towns, and Cajun/zydeco within driveable distance as well. Modern Western squares, a world unto itself, has active groups in Danbury and Southport as well as Westchester County, N.Y.

Morris dancing, the traditional English springtime village-green affair done with colorful costumes and clashing sticks, handkerchiefs or hand-clapping, is represented by New Haven Morris and Sword. There is also some current informal Morris activity in Westchester/Rockland; check John Lippincott's site. John also maintains a trove of information on the long-running but now defunct Mianus River Morris in Greenwich, of which I was a member.

Farther afield, Hartford Country Dance puts on a second-Saturday contra series in Old Wethersfield, a little south of Hartford. For contra dances in eastern Connecticut and nearby places like Rhode Island and southeast Mass., check Gary Wachs's SENE (South East New England) page. There's currently no regular Connecticut series of gender-free contra dancing, but plenty of it in Boston and Manhattan as well as Manhattan's Times Squares, which dances Modern Western Squares.
 

Festivals

One of the best ways to learn about traditional dance and music is to attend the regular festivals that draw participants from a wide area. Some of the most popular are Connecticut's own NOMAD (Northeast Music and Dance), held each October (as of 2007, in New Haven); NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival Association, held each April in the Boston area (most recently Mansfield, Mass.); the Old Songs festival in Altamont, N.Y. in late June; the Dance Flurry in the Albany/Saratoga area in February; and Falcon Ridge in Hillsdale, New York (near the Massachusetts border) in late July.

An annual Fairfield County Irish Festival in mid-June has been going on for more than a decade now, and Cranbury Park in Norwalk is the scene of the annual Round Hill Highland Games Scottish festival in July.  Up in East Hartford, there's an annual Podunk Bluegrass festival.

Events like NOMAD are among the few local chances to experience unusual, exhilarating dance forms like zwiefacher and bourrée without having to travel as far as the Albany area or Boston.
 

Live performance; bars and coffeehouses

Live performances of traditional music occur regularly at the long-established Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling, N.Y., not far from Danbury. Westport Arts Society, Mt. Airy Music in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., New Haven Folk Alliance and Branford Folk Music Society are other nearby venues.  Check out the Dirty Linen concert guide, which allows you to zoom in on listings in Connecticut and elsewhere, and the New York-oriented Pinewoods Club listings.  Artists with crossover appeal also appear with some frequency at such big venues as the Quick Center for the Arts in Fairfield and Rich Forum in Stamford. Irish and Cajun are especially well represented

For coffeehouses and related series, of which there are many hereabouts, consult the excellent list compiled by New Haven Folk Alliance to which might be added Walkabout Clearwater (White Plains, N.Y.) and the South Salem (N.Y.) library series. For points north and east, check West Hartford's Sounding Board. Also see "Singing for Pleasure", below, on song-swap formats.

Bars with live music are more common in this area than formerly, with open mic nights a frequent feature. There's a Monday night Irish seisun at Tigin Irish pub in Stamford, a Sunday night one at the Black Rock Castle in Bridgeport, Sunday afternoon and Monday night ones at the Anna Liffey Pub in New Haven, and another that's rumored in East Haven. The Gaelic American Club in Fairfield has a Monday night seisun. Check the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society and CCE for listings of all things Irish.
 

Scandinavian dance and folk music

Excellent Scandinavian dances and dance instruction are put on by Laine Harris and Jennifer Brosious, mostly in the New Haven area.  Local bands include Nutmeg Spelsmanslag (email me for info) and the Fairfield Scandinavian Club fiddlers. Those interested in this genre, which is rapidly becoming more popular with the general revival of interest in couple-dancing, may want to consult this dance resource site, with a U.S.-wide focus, or, in Sweden, Henrik Norbeck's or Lennart Sohlman's pages for, among other resources, numerous MIDI and audio files on good Scandinavian tunes. There's a lively Scandi scene in Boston. The performance-oriented Swedish Folkdancers of New York practice weekly in The Bronx. For Scandinavian choral singing, try this link.
 

Singing for pleasure

Sacred Harp sings are held sporadically around the state.  Shape-note traditions, of which Sacred Harp is the best known and which became familiar to many through the movie Cold Mountain, are well represented on the Web through such excellent sites as the fasola homepage and Warren Steel's Sacred Harp page (though, in the very pertinent words of Hugh McGraw: "The Internet don't sing -- you gotta get yourself to a singing.")

The Circle of Friends website on acoustic singing will lead you to the North Salem, N.Y. Folk Circle (first Fridays), Pleasantville, N.Y. Folk Circle (second Fridays), and Sherman, Ct. SongSwap (fourth Fridays).

The renowned Digital Tradition folksong database (main site) (alternate) is a product of our very own Greenwich, Ct.
 

Tunes and musicians' resources

The place to start for Irish tunes is Stanford's Ceolas tune archive.  Alan Ng maintains Irishtune.info.  John Chambers' collection of tunes from many nations in abc format is here.

Among my favorite accordion pages are Hans Palm's (Swedish) and Phoebe Sengers'. There's a klezmer band named Nefesh in Southbury, and The Klezical Tradition performs in Fairfield County and elsewhere in the region.

The famous Green Linnet folk/world music label is headquartered here in Danbury. Folk-Legacy Records, formerly of New Canaan, has moved up to Sharon, Ct. by the Mass. border but still maintains strong local ties. Famed folklorist Alan Lomax lived in Wilton for a time, and the singer Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) recorded his sessions for the Library of Congress there.

For jam sessions, there is now a Newtown-based, third-Thursday Northern Fairfield County Acoustic Jam group, as well as the second-Saturday Hartford Contra Jam at the Wethersfield American Legion, and some options at private homes in the New Haven area. What about lower Fairfield County and Westchester? Well, that's a good question. It's hard to believe we don't have enough fiddlers, flutists, whistle-players, concertinists, banjoists, pipers and so forth to hold local jams right here, without a long drive. If you know of something of this sort, email me.

Morrisman Jeff Bigler has posted funny collections of viola jokes and jokes about other instruments.

About traditional music & dance in general

The Web now carries a huge amount of information on traditional music and dance. Rather than duplicate others' efforts I suggest you jump in via the big set of well-chosen links that the people at NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival Association, have assembled.  A few plugs are due to the Musical Traditions magazine home page, which has posted a wealth of good stuff; to Folktrax.org; and to the excellent Camsco company, source of CDs-by-mail.

Admirers of the supernatural ballad Tam Lin (Child # 39) (I recommend Mike Waterson's rendition on Topic) will find a charming web shrine to it here. Now on to the other 304 Child ballads!

...my own activities

In 2001 I moved a half hour west to Westchester County, N.Y., but still manage to keep a hand in some local events. Nutmeg Spelsmanslag, Connecticut's Scandinavian folk dance band, lets me play in on piano accordion when I promise not to be too loud, as do the more tolerant jam sessions and pickup contra bands. I dance a good deal and also perform with Mianus River Morris. Aside from Sacred Harp, I occasionally engage in general traditional harmony singing in a vain attempt to emulate the sound of the Copper family, Young Tradition, Watersons, Voice Squad (audio clip), etc. If you're local and interested in this kind of thing either for fun or to work toward eventual performance, email me.

Last updated January 30, 2008; last general check for currency/accuracy was 2005, so apologies for the many aspects likely to have been outdated since then, and always check ahead/confirm with local organizers.


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